|Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Tuesday, March 4, 2003
Center for Advanced Space Studies Lunar and Planetary Institute
3600 Bay Area Boulevard
Clear Lake, Texas
* See errata notes at end of transcript
MS. BROWN: Thanks everybody for coming. I'm going to turn you over to Admiral Gehman in a moment. I want to tell you first we're going to have some photographs that are presented during the press briefing, and those should be available on the Web site immediately after the briefing. So if anybody has trouble with any of those or if they're not high resolution enough, we can also E-mail them to you. With that, I will turn you over to the Admiral.
ADM. GEHMAN: First of all, I would like to thank our hosts here at the Center for Advanced Space Studies and the Lunar and Planetary Institute for allowing us to use their facility for our press conference. We appreciate it very much. It's a little more cozy than what we're used to. So I like it better.
The board remains completely determined and energized to finding the answer to this problem. We are still working seven days a week. Our energy and our seriousness have not flagged. We still have confidence that we're going to find the cause, the direct cause, and determine the contributing causes. We are dedicated to that end, and we have no slacking off. We're not getting discouraged just because we haven't found it so far.
As usual, we'll follow the same procedure as we have done before. I'll introduce three members of the board, one representing each group. I'll make a few introductory comments as to what the board's been doing and what we've been doing, each one of them will lead off with a short introduction of what their groups are working on, and then we'll allow you to dialogue with the board.
As you know and as I have repeated in previous press conferences, we don't save up the news until Tuesday and then let it all out. We let the news out as it comes out. This is more of a chance to dialogue with the board. This is more of a chance to ask in-depth questions; but if you find something newsworthy, that's fine, too. So after each one of them makes a short opening statement, we'll open it up to questions.
Starting at my left is Admiral Steve Turcotte who is the commander of the Navy Safety Center. He is on Group No. 2, as we call it, the group that's looking at operational issues.1
To his left is Mr. Roger Tetrault. Mr. Tetrault is the ex-president of Electric Boat and chairman and CEO of McDermott. As the president of Electric Boat, he built nuclear submarines for Admiral Rickover. So he knows contracting, government contracting and he knows specifications and he knows how government contractors operate in government. Since this program is about 80 percent contracted out, we thought he would be able to help us out a lot.
To his left is Mr. Steve Wallace, chief of the Aviation Safety Division of the FAA. He's in Group No. 2, as we call it, the group that's looking at flight issues and all those kinds of things.
Roger is in the group that's look at material -- Roger is in the group that's looking at technical and engineering analysis kinds of things, the telemetry, what the debris tells us, independent analysis and all those kinds of things.
So let me start by summarizing a couple of matters, and then each of them will get a chance to speak.
First of all, let me talk about my letter to Mr. O'Keefe. I asked Mr. O'Keefe, because of the way that this investigation has been progressing as we have been opening the aperture of the investigation now into the management issues -- management issues include all kinds of boards and committees and oversight actions and things like that -- it has become apparent that some of the chief managers of the investigation, which NASA and this board share, are also members of these boards that we're going to be looking at. We are then put in the place of having the investigators investigate themselves. That's not exactly true because NASA is not investigating management issues, only we are investigating management issues; but it really does put us in the position of some of my chief lieutenants who are conducting the technical part of the investigation are also going to become subject to this part of the investigation that's going to look at oversight and management. And I found it to be not compatible.
So without any suggestion that anybody's done anything wrong or any suggestion that they're under suspicion of anything like that, it's more of a process issue that I can't possibly have key investigatory managers also be the people whose performance we're looking at in other areas. It was seen to be incompatible with that.
Mr. O'Keefe has agreed to make these changes, and you'll notice in my letter which has been released that I didn't put any time limits on it nor did I name any particular people. Its top-level space shuttle program managers cannot be also in the investigation. That's as far as I want to fill on that. I'm satisfied with his response. I happen to know for a fact that this process is ongoing. So you can color me satisfied and I view this not to be an issue anymore, at least as far as I am concerned.
Public hearings start this Thursday. The purpose of the public hearings is twofold. The first is it will allow us to read into the public record matters that we are investigating more privately. It will allow us to make a matter of public record things that we've discovered and people that we've talked to. It will also allow a full process by which non-NASA people, non-NASA experts who may have theories or opinions or hypotheses or may have contrary views can make those views known in kind of an official kind of way.
We're going to start our public hearings at the beginning. By that I mean things which may not be very exciting and newsworthy, but you have to start at the beginning. We're going to start in logical sequence. We'll start off with the organization, who works for whom, who reports to whom, what are your responsibilities, what are your authorities. So we're going to call Mr. Dittemore, the project manager of the space shuttle program, and we're going to call the JSC center director who, I believe, is going to be represented by his deputy center director because I believe that Mr. Joe Howell has a funeral to go to. So we're going to start with the center director and the project manager and examine the lines of responsibility and who's responsible for what part of the investigation.
We will also then have two NASA people here who will give us views which might differ a little bit as to how this program goes.2 We'll see how it goes. I don't know what they're going to say. We have Mr. Harry McDonald who wrote and who is the chairman of the last really big review of the space shuttle program. It's called SAIP.3 I think it's called the Shuttle Independent Analysis Panel or something like that.4 It was done in 1999. It's a review that we have studied to some degree, and he's agreed to appear. He's retired. He used to be the director of the Ames Research Center. He's now retired.
The other person we're going to hear from escapes my mind right now. Oh, yes. The other person we're going to hear from is a foam expert, Mr. Keith Chong from Boeing Corporation. We're going to get a little bit of the theory of foam before we start going into who did what to whom and whether it was done correctly. So that's where we're going to start.
The public hearings will pick up in pace. Pretty soon we'll be doing them probably at the rate of two a week. Probably two weeks out of three. So the pace will pick up. The content that we examine in public hearings will get more serious and more controversial as it goes on, but it will be done in almost a chronologic sequence. The next thing we'll examine will be the launch and prelaunch preparations. Then probably we will get to the ascent. That's where foam comes off and that kind of stuff. Then we'll get to the discussion of E-mails and all of it. We'll get to it in a chronologic order, in kind of a logical order so you can follow what's going on and then each one will build on the previous one. We're not going to jump into the end and go backwards from there.
So that's what's going to happen with the public hearings. They will be mostly here in Houston, but not all. We'll hold hearings in Kennedy and Marshall and Washington, D.C., wherever it goes; and I'll be glad to answer any questions on that.
The subject of board expansion is being worked right now. I'm talking to potential board members. I don't have any to announce, but it is ongoing and we'll announce that as soon as we have something to tell you. I'll just tell you that I'm looking for people by category. I'm not doing this by personality or a popularity contest. I'm looking at some people to help me with the history and culture, budgets and management of NASA and I'm looking for a physicist to help me with that part of it and some others.
I'll give you a couple of stats. I don't have the exact stats here with me. We can put them on our Web site for you. We mentioned last week our web page, 1-800 number, E-mail address, and all that kind of stuff. I think we've had 3.5 million hits on our web page. We've had a couple of hundred unsolicited letters, some of which have come with analysis of documentation and actual enclosures to them, some of them have been handwritten on a piece of paper, and a couple of hundred E-mails recommending that we look at this and look at that. It's all very valuable. We're following up on every one of them. Every one of them gets cataloged and then every one of them gets sent to one of these three panels that you see here to my left and then adjudged as to whether we want to talk to that person more or follow up on that. So they're all very valuable.
That's kind of my introductory report. I'll turn it over to Admiral Turcotte to tell you what his group is working on.
ADM. TURCOTTE: Good afternoon. I'm Admiral Steve Turcotte. My group is the Maintenance, Material, and Management. We've looked at basically the maintenance, the material from if you go all the way back to design, all the way through the different orbiter maintenance periods and then more particularly this what we call flow or this maintenance period between the last flight and this flight.
This week, along with the two other members of my board, Brigadier General Duane Deal, who in his day job is the commander of the space wing at Peterson, and Major General John Barry, who is from the Air Force Material Command and also in the past has spent some time inside NASA. He worked on the previous accident investigation.
This week we divided our efforts between Utah, looking at Thiokol, looking at the SRB assembly, the plant facilities. We're looking at everything from the quality assurance organizations to the flow of paperwork, how that was done, was it done in a timely process, good, bad, all of those things from many different angles. Additionally, General Deal spent a lot of time at Michoud this week -- I wish I had done that because today is Tuesday and that's probably where we ought to all be -- but looking specifically at the foam, the process, the entire assembly process, the QA process from beginning to end and the history of the tanks and some of the sister tanks that flew on this particular flight.
General Barry spent some time in Palmdale. This is where all the shuttles were built. There are still shuttle tooling facilities out there and some of the shuttle process and paperwork is still -- or some of the maintenance actions done on internal pieces to the shuttle are done out there.
To give you an idea of the complexity and magnitude, I can show you these pictures which will be posted on the Web site. This is a picture of OPF 1. It's Orbital Processing Facility 1 at Kennedy. This is a picture of an empty one. The other two are full. The next one I'll show you, this is one with the shuttle Discovery inside. A pretty impressive technical facility. The amount of paperwork just alone that we're looking at in just this most recent flow between the last flight and this flight is over a million and a half pieces of paper. We have a full team of people, seven days a week, looking at the paper, looking at the processes and, in particular, we're going to focus on some of the critical areas.
To give you an idea of some of the complexity -- and again this will be posted on the Web site -- this is a picture of the left wheel well, if you can focus in on it a little better. The complexity of this is huge. There are numerous wires, hydraulic lines, sensors that run through there. A huge complex. In the process of doing this, we're going to look at every single action that took place throughout the orbiter in some of these sensitive areas detailed in every single piece of paper. A lot of eyes on it all the time.
To continue that, after the first part of this is done, our next is to go backwards in time. We're going to look at the major overhaul periods and look at that paper. And I wouldn't even care to estimate. That's probably to 20 to 30 to 40 million documents that are out there if you look at it over time. And that's our focus is going backwards, tracing this thing as far back as we can to ensure that nothing was overlooked and that all the processes and maintenance and logistic processes were accurate and in place for the safe operation of the shuttle program. That concludes my presentation.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much.
MR. TETRAULT: Okay. Our group is Group No. 3, the technical group, and we have subdivided ourselves in order to get much more in depth in very specific areas. Mr. Scott Hubbard, one of our group members, has taken the external tank and he also has the tile systems. And he is currently at Southwest Research today and he is reviewing their test plan issued at tile and RCC panels. Jim Hallock has the flow tree analysis and also the sensor investigation. Shiela Widnall is following the aerodynamic analysis and the boundary layer analysis.
I am particularly focusing on wing leading edge systems, and that includes the RCCs and the stainless steel attachment brackets that go onto the leading edge of the wing. And I also have the controlled release and testing of the debris. That's after its arrival at the Kennedy Space Center. I spent much of last week at Kennedy Space Center reviewing the debris and I had with me the experts in the shuttle tile system and in the reinforced carbon systems. They were Howard Goldstein and Don Rigali. Both of them are retired and experts in their area. We've also placed a temporary debris resident at Kennedy, and he is Dr. Greg Kovacs from Stanford University.
Now, I'm going to show you a picture here which will be on the Web site. This is a picture taken in the hangar where the majority of debris is being stored and being reconstructed. As you can see, there are specific full-scale areas which are marked in blue on the floor and these are used in the reconstruction. They replicate the areas of the orbiter like the wings, the tail, and the fuselage and so on. If you see a red area, that would be where a wheel well is. We also have a smaller hangar, and in that hangar internal tanks and engine parts are being stored.
This picture is not totally populated. To date we have collected some 22,563 parts. We've identified 16,063 of then. The total weight of the collected debris is about 32,100 pounds; and that represents about 13.7 percent of the original weight of the orbiter.
This is an important item. The pieces from the right side of the aircraft exhibit extreme temperature excursions, and that's the result of reentry heating. So it's going to take some skill on our part to separate out what is damage from reentry and what was caused by the superheated air entering into the breach of the left wing.
Now let me talk about some of the individual pieces or some of the groups of pieces that we have retrieved and are looking at. I'm going to start by a short discussion on the tiles. In the far left-hand side of this picture, on a blue wing, you can see that there are tiles in gray plastic containers. That's, as I said, on the left side of the photograph.
Before I left Kennedy last Thursday evening, I counted 105 containers placed on the left wing of the reconstruction area. Now, most are not specifically located on the actual spot that they belong on because the serial numbers have been wiped off the tiles and we are only able to locate them in the patterns in which that specific type of tile and that specific size of tile may have occurred.
Many of the tiles on the left side have a thin, black deposit on them; and that deposit has never been seen on any previous flight. We started doing material analysis on these tiles and on other things this weekend, and on the particular tiles we found that that black deposit had a very high concentration of aluminum in the deposit. We also checked the red spot that was on the tile, and that checked out as hydraulic fluid.
We've also found a left inboard elevon actuator, and it has a sizable hole that's burned into the actuator tube. The hole's approximately 4 inches by 2 inches, and the best guess at this point is that it actually came from reentry damage. Hydraulic fluid which leaked from the hole was tested and surprisingly showed no significant overheating, in spite of the fact that we have a hole which was burned into the tube.
Let me talk about tires. I'm going to show you this. This will be on our Web site. The top tire is one of the right main landing gear tires. The one on the bottom is a left inboard main landing gear tire. There is obviously a significant difference between these two tires.
We've recovered both of the tires from the left wheel well, and we've been able to identify their exact position inside the wheel well by the amount of patches that there were inside the tire. The tires on the left side obviously have a significant difference in appearance from the ones that are on the right side. By the way that the fabric has been torn on the left side, we believe it is possible -- and I'll say that again -- it is possible that the tires on the left side blew very late in this event. This would have been a late event because we have data that indicates that the orbiter was flying under control until the last few minutes before breakup. The blowing of these tires would likely have been a very catastrophic event, so it couldn't have occurred until late in the event.
Michelin is the maker of these tires. We have contacted Michelin to get some help in our investigation. As I mentioned, we have one tire from the right wheel well at Kennedy. I'm told we have found the other and it is in route. We also have the nose gear at Kennedy at the moment.
Let me talk about tanks. We've recovered at least 25 of the approximately 35 tanks that were internal to the fuselage. These are at Kennedy. There are also a number of tanks that are reported to be en route to Kennedy and there are also pieces of tanks that are on the shelves where we store components that have yet to be identified. So before this task is completed, it certainly appears that we will have recovered almost all of the tanks, if not all of them.
Let me also mention the right landing gear door. There will be a picture of this on the Web site soon, as well. We have recovered almost all of the right side landing gear door, and in fairly large-size pieces. I think there are actually three pieces, which represent a significant portion of the door. We also have three pieces that appear to make up the length of the inboard side of the left landing gear door frame. Now, other than these three pieces, we have not identified any structural components from the left landing gear door. It is possible, however, that we have some tiles from the door surface but we haven't been able to specifically identify them as tiles from the door surface.
I'm going to move to the leading edge of the left wing. We have identified at least one piece from 16 of the 22 leading edge systems. These are either pieces of the reinforced carbon carbon, the RCCs, or of the structural components that attach down to the wing spar; and those are made of stainless steel. In some cases we have pieces of both. We ran some tests this weekend on RCC Panel No. 9, or at least a portion of it, and there was a slag on the inside of that RCC panel which we tested and it shows deposits of aluminum and stainless steel.
Let me just say that our job is just beginning. What we will be doing is trying to follow the heat. Let me say that again. What we have to do is follow the heat. We will be doing this in order to back into the location of the original breach in the wing. Now, we're going to be using all the tools at our command including aerodynamic and thermodynamic computer models and we'll be using wind tunnel testing to do that and, of course, we will also use a sizeable amount of the telemetry which is available to us.
With regard to the telemetry, we have some issues. We can be fairly certain of the times when sensors went off line, but we are a little bit less certain about the timing that is in the current time line when sensors went off nominal. So we'll have to be a little bit careful about how we read those.
The debris that has been located is mostly from very late in the event, and it came from the breakup of the shuttle or just prior to the breakup. The debris, of course, that would be most helpful would be the ones from the earlier sightings of debris shedding over California and Nevada and Utah. As you're aware, we haven't confirmed any debris from these areas.
So to summarize, I think it would be fair to say that we have more questions than answers right now but we're getting smarter fast and I believe that there's a very good chance that we will, in fact, be able to localize the breach that occurred in the left wing. We certainly need to do this in order to determine the cause of the accident. Until we have determined that location of the breach, every postulated cause of the accident is really just a theory.
ADM. GEHMAN: Mr. Wallace.
MR. WALLACE: Our group is Group 2. Any way you count us, we're not in order, proof that we're not ourselves rocket scientists on the board. My colleague is -- we have two boards members on Group 2. Major General Ken Hess, who is the head of the United States Air Force Safety Center.
Last week I traveled to Kennedy Space Center with several of our investigators. General Hess did not join us on that trip. We, with all the groups, began the reconstruction facility. That's sort of a focal point of the investigation even for those of us who are slightly less involved in the hardware aspects of the investigation.
Our group met with the launch readiness review chairman. Our group, in addition to operations and training, has the flight readiness, certification of flight readiness process, the on-orbit MMT aspects as well as mission payloads. So our focus in the trip to Kennedy was on the, among other things, involvement of the Kennedy people in the flight review.
There is a launch readiness review, just sort of a typical time line here, which is conducted at Kennedy. It deals with the facility's infrastructure and the processing part of the orbiter, and that is typically a few days before the more formal flight readiness review which is typically a couple of weeks before launch date, the flight readiness review being the process that ends with the certification, signatures at the associated administrative level at NASA.
So we met with the chairman of the launch readiness review and the other people involved in that down at Kennedy. We also met with the final inspection team. There's a group that goes out to the pad in the early morning, just in the hours before the launch and makes a last final exterior inspection, looking for anything out of the usual. It's a top-to-bottom visual check and also indirect scanning check of the entire stacked assembly, looking for ice, debris, anything out of the ordinary. And we met with the launch director and went through the launch control facility and all the processes they went through down there. Without going into great detail, I can say that everything was nominal through the launch process.
An interesting focus of the launch director was he was particularly concerned with security issues, obviously I think a combination of the world situation and an Israeli astronaut. He said one thing that was different about this mission was the extreme security precautions.
The same team that does the final inspection also does the launch day video review. So they have 19 cameras focused on the shuttle as it lifts off and they immediately grab tapes from 19 cameras and go and put them in a composite and write a quick report on what they saw on the first day. We went through all that. They have different categories of things they look for. Categories of major anomalies, anomalies, and then another category called "funnies", anything that's not quite normal, and then just observations.
Everything on the day of the STS 107 launch was in the observation category. Ice sheds off of the umbilical, which is the lower point where the fueling from external tank goes into the orbiter. It's a perfectly normal procedure. They see frost in certain areas. There are light, almost cellophane-like wrappings that protect certain things, which are expected to just blow off, and do. And they expect to see minor scorching on the bottom of the fuel tanks. So they gave us a report on that, and everything was as they expected.
We also went to the space station processing facility because they have a role in payloads. Most of the missions are the space station's. This one was a science mission, did not go to the station. They utilize the same facilities for processing of payloads. So we went through to see how that process worked and discussed in some detail the types of payloads and possible connections with the way they're connected to the orbiter. I will say there are basically payloads in three areas on this mission. We have the Spacehab double module. The Spacehab, when you see the astronauts doing the Superman flight up and down on some videos from space, that's in and out of there. And then there's the free star platform on the back, which is outside of the Spacehab, not handled by anybody in space. Then on mid-deck where some of the crew lives, there are also some experimental payloads there, as well.
We went through their process, looking at anything that's new, anything that's different in terms of their very detailed approval process for carrying a payload, with strong focus on any interconnections to the orbiter or electrical or fluid connections. That process goes on. I will say that payload issues are not off the table, but I think I can say they're kind of getting close to the edge of it because we have done a lot of work and haven't seen anything significant so far.
I would say an intense area of focus for our group is now going to be on the flight readiness review and the mission management team, and General Hess is really leading on effort to focus in on that area. We'll probably be doing a lot of interviews in the next week or two on that.
You've heard lots of discussion about disposition of prior foam events. To the extent it enters into the flight readiness process, we would be involved in that and then all of the much-discussed E-mails and decisions to call in DOD assets and on again and off again. We will be very, very thoroughly running all that to ground.
Another area which Admiral Gehman has asked our group to look at is conditions for return to flight. I will say we will sort of divide conditions for return to flight into two categories. There's the big picture of ultimately who should go into space and why, and that is beyond our purview at the moment. I think, as Admiral Gehman said, we would intend to perhaps frame the debate in that area but not provide answers. What I think you will see this board do is provide more short-term return-to-flight recommendations -- that is, focused on what would be necessary to return to flight sufficiently to at least ensure the continued viability of the international space station.
While we don't have answers on what these recommendations will be at this point, I think here I can draw on my experience in the civil aviation sector and I would add that at the FAA, where I come from, we are being strongly assisted in this investigation by the NTSB at many levels. NTSB is down at the reconstruction. NTSB investigators are on our team and we have some NTSB senior aviation management people who are advising the board. So in the civil aviation process, I'm usually on the receiving end of the recommendations from them; in this case I will be perhaps on the sending of the recommendations.
I think you can anticipate a process similar to what you would see in civil aviation which would focus on both eliminating whatever specific failure you identify, perhaps even without determining that it was causal in the accident, eliminating specific failures and then either reducing the consequences of those failures or designing in an ability to tolerate those failures, so I think that sort of approach which we see in civil aviation. If we have a short circuit that causes a spark to ignite a fuel tank, well, we try to eliminate the short circuit, break, worn wire or whatever. We also try to inert the fuel tank ultimately. In other words, you want to eliminate the failure and tolerate the failure. I think that same general approach we would expect to use in these circumstances. That's all.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much, gentlemen. I just want to make one or two closing comments. Once again, the board is enormously grateful to the thousands of people who are out searching for debris. Debris remains very important to us. Last week, on an average day we had over 4,000 people out searching for debris and over a dozen helicopters or fixed-wing airplanes in the search. The NTSB is integrated into our program. We're very thankful to them. We're very thankful to the states that are continuing to help us by running down reports of sightings. The Navy has been working its way through all those lakes in East Texas and has found a number of important things under water -- Navy divers have. We're very grateful to them.
The specific searches, particularly around Nevada, have not turned up anything yet, but we do have very, very good radar tracking data that indicates that something fell off the orbiter and fell in the area of this position near Caliente, Nevada, and we're going to continue to search in that area. So I apologize for the rather long introduction, but I'll be glad to take your questions now.
A SPEAKER: Can I ask you to clarify the damage to the tires that you talked about? A couple of questions. First of all, are both tires on the left side damaged or is it -- are both of them damaged, the ones you had on the left side? Secondly, are you convinced that this damage to the tires did occur in orbit or while the shuttle was returning, as opposed to post after it broke up? Thirdly, if it did, in fact, occur in orbit, what could that have caused? What would that have meant?
MR. TETRAULT: Let me answer the first one. Both tires on the left side looked fairly similar and they have extreme -- just visually, they look like they have gone through extreme trauma, whereas the one on the right side is more typical of what I understand is a more normal wear after an accident where it has a blowout in one area and the rest of the tire is mostly intact. Also we see that the threads are basically pulled apart and then have heat damage to them at some later point, which would indicate that the heat damage was probably coming from the reentry. So we would expect that it would be either as the shuttle broke up or shortly there afterwards that it might have blown. We're not certain. I used the word "possibly" twice just to make sure you understood that I wasn't saying they blew up inside the wheel well. We don't know for certain exactly what that timing was, but it is possible that they, in fact, did.
ADM. GEHMAN: Let me follow up on that and let me ask Roger. We have telemetry from the wheel well, up until the time of loss of signal, that indicates that those tires were intact, they had the right air pressure, and they had the right temperature. So whatever happened, happened after the loss of signal.
A SPEAKER: Do you mean the loss of the original signal or the 30 seconds?
ADM. GEHMAN: The original loss of signal as NASA is calling it.
MS. BROWN: I'm going to try to take these questions geographically by groups to make it easier for the sound guys.
A SPEAKER: Mr. Tetrault, looking at the aluminum found on the tiles and the other edges there, can you give us any sense of how much aluminum was found on those as sort of a percentage of how that would be different and if that also is indicative of pre-event or during event or post-event?
MR. TETRAULT: The aluminum that we're seeing, we're seeing in a variety of different places. We're seeing a black deposit, if you will, which is on the tires, which appears to be aluminum. It has trace elements that indicate it may be Aluminum 2024, which is part of the support structures that we're dealing with. The kind of slag that we've seen on the inside of some of the RCC panels also includes aluminum. I don't know exactly whether that is coming from the event or whether it's coming from reentry heating. That's something that we still have to work on yet and try to refine our thinking on how it is. This information was brand new as of last night around 6:00 p.m. So we've got some work to do in trying to refine that.
A SPEAKER: You said there was a hole on the -- I think it's the elevon actuator. Is that right?
MR. TETRAULT: It's the left elevon actuator. The inboard side.
A SPEAKER: I'm trying to think, if that hole is caused by something coming off while the shuttle is in reentry before breakup, what the position of that actuator would be, how exposed it is to the wing in front of it, whether it's the under side or the over side of the wing that it's exposed to, et cetera.
MR. TETRAULT: The appearance of it, we haven't done any metallographic examination of it anywhere near the area of the hole. We just took some samples this weekend. I was on the phone over the weekend with Kennedy, just trying to determine what quick samples we might be able to run and get some useful information on it. Where we have an item that we have a concern that, by destructively evaluating it, we may lose information that we weren't smart enough to think about getting initially, we're going to be very conservative about taking those pieces until we know exactly what we want to learn about the piece, which is one of the reasons why we haven't tested around the area of the orbiter's hole in the elevon.
There are technical people who speculate that the hole was really part of the reentry process, the result of it. It looks like the way that that might fly, the piece that we have might fly in reentry, that it's entirely possible that it could have occurred there. We don't know for certain and won't know for some time.
ADM. GEHMAN: Let me make a comment here because I saw a couple of you shaking your head at one of the things that Mr. Tetrault said during his statement. It gets to this question. Right now we've got all these random pieces and we're seeing all these marks and chars and destruction. It will be useful to us when we get an identical piece from the right wing and the left wing and we can see there's a difference in how they looked. For example, if we did a right wing elevon and it has certain marks on it, we might attribute those marks, as Roger has said, to the normal effects of the vehicle breaking up and this piece entering the atmosphere. Then we look at the left elevon and it has all those things plus other marks. It's the "plus other" ones that lead us into the investigation. So until we get a couple of identical pieces -- that's why the tires are important. We have all six tires now and we have two of the landing gears. We have the complete nose landing gear, complete, and pieces of the others.
MR. TETRAULT: We have pieces -- that piece that we found of the strut, we are fairly certain now is, in fact, from the left side. The upper strut, that we have no certainty of exactly which side it came from and may never have certainty.
ADM. GEHMAN: But it's the comparative analysis which will be able to help us answer the questions you're asking. Right now we just don't know.
MR. TETRAULT: Let me give you one comparison. As I said, if you look at the debris from the right side, you can see that there is significant damage to the right side from reentry. We see the black deposits on the right side, not to the extent that we see it on the left side but it's on the right side as well, which means you had molten aluminum being sprayed or deposited onto those tiles on the right side where the event was not occurring. That's a very hot reentry.
A SPEAKER: ABC News. Can you tell us a little bit more about this picture of debris of tiles that came from the left main landing wheel rear door last week and what does the damage on that tile tell you about how the heat may have circulated and how temperatures may have evolved?
MR. TETRAULT: Let me talk to two of those things from last week. I think first there was the Lubbock tile, and it looked like it was almost heat coming up underneath that tile. One of the things that we observed when we went down there and started looking at a lot more tiles is that a lot of tiles looked like that. In fact, that seems to be the way that they fracture and the way that they remove themselves from the skin of the aircraft. They leave a piece of the RTV and the felt pad behind and a piece of the tile and they kind of break out in a conical section. You can almost take some of those tiles and replace them over the top of this cone that you see. I feel certain at some point we'll actually find one that matches. So the Lubbock tile is a little bit less interesting than we started out.
The other piece which we talked about last week, which was the left inboard wheel well frame on the forward side had an area in the aluminum frame which looked like air, very hot air, was blowing out of the wheel well and laterally across the normal air flow. So it would be 90 degrees perpendicular to the air flow. We've added two subsequent pieces to that which have now given us the entire frame of the inside door well, which I mentioned to you we now have, but we have no pieces of the door itself.
I would also like to say that as we look at this and try to analyze what's happening, it's going to be equally as important to recognize what we don't have as what we do have, because the stuff that started coming off out of California and Nevada and Utah we're not going to have unless somebody finds it out there. That, in fact, is going to be some kind of a clue as to where the breach occurred.
A SPEAKER: Associated Press. Mr. Tetrault, in your list of items that you discovered and analyzed, I'm wondering which offers the most encouragement to you in the pursuit of the piece you're seeking, which piece is particularly tantalizing.
MR. TETRAULT: Well, the ones that are just interesting and one where we're in a kind of purely speculative situation is the slag on the RCCs and how does it blow forward and how do you get the stainless steel and aluminum up onto the front and back edge, if you will, of an RCC when, in fact, that stainless steel is behind the area. So that to me is a little bit intriguing and something that we'll have to spend some time. I think the question that was asked about that panel where it appears to be blowing out and going laterally, that may be a late event. It may have something to do with the tires. We don't know at this particular point, but as we read these things eventually, I think we'll get answers to these questions.
A SPEAKER: New York Times. A question for Mr. Tetrault and Mr. Wallace. Looking at these E-mails that bounced around at various levels, this may be a cultural issue. Mr. Tetrault, you have long experience in the nuclear field. There are nuclear near-misses where there were lower-level people who did not bounce things up who may have had cultural reasons not to do it, were afraid of repercussions, afraid of losing their jobs. Have you gotten to the stage of looking at the culture of NASA or looking at whether there's a written procedural flaw here that prevented this from rising to an appropriate level?
MR. WALLACE: I'll give Roger a brief break. No, we haven't, but I also think that that is something that Admiral Gehman is probably going to charge the players-to-be-named-later group to look at. As I say, we will be running those E-mails to ground, getting the whole sort of factual story clear and interviewing all the people who are in that decision-making on-again-off-again process to understand what they decided and why. You know, I think, beyond that, in sort of the more root cultural management issues, that's actually a topic which is somewhat shared across the board and I think also expected to be given to the new group.
MR. TETRAULT: Can I finish that question? You brought up the nuclear issue, and obviously I come out of that side of the field. I've seen a number of articles which have asked why are there so many nuclear guys on this group, not only in the board but underneath at some of the levels. My own personal opinion is the nuclear has a history and because of that history it had to adopt certain attitudes and qualities over the years and particularly a questioning attitude about prove to me that it's right rather than I assume that it's wrong. And I think to some degree Sean O'Keefe saw the nuclear Navy as having some of those attributes that he probably wanted on this board to look at those kinds of things. I know in certain things I have looked at, I'm a little bit suspect of that questioning attitude that should be there that I'm not seeing. It's not in all areas obviously but in certain select areas.
ADM. GEHMAN: Steve Wallace replied exactly the way I would reply. In my calls on the oversight committees last week, I assured them that all of these issues about management and culture and history and oversight and lessons learned from previous studies from Challenger, we're going to get to that; but you've got to remember that at this point in the Challenger investigation they knew what went wrong. So the review of who did what to whom and who did his job well and who didn't do his job well was relatively fairly focused. I'm not really interested in casting about NASA to look for everybody just without any particular focus or without any reason, just casting about and casting some chill over NASA that we're searching for everybody who parked in the wrong parking place when they came to work this morning. So it has to follow either a deduced fault or an actual direct fault that we find. We will then do a complete review of all the aspects of the history and culture of NASA, getting into all those issues, but it has to follow a logical order.
Now, we're going to conduct our review through these management boards and committees and all those kinds of things in nice due process, but you've got to remember we're not following any particular fault here because we don't know what happened. With that caveat, yes, we're going to go after all those things.
A SPEAKER: CBS News. I think for you, Mr. Tetrault, two things about what you were telling us. I've never understood the telemetry of wheel well temperature rise rates in the context of an actual burn-through in the wheel well. I've never understood how the plasma could be in the wheel well that you wouldn't see more radical telemetry. Have you got a better sense of how something like that could happen that you wouldn't see more telemetry? The other thing is when you're telling us about the aluminum and the coating on the right and left, does anything of that tell you anything about the attitude of the vehicle in that last 25 seconds or 27 seconds before the final off the signal? Do you have any sense? I'm guessing what you're telling me is this thing could have going sideways or whatever and you're seeing the kind of natural flow you would have before it broke up.
MR. TETRAULT: I'm not sure I'm going to answer your question very specifically. With regard to the attitude and the telemetry, let me say this. I'm having difficulty with some of the off-nominal timings, as I mentioned to you. One of the reasons I'm having trouble is it's very simple physics. There was a Temperature A, brake line hydraulic fluid Temperature A that went up very early in the event. It was either the second or the third one that went off nominal. Temperature B, which sits about 2 inches away from it, did not rise until about a minute and a half later, whereas Temperature C which is probably 6 feet away and Temperature D which is 4 feet away were all rising off nominal. That doesn't make a lot of physical sense to me. What we find as we look at these temperatures is that it appears to be a straight line up and at some point NASA has called it off nominal and there may be some variability in where that call is on where it is off nominal. So what I'm trying to tell you is if you're trying to put together a time line, I think you can be fairly certain when it went off line; but when it says it's off nominal, I think you're going to have to take that with a little grain of salt and eventually you may find, as we build that time line, some shifting of these sequences around to some degree. Hopefully that answers your sensor question.
The one with regard to attitude, if you look at the sensors themselves and telemetry, it is interesting to note that all of them were going up off nominal but then they went up in a very, very sharp fashion as soon it rolled into the left-wing-down attitude. I won't say anything more, but it's interesting to note that that occurred that way.
A SPEAKER: Orlando Sentinel for Mr. Tetrault also. As you step back sort of just to sum up some of these earlier questions and look at the evidence you've accumulated so far, in your opinion, does it seem to be moving more towards a breach in the leading edge or a breach in the wheel well?
MR. TETRAULT: I think those are both equally alive. Everybody has their own theory. I'm sure each of you have your own theory. Everybody on the board has their own theory. I'm going to be patient and not express my theory at this time.
A SPEAKER: Houston Chronicle. I wonder if you could bring us up to speed on the foam story, what you're looking at now, if you're any closer to where the foam debris struck the underside wing, whether it was one or more pieces.
MR. TETRAULT: I really don't have a lot more to report other than what you have already heard. I do know that earlier this week that NASA is trying to develop a variety of experiments where they can look at cryo-pumping and some of those kinds of things in small-scale experiments where they can look at how well does this adhere and what is the likelihood that something would come off and so on and so forth. We reviewed that test plan earlier this week and gave them permission to go ahead and run that test plan. They also wanted, as part of that test plan, the authority to chop into a bipod, starting with the right bipod on external tank No. 120, which is very light weight but has the same configuration you would find on the 93 that was on the OV 102. We have not given them permission to do that and cut into it until they come back to us and tell us the results they got on the initial test plan.
ADM. TURCOTTE: To walk that backwards, there is another tank, ET94, I believe it is. It's a sister tank. We're looking back at the process, when that was put together, what were some of the process flows that went into that, were some of the propellant was changed at certain process points, some of the epoxies were changed. We're looking at all of those to figure out in many ways, if it did separate, how much did it separate and why did it separate, what lot number of the paint was used and what lot number, et cetera, et cetera. So it's just much more than just looking at the photos. We're trying to what-if. If there were some failure modes present, what if, how much would come off and when.
MS. BROWN: We'll take about four or five more questions here.
A SPEAKER: CBS News Radio. This is kind of an accounting question, so I don't know which one of you wants to tackle it. Could you clarify the most recent significant debris finds in the last week or so, what have been the most significant pieces, and also can you just reclarify your westernmost find, what it was and where it was again?
ADM. GEHMAN: The westernmost find is still a fraction of a piece of tile. It's not a whole tile. It was found in the area of Littlefield, Texas, which is well west of Fort Worth, as you know. We don't have a picture of that piece of tile. It's only a fraction of a tile. It's just now being inducted into the system. And I think Mr. Tetrault has already gone over his favorite piece several times. Certainly the landing gear, the wheels are very significant, but you're never sure when the golden nugget is going to show up. So it's hard to say what's significant.
MR. TETRAULT: A lot of times it's a very overlooked piece initially.
A SPEAKER: I guess I was trying to get a time frame. I'm sorry. Were those found during the last week is what I was getting at.
MR. TETRAULT: Not necessarily. The stuff we're continuing to find is mostly fairly small things. My understanding is what's happening in the field is most of the big stuff has been found and we are finding lots of screws and bolts and tile and tile pieces and those kinds of things which continue to come in, but we're not finding many of the really large things. That's just hearsay, if you will, about what they're finding in the field.
A SPEAKER: Newsday. I'm still interested in this aluminum spray. I'm wondering whether this flow that you mentioned that was 90 degrees to the flow of the air, was that flowing from the left wheel well toward the right side of the craft, and is it conceivable that could have been some aluminum in that.
MR. TETRAULT: No, it actually appears to be the opposite of that. It appears to go from the inboard left wheel well frame toward the left wing tip.
A SPEAKER: Can you say anything about what the mechanism might be to get that spray across?
MR. TETRAULT: None whatsoever.
ADM. GEHMAN: The flow, I don't think it's molten aluminum. It's not aluminum. It's a discoloration which seems to indicate a heat flow. It seems to flow from the left forward inboard side of the wheel well towards the fuselage.
MR. TETRAULT: I'm going to agree with the admiral because that's the side that the tiles are on.
ADM. GEHMAN: That's correct. Now, what does that mean? Stay tuned.
A SPEAKER: USA Today. Can you give us any progress report on the two or three or four different analyses going on with regard to trying to locate the breach or the thermal analysis, the aerodynamic analysis and whatever?
ADM. GEHMAN: I can tell you that the studies that we mentioned last week, which were kind of thumbnail studies, are now getting to be a little bit more sophisticated. Some of the things that we thought they would show us are now being challenged by experts, but we are still trying to do what we call a fact test. And Roger mentioned this two or three times. We're trying to find a scenario which fits the temperature readings. And we are inducing holes and we are inducing heat flow into the vehicle in various places and we are more sophisticatedly modeling how the heat flows in through all the little openings and cubbyholes and things like that. We don't have anything to tell you on the conclusion side. All I can tell you is that the analysis is getting more sophisticated and we're doing more of it.
Same with the aerodynamic analysis that Dr. Widnall is working on. We're trying to get smarter about that. The only thing I can tell you about the aerodynamic analysis is that even though the vehicle -- even at the time of the final two seconds in the extra 32 seconds after the loss of signal, the vehicle's attitude and position was correct. We do believe that the vehicle was fighting forces more strongly than we -- the fight was getting a little more vigorous at that point and we also believe that the beginning of some of the control measures that the vehicle was taking to maintain its attitude started earlier than we previously thought. So we're down now to it's a little bit more refined. So it looks like the vehicle was fighting aerodynamic flow forces a little earlier -- I'm talking seconds, not minutes -- a minute or two earlier than we previously thought. Little tiny deflections that we hadn't noticed before. But I can't tell you anything more about localizing or anything else.
MS. BROWN: A couple more questions here.
A SPEAKER: On the debris issues, we were told last week that the cassette that was shown last week was recovered near Palestine and the press reports I've seen on the other crew module contents being found further east. Was the debris spread from the crew module indicating that this cassette was unusually upstream, or were crew module materials spread out on a much larger area?
MR. TETRAULT: All the crew module debris is kept in a separate location that's in the same hangar. I haven't a spent a huge amount of time there because I've been concentrating on the left wing. I don't know exactly at this point where any piece of debris has landed. We have asked for that information; we have not received it. For us to analyze and go backwards and try to say where did the heat come from, we have to subtract out all of the reentry heat, if you will. And in order to do that what we need to do is find out where the debris landed, then try to get a ballistic coefficient from that and back it into the sky and say it left the aircraft here. That's part of all the analysis that we have to do. So my realistic answer to your question is: I don't know.
ADM. GEHMAN: I'm the spokesman on crew issues. Because of the sensitivities to the families and things like that, we are conducting that examination pretty circumspectly and anything that we learn -- if we learn anything that's unique or special from the crew debris, the crew module cabin or anything like that, we then carry it over -- we take it over to the curtain and put it out on the floor. So far nothing remarkable has come out of it. The cassette was located kind of in the primary debris field, and it was kind of in the same area where lots of stuff was found. So nothing remarkable about it was found.
MS. BROWN: One more.
A SPEAKER: CNN. Have we found more of one side of the vehicle? Do we know a percentage of which side we've found, a 60/40 percentage? And the tile that we have identified, are we going to be able to identify what part of the vehicle it was from and how that process happened?
ADM. TURCOTTE: I just left there yesterday. I spent about five, six hours yesterday and the day before. It's pretty evenly split, and not all of what we have is there. For example, we don't have the hydrazine tanks and some of the other vessels that are in there. They're in a separate location. So not all of what we have is there. As a broad brush scope, most of what you see is kind of a scattered range. If you were going to take a shot gun, it would be a good analogy to that. Again, a lot of what you see there is also stored on the left-hand side. Those are still for further processing. So as they come out and they're identified, it could come to take shape a little better; but right now it's pretty much of a general scatter.
A SPEAKER: The Los Angeles Times. Mr. Tetrault, you mentioned an interesting point that it's important to recognize what you don't have as well as what you do have and the importance of that. Given that you have most of the frame of the landing gear door but not the door itself, does that support the notion that the door might have been damaged or even been dislodged fairly early in the accident and also, if so, might that have anything to do directly with the trauma that has now been recognized in the tires?
MR. TETRAULT: At this point I would say it's just an interesting observation and I wouldn't want to jump to any conclusions about what might have caused us not to find the landing gear door. I think at some point we'll be able to answer that question, but I think it's way premature at this point to speculate on it.
ADM. GEHMAN: Our job is to fit six or seven of these investigatory themes together into a pattern that fits. If, for example, the thermodynamic investigation indicates that the loss of a tile would not have induced enough heat to show these kinds of things, if heat had to be introduced directly into the wheel well, then the door becomes very interesting. So these things all have to fit together before we can answer any of those questions. Right now they don't fit together, not that we can see.
MR. TETRAULT: But we do have some interesting tools. We know when various metals melt. So when we find deposits, we can get an idea of heat. We know that the core bond that's used on the aluminum skin begins to degrade at about 400 degrees. The RTV degrades at 500 degrees. All of these things we can put into a pattern as we look at this debris and try to figure out what was the cause, where was the heat coming from, and how do we back into it.
MS. BROWN: I think we had a couple of questions over here. Two more. Go ahead.
A SPEAKER: Dallas Morning News. Just listening to the general conversation here, it sounds like you people are dramatically farther along this week than you have been in the past. Would you characterize it that way, and does it mean anything for the speed with which you might reach a conclusion?
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, I would characterize this week as a very good week because we have so many independent investigations going on which are beginning to lead to little tidbits of information. The problem is that since we don't know where we're going, we don't know how far along the road we are. I think Yogi Bera had a saying, something about if you don't know where you're going, any road will do. That's kind of where we are. We're investigating everything right now because we don't want to leave any stone unturned. Yes, I would characterize this as a very, very good week because of the travel and the investigations that you heard reported by these officers, plus you multiply every one of these guys by six or seven and you realize how many things are going on here at the same time.
A SPEAKER: Aviation Week. Has the work in the last week on the ground-based photography shown anything provocative beyond last week? Secondly, as you look for this debris in the coming two weeks or so in the world of black-box type retaining data or cameras retaining imagery, what are some top priorities there?
ADM. GEHMAN: The photo imagery continues, but there's nothing new since I reported last week. The photo imagery shows debris shedding over California, which surprised me how early it showed debris shedding, tiny little pieces which probably never made it to the ground or, if they did, we aren't likely to find. The larger pieces of debris that were shed early, thanks to the NTSB and the FAA and military, we've tracked several of them all the way to the ground. Those are the ones that we're asking the local sheriff to go out and look in this spot, we're pretty sure there's a piece of debris out there. Unfortunately, the weather's been bad, it's covered with snow and things like that. So the answer to your question is, no, the analysis of the photography continues but nothing remarkable to report there.
We continue to put a high emphasis on the recovery of anything that has data, anything that stores data. It turns out that there are literally dozens and dozens of pieces of equipment on the shuttle that store data at one part or another. As we come across them, just like we did with the crew tape, after we finish, we're pretty sure that we've analyzed them and we've taken anything sensitive out of them, we make it public as soon as we have it. And there are no black boxes on the shuttle.
A SPEAKER: I meant generically.
MR. WALLACE: Right. There are no black boxes and flight data recorders. Of course, with the telemetry, they're actually in many respects way ahead of the civil aviation sector in that area. I would say, as far as cameras, there are three cameras which photographed the external tank separation right in the umbilical tube. These cameras are the ones you may have seen on past missions, extremely high-resolution photographs of the external tank separating. Unfortunately that requires a return to earth of the film. So it would be something we would love to see, but I don't think we're optimistic.
ADM. GEHMAN: That might possibly show the famous left bipod ramp. That's why we would like to see that.
MS. BROWN: Thank you very much. I want to apologize to the folks on the phone bridge. Someone had a phone ringing, and so we had to shut you down. Call us, and we'll answer your questions. The board members will stay around here a little while here to answer some further questions for you guys.
(End of conference, 2:16 p.m.)
1. Should indicate Admiral Turcotte is on Group No. 1
2. Should indicate two non-NASA people will appear
3. Should indicate SIAT
4. Should indicate it's called the Shuttle Independent Analysis Team
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