|Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Tuesday, April 8, 2003
3000 NASA Road 1
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Good afternoon and
welcome to today's Columbia Accident Investigation
Board press briefing. We'll conduct this briefing as
we have all our previous one. We'll begin with
comments from the chairman, Admiral Hal Gehman.
ADM. GEHMAN: Good afternoon. A couple
of general comments and then I'll turn it over to my
colleagues here, as we usually do. I'll introduce them
and they'll make a opening statement and we'll take
During this week the board has listened
to a presentation for the first of the NASA fault tree
closeouts. The first fault tree to be closed out was
the space shuttle main engine fault tree. They briefed
us on Saturday; and the board concurred with the
closing of that fault tree, with a couple of
administrative comments. So as we had indicated
before, the fault tree system is really a NASA system,
it's not a board system, but the NASA part of the
investigation has to get our concurrence to close out a
fault tree. We have another one that's just about
ready to come to us, depending on how it fares as it
goes through the NASA accident investigation team
process, which is ongoing right now. So we may have a
second one closed out later this week.
Debris searching. We also received a
briefing on how and when we will terminate the search
for debris. The ground search for debris in the
primary debris areas is 76 percent complete. That is,
76 percent of the area which is considered the primary
debris area has been walked by people, by these 5,000
to 5500 people that are doing this every single day.
So we're about 76 percent complete with that.
32 percent of the Columbia by dry weight has been
recovered. I don't have the exact number of pieces,
but it's slightly above 50,000 pieces have been
In addition to the ground search, there
are also metrics for air searches and things like that
which are also moving along. The water search, the
diving, looking in lakes and reservoirs and things like
that, is essentially 100 percent complete. They are
just about finished. They had some 2900 objects that
they detected by site scan, sonar and magnetometers and
other things like that which they then dove on; and
they've unfortunately only found one piece of orbiter
debris in any of these lakes. The search in Louisiana
is essentially complete, with the recovery of a couple
of main engine parts.
At the request of the board, the
searchers are looking with some vigor west of
Interstate 45 in Texas. This, of course, would relate
to the earliest shedding events and they are finding --
they always were searching out there. It's not
anything that the board invented, but we asked them to
energize that search a little bit more and they have
and they are, indeed, finding RCC pieces and tiles west
of Interstate 45, which was not in the primary debris
field. I'll let Dr. Widnall talk about the westernmost
piece of debris, the famous Littlefield tile. We have
some more information on that we would like to pass on
The board is very, very grateful to the
many agencies that have provided debris searchers.
There are over 90 agencies at one time or another which
have provided manpower or expertise. Right now the
bulk of the burden is being carried by the U.S. Forest
Service and the Texas Forest Service; and the board is
very, very grateful for their work and would like to
acknowledge the wonderful work that they've done.
As you probably are aware, two weeks ago
we lost a helicopter and we lost two lives in this
process. The board is very sensitive and appreciative
to that fact and feels that the debris searching is one
of the pillars that this investigation is built on.
It's enormously important that we continue to find
things in the debris. We continue to discover things
in the debris. So it remains important and
particularly in the western area, the search area. So
this is very important. We are very grateful to the
thousands of people that are working it so hard, and we
look forward to more findings.
We concurred in principle with the plan
of the team to close out the debris collection in
phases, based upon, first of all, the 100 percent
search of the most probable areas; and then there are
some conditional-based events on searching certain
other areas, depending on what we find. In other
words, we've ask for some other areas to be searched;
and if they find anything, then they will search some
I would also like to make a comment, by
the way. Another group of people that have been very
helpful to this investigation -- and I don't want
anybody to take this incorrectly -- but the press has
been very helpful to this investigation. I don't want
you all to report that because it seems self-serving,
but actually your digging and your analysis and your
research and your commentary has also aided in our work
and we appreciate that.
I would also like to note that the board
now consists of more doctors than generals; and if
that's progress, then we're making some progress.
All right. I'm joined today by one of
the board members from each of our three groups.
General Duane Deal from Group 1, Dr. Sally Ride and
Dr. Sheila Widnall from Groups 2 and 3 respectively.
I'll ask each one of them to make an introduction, and
then we'll be glad to take your questions.
GEN. DEAL: Great, sir. Thank you very
much for the opportunity.
Just to give you a real quick update on
what our board's up to, General Barry is in town this
week. He's putting his focus pretty much on the
management, human factor arena; and he's also busily
working to update and integrate all the board's inputs
together for one cohesive story. Rear Admiral Turcotte
has been in D.C., doing interviews, and he'll be at
Kennedy Space Center next week with me, doing more
interviews. I'm leaving for Michoud tomorrow, and I'll
give you an update on that because they have just
finished their dissection of the ET 120, the External
Tank No. 120, and I'll give you some results of that
shortly in slides. They'll be presenting the plan to
us for the dissection of the sister tank to ET 92 that
flew with the Columbia, that's ET 94, and what they'd
like to do with that so we can move ahead with our
We have three subgroups. We have the
Maintenance Sustainment Group with Air Force Materiel
Commands, Colonel Dave Nakayama and Lieutenant Colonel
Chris Morris. We have Management Human Factors with
Navy Captains Jim Frasier and Bill Smith and then Major
Lisa Sayegh. They have been out to Huntington Beach,
doing some interviews out there with reference to the
transition from Huntington Beach to Johnson Space
Center. We have Materials and Substructures, which I'm
going to be covering a lot in the slides shortly. That
has Mr. Chuck Babish, Clare Paul, and also Lieutenant
Colonel Larry Butkus who's a PhD that's out of the Air
Force Academy in engineering mechanics.
We've been cutting a pretty wide swath as
we continue our gumshoe work, as the admiral calls it.
We've been auditing paper processes; and paper
processes within NASA is everything from thousands and
thousands of pages, including one document, for
example, is 81 pages worth of ice inspection criteria
that you do out on the pad before it launches. Several
of us such as I have been stationed in both North
Dakota and Montana. So I know a little bit about ice
but not ice effects on foam. So we've had to get smart
on this kind of stuff so that we can know what type of
questions to ask.
We also look at thousands of pages of
electronic data with past work and actually quality
stamps, and it tells who has done what so we know who
to talk to and also, from the contract aspect, to find
out have we been fulfilling the contract as we should.
We're doing lot deeper looks into the qualification
verification process. I'll speak briefly about it in a
second, and we've also been heavily conducting
interviews with technicians, contract quality
inspectors, government inspectors, and also management.
We've also been monitoring some testing.
Again, the testing at Michoud underway the last couple
of weeks, I'll show you pictures in a second. Then
also, as you're aware of, Wright Patterson Air Force
Base has been doing testing on what could have been
that mysterious object floating around in space. We've
tested 30 items to date. The tests are still
inconclusive. We cannot say for sure what it is yet,
but we're getting a lot closer. We have several
candidates, based upon the on-orbit detection
capability and the radar cross-section. We're going to
have some further testing over the next week. You've
heard it reported it could be a carrier panel, and it
could because it's got a lot of characteristics we're
looking for, but we've added to the carrier panel
three-tile and four-tile carrier panel with the
structure brackets back behind it to test.
We're also testing two other things.
Instead of a full RCC panel, a partial RCC panel and
also a T seal. Then we also have our 50-pound brains
that will be doing the ballistic predictions to see how
it degraded its orbit and how it re-entered the
atmosphere. We'll try to correlate it. So we should
have some results for you next week on that.
The quality program has been a key area
of examination for us. As has been reported, the
inspections are down across the shuttle program, though
many inspections have been shifted to the contractor;
but so far our interviews are reflecting that we need
to update our procedures and the steps to examine.
We've been through it once and we made the transition
to the contractors. We need to look at it again and
fine-tune it and also the methods of examination such
as the surveillance of work that does not occur as work
is in progress, it's only at the end.
I'll remind you of a previous point on
that. You know, we've got to acknowledge that the bulk
of NASA is contracted. So we've got to examine not
just the contractor performance but also the contract
they're performing to; and we've added a Mr. Jack
Lehman from the Defense Contracting Management Agency.
He's bringing in other people to help examine those
contracts in the context of are they covering what they
should be covering.
I'd like to drive your attention to the
slides. Tom, if I could have my first slide, please.
Now, this is something you'll never see
fly again on the space shuttle. That's the bipod ramp
as it existed on Columbia and that's one we had built
up for us at the end of the table, making its third
appearance at a press conference today. Again, to
remind you, the +Y and the -Y, because that's going to
be key to what I'm going to show in inspection.
Next. I'm going to show you a short,
45-second video clip of a four-to-five-day process of
how they make a bipod. You're going to see foam being
sprayed in different layers, which you'll bear that in
mind as I go to show you some samples of a dissection.
You're going to see it carved; and, again, this is not
unlike a sculpting.
So let's go ahead and roll the next
It is greatly sped up. You can see them
spraying different layers, just essentially spraying a
glob on the external tank. Then they're starting the
sculpting work. They're doing it with angles. They're
doing it manually with very sharp knives. They're
doing it with lasers. Again, this normally takes four
to five days. So I hope that gives you an idea of some
of what they're going through to build that thing
that's on the end of the table.
Next slide. Now, you know that there
have been some known bipod ramp anomalies; and I've got
to emphasize to you "known," because we have too many
people that are saying, well, that entire program,
there's only been five, including STS 107. We don't
know that. What we've asked for is how many external
tank separation videos we can see the bipod ramp,
because we've had nighttime launches where you don't
see it, we've had times like on STS 107 that by the
time the crew filmed the external tank separation, the
tank had already rolled around to the other side and
you couldn't even see the bipod ramp. So it could be
5 out of 60. We don't know right now, and we've asked
to find out what type of footage we have from the past
so we can give you something that's a little bit more
Next. Now, as we start to do the
dissection of the ET 120 ramp, this is how we do it.
We've marked it out in various quadrants, cut it out,
and then started looking at it very closely. That's
what it looked like when it's totally stripped off of
Next. This is the +Y bipod that we
found. In the +Y we found a total of 43 different
voids; and for those of you that were in the hearing
yesterday, you heard about cryopumping and what can
happen when you have a void there.
Next. In the -Y we found 83 different
types of defects there. There are some examples of
them. Most of them, if you can look, you can see where
I mentioned how they're spraying it on in layers. You
can see how those layers are there and those little
lines in between the layers.
Next. One of the defects that bothered
us a little bit was a piece of tape, a FOD that was
embedded inside of this ramp. That's why at the
hearing yesterday we asked the question about tape and
how that could affect the cryopumping. This is
actually a piece of duct tape. All you guys in the
audience, we know how to use duct tape. Well, they use
duct tape here. On one side of the duct tape, it's
kind of clear. That's where the adhesive is, and
that's what that's showing. Then they purposely broke
this in two, and you can see the dark side of the duct
tape here. So this was found inside the bipod ramp.
Next. Changing subjects to the
carbon-carbon. One of the previous speakers from the
hearing this morning covered this pretty darn well.
I'm going to give you an additional data point that's
inconclusive at this point in time; that's one of the
things we're looking at.
Next. You know about pinholes, first
discovered back in '92; and they have since been found
on every single orbiter. The number of pinholes
increased with the amount of flight exposure that you
have, up to 20 to 40 over to a time period. Potential
root cause, as was mentioned this morning, the zinc
that came out of the service structure paint primer
could be an example, and then it adheres and as the
shuttle starts to re-enter the atmosphere, you can
combine them with the heat and with the silicon and
oxygen to form those pinholes that we talked about.
Next. This is a picture. You've all
seen this before, but coincidentally the left wing is
facing the service structure.
Next. This is the data point. Again,
it's inconclusive at this point in time; but when we
look at the exposure of the different orbiters once
they leave the Vertical Assembly Building all the way
to and from the pad -- for example, they have to roll
back in -- the total time exposed, Columbia is
significantly different than the rest of orbiters out
there. As a matter of fact, when you remove the rest
of the fleet from the days that were spent out exposed,
Columbia is nearly a week more on average than the rest
of the fleet, out exposed to the weather. So it's
exposed to corrosive salt air as well as the zinc in
the past from the platform.
Next. Then as an example, just to let
you know some of the things that we're looking into, we
have Colonel Nakayama and Colonel Morris that are
really digging down into this. These are examples of
past reports and what they've focused on the
recommendations that they're looked at that we're also
looking into. Infrastructure. How they've funded that
thing. How the five-year plans may or may not be out
there to address some of the ageing of the platforms,
quality programs that I've already mentioned. Safety
program -- and this is more the tactical level because
Dr. Ride and her group are maybe looking at the
strategic level but we're looking at the worker type
level. Maintenance, as I've mentioned. Contracts that
Mr. Lehman's looking at heavily for us. Also,
security, which appeared for the first time back in the
post-9/11 arena, that ASAP report of 2001.
Next. So that's all I've got.
DR. RIDE: Thank you. I'll give you just
a quick update on Group 2. First of all, General Hess
and Mr. Wallace, Steve Wallace, are both in town this
week. They're conducting interviews that are focused
on some of the areas that I'll be talking about, and
we're also working pretty hard to put together what
will be our group's report to the board later on this
week, just giving an assessment in some detail of where
We're finishing up an assessment of the
STS 107 training. That's the training of both the crew
and the flight controllers. We're about at the point
where we can say that there were no significant
contributors to the accident from training.
We're also finishing up an assessment of
the payloads, the STS 107 payloads; and we're working
with Group 1 as they look into NASA's closeout of the
payloads. The payloads also don't appear to be
contributing factors to the accident.
We're really focusing now on two specific
areas that are less tangible; and as a result, Group 2
comes equipped with no visuals like Groups 1 and 3.
We're really focusing, on the one hand, on trying to
understand how the foam impacts were classified, how
they were analyzed, how they were discussed, and how
they were dispositioned. The other groups are working
on, of course, the foam impacts as well, but we're
really trying to focus on the decision-making process
and we're starting with STS 107 and then kind of
working our way slowly backwards, so just next flight
back where there was a problem, STS 112. We'll take a
look at how that problem was classified, the meetings
where it was discussed, including the STS 113 FRR, and
then following that through. We're at the early stages
of that, and we're starting to do quite a few
interviews associated with that. General Hess was down
at Marshall last week, conducting interviews that were
related to that.
On a similar note, kind of the same sort
of tone, we're focusing heavily on the discussions, the
analysis, and all the decisions surrounding the STS 107
debris damage that occurred on ascent, what discussions
went on during the mission, what analysis went on
during the mission, what decisions were made about the
potential results of the impact, and decisions made or
decisions canceled regarding whether imagery should be
taken of the shuttle on orbit. So we're, as you can
imagine, looking into all the channels of
communication, the decision-making process that went
on, how the impact was treated, and broadening a little
bit more generally into how anomalies that may have
some history were treated, and using this almost as a
case example. So we're really trying to put together
the story here by using lots and lots and lots of
interviews. We're trying to interview all the
principals involved, from the engineering level through
the contractors to the program level and management
level. That's a very labor-intensive process. These
interviews are one to two hours each, sometimes longer.
We're also supplementing those with
minutes and briefing charts and also with the E-mails
that you're all so familiar with. All of these
together are helping us put together almost a
storyboard of what went on during 107. We're making
quite a bit of progress in this. I'd still classify it
as a little bit of a fog it's kind of hard to get your
arms around. We've got a pretty good idea of what
happened when and how the decisions were made and where
communications may have broken down, but we're still in
the process of really trying to get a full
characterization of that. As I said, we're going to be
using that to take a look really more systematically at
the communications process, the decision-making
process, and the way that anomalies are treated and how
the culture might or might not creep in. So do you
have to prove that it's safe to fly or do you have to
prove that there's a problem? That sort of issue. Has
one success led you to not consider problems that you
may have seen before because you had the problem once
but everything turned out okay, so maybe it's not the
problem you were originally thought it was? Those are
the sorts of things that we're trying to get to in
Then finally, because we're putting a lot
of focus on these decision-making communications
processes, we're going to start grafting into the work
of Group 4, which is a group that's really just getting
up and running, now that John Logsdon has joined us.
They'll be looking at these similar sorts of issues but
from a larger perspective, looking at the larger
management issues, larger decision-making processes,
work force issues, contractor issues. So we're going
to be working to make sure that they've got a good
background from all the interviews that we've done.
DR. WIDNALL: Well, I'll report a little
bit on the activities of Group 3. Group 3 is basically
what we sometimes call the technology group. The group
is very interdisciplinary; and our role is to really
bring the various engineering and technology
disciplines, materials, structures, aerodynamics,
chemistry, to really examine the incident itself, the
early development, essentially, the loss of the
Scott Hubbard is working on the whole
issue of damage from the foam strikes. He's
coordinating the tests that will be done at Southwest
Research Institute, both on testing RCC panels and
testing the tiles. Just to show you what kind of fun
engineers have, they have a big foam gun which is
capable of shooting a very large piece of foam at a
test object; and we think those tests will be very
important. Scott's putting a lot of energy into that.
Roger Tetrault is basically focusing on
debris, where they're found, what kind of damage there
is, sort of a debris forensics analysis; and this is an
area that's developing really quite rapidly. The image
I will carry of Roger from this experience is Roger
running down the hall with a piece of paper, waving it
in his arms, saying, "Look what we just found." So
that situation is developing as we speak, and we are
continuing to find interesting pieces.
Jim Hallock is basically doing a whole
variety of things, but I could focus on he's basically
paying a lot of attention to the closeout of all the
various fault trees that NASA's working on. He is also
focusing on the sensors. We get several things from
the sensors. Ideally, we get truth from the sensors.
We also sometimes get evidence from the sensors in the
sense that if a wire to a sensor burns through, we not
only know that we lost the sensor but we get
information about what may be happening at another
point on the vehicle. So he's looking very closely at
that and, as you can imagine, with the recovery of the
OVE, he's spending a lot of time looking at all the
data bits that were obtained from that. I think, in
general, it's too early to say what conclusions are
coming out of that; but it's an extremely important
I am really focusing on the
aerothermodynamics of this region of the flight, the
re-entry. This is an extremely hostile environment, as
I'm sure you all recognize. My own view of this is
that this is primarily an aerodynamic heating event as
opposed to an aerodynamic force event. However, the
early aerodynamic forces, I believe, are a diagnostic
tool because when you do have a change in aerodynamic
forces due to some kind of damage, it could give you an
indication of what kind of changes to the external
shape of the vehicle have been produced by this heating
event which we certainly believe scattered debris over
several states. So that's kind of what I've been
I want to access the external
configuration and sort through some of the scenarios.
The first slide that I put up is an example of this.
The vehicle remained in control for a very long time,
up to what we sometimes refer to as loss of signal,
loss of control, so that even though it was damaged and
had a different shape, the control system was, in fact,
able to fly the vehicle on a nominal trajectory. What
that allows us to do is to back out the aerodynamic
forces that were different from the aerodynamic forces
on a nominal flight, and we refer to those as the
off-nominal aerodynamic forces.
Now, this is a bit of a sensitive
analysis; and if you actually have a situation where
the vehicle is, in fact, maneuvering, then you sort of
get what scientists and engineers often refer to as a
zero-over-zero situation, where you have a lot of
sensitivity in your analysis.
Let me talk through this analysis and
sort of show you what I draw from this. First of all,
we have an off-nominal roll moment and an off-nominal
yaw moment. I'm a very visual person, so I wanted to
locate these off-nominal aerodynamic forces on some
kind of geography of where the vehicle was and try to
identify not every event that took place but what were
some of the key events which perhaps could have led to
a change in external shape. So I was, in fact,
somewhat surprised to recognize that the off-nominal
forces occurred off the coast of California. What that
sort of says to me is we're not going to find that
piece probably in the ocean somewhere. Maybe it will
wash up, but obviously that's very speculative.
I should also mention that it's very
important that this analysis be done accurately; and
every time there's new information, this analysis is
redone. The difference between the black line and the
blue line is that the group that's doing this at NASA
now has information about some upper atmospheric winds.
So they have corrected their original analysis to
include the effect of upper atmospheric winds. These
do make difference. So we're sort of zeroing in on the
off-nominal aerodynamic forces to a degree of accuracy.
I mentioned the issue of sensitivity of
the analysis. When you go through roll reversal of the
vehicle, you cannot do this analysis to any degree. So
don't read anything into these fluctuations. It's
really a breakdown in the analysis. What is
interesting about this is the behavior of the roll
moment. This reversal of the roll moment is very
intriguing, and one can postulate a number of
aerodynamic scenarios. We do not have an explanation
for the reversal of the rolling moment. I think we
sort of understand the increased yaw moment. This
could come from increased drag on the left side of the
wing, but increased rolling moment can only come from
increased lift on the left side and we don't at this
point understand that.
In terms of when that began, it does, in
fact, correlate with a flash in debris event that was
observed. I attach no particular significance to
Debris 14. It was just an example of a debris event.
We have the Kirtland photo which reminds us what the
vehicle was telling us at that point in time and then
finally the loss of control. So from my point of view,
it's telling us something about the external shape of
the vehicle; and that's a line that I'm pursuing.
Now, the next slide. Basically we do
have some data from the OVE. I'm not presenting this
as anything to draw a conclusion, but I want to show
you the typical data that's been recovered from the OVE
and how it relates to other tests that NASA has been
doing. So I was very interested in this particular one
which is a temperature sensor from the left side of the
OMS pod. The next slide shows what that looks like.
This is a kind of nominal set of flights. This data
does this. Aerodynamicists are not too surprised when
things first go negative and then go positive. It
could be a flow structure that's moving.
The next slide shows how one would begin
to think about that in terms of some wind tunnel tests
that NASA had done. I just point to this one in
particular. NASA has done a very comprehensive set of
tests on models where they have removed individual RCC
panels one at a time and measured forces and heat
This is interesting. It seems to
correlate with the tests they did to remove RCC Panel
No. 9. Again, this is not an exhaustive analysis of
this. I present it more as an example of the kind of
testing and correlation with data that is going on now,
but you see this is a heat-sensitive paint that's put
on the model. So where you have yellow is a high
temperature, and one can then begin to correlate this
high temperature with the front of the OMS pod where
that particular temperature sensor was located. Again,
this is just an example of the kind of analysis that
one has to go through to make sense of all of this.
Okay. I will think it will come as no
surprise to you that we are very interested in the
whole question of the RCC panels. That is starting to
emerge as obviously a scenario for the accident. The
next slide shows the debris from the RCC panels that we
are getting. We are very interested obviously in the
fact that the left RCC panels have come off before the
right RCC panels. This is their location along this
Admiral Gehman mentioned that we're very
interested in whatever would be found west of I-45, and
the search has been expand in a systematic way to go
west of 45 from the point of view of the cause or
scenario development of the accident itself.
Obviously, I think the most interesting pieces will be
found in this region; and, in fact, we are finding
pieces. So that scenario will emerge.
The admiral mentioned the Littlefield
tile, which up to now, I guess, has been our
westernmost piece of debris. This is a rapidly
changing story. I think this morning we thought it
might be a black tile. Now we think it is a white tile
that's been painted black by some kind of disturbance
in the flow, but I think at this point the group that's
looking at that believes that this is a tile that comes
from the upper surface near the leading edge, kind of
in back of RCC Panel 8, 9, that general area.
Stay tuned. That's all I have.
ADM. GEHMAN: Left wing.
DR. WIDNALL: I should say left wing. If
I don't say it, I mean left wing.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you.
All right. Woody.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Okay. We'll begin
with questions here in Houston.
A REPORTER: New York Times. You don't
have a conclusion. You have emphasized the uncertainty
of what the radar signature is of the mystery object on
Day 2. You were presented today with a very detailed
map of damage historically to tile. I gather there is
no similar map for damage to RCC from impact. You've
ruled out SSME. You're on the verge of ruling out
other things. Can you rank what you've got now? You
have said what it isn't. You've raised the possibility
of damage to RCC. Are there any other leading theories
besides damage to RCC on liftoff?
ADM. GEHMAN: Yes. Any part of the
leading edge system is a candidate for the intrusion of
heat into the front of the wing. So T seals, horse
collars, carrier panels, pieces of RCC are all
candidates; and they are all in the family that's being
tested. What General Deal was saying is that you can't
prove a piece by this kind of methodology, you can only
eliminate pieces. So now we're sending up varieties,
variations on the theme, a carrier panel with more
tiles attached. We tested an RCC panel, a complete RCC
panel. Since the debris indicates that almost all of
the RCC panels fractured in the middle, now we want to
know what does a half of an RCC look like for radar
reflectivity because it has sharper edges. Sharper
edges, tetrahedral corners is what makes radar
reflectivity. So does that capture it.
GEN. DEAL: Yes, sir. Exactly. The
first test -- and I don't have a chart to show you --
it showed that the carrier panel that we had being
tested up there, portions of it fit within the band of
the radar cross-section. What we're trying to do now
is build it up to where it could have been with
additional structures such as the brackets that it
attaches to in the back and look at three- and
four-tile configurations, as the admiral mentioned.
Then as he said, the entire RCC panel did not show that
it fit within that, but a partial one might, as a
T seal we did not test. So we're narrowing it down
right now with radar cross-section and, again, we're
going to have to fit that back in with a ballistic
coefficient, as well, as it would start to re-enter, to
see if there's a match there. So again, hopefully
within the week we'll give you more.
A REPORTER: Aviation Week. For General
Deal. You mentioned that the Columbia orbiter had
spent a lot more time in the pad. Are there any other
ground-handling factors that distinguish Columbia?
Also, is there a reason why it was in the pad longer
than the others that you've been abled to identify?
GEN. DEAL: This is a new one that we've
just started looking into. So unfortunately I don't
have anything conclusive to tell you yet. Part of what
we are seeking is we've got the amount of days spent
out. Now, we're looking at what the meteorology was
during that time period. So we're going back. We are
in the process of looking at that, you know, what type
of rain exposure or water exposure could have been on
it as well and also how much it was uncovered during
that time period. So we are at the initial stages of
that. Stand by for news.
A REPORTER: Washington Post. For
Dr. Ride. I'm wondering, Dr. Ride, in your
interviewing and putting together this storyboard that
you were talking about on decision-making, have you
come across anyone yet who felt that his concerns about
the condition of the left wing during the mission or
the need to photograph it were not listened to or given
DR. RIDE: We've now interviewed, I would
say, most of the engineering-level folks who were
involved in the debris assessment team and basically
the team that was formed immediately after it was
realized that there was impact, to assess that impact.
That team met as a whole on, I want to say,
January 21st. It might have been January 20th that
this particular meeting occurred where they believed
that, coming out of this meeting, the concluding idea
of the meeting was to request imagery. Then they made
an attempt to go through actually a few different
channels, and we're still tracing down exactly what
happened through each channel, to get the imagery
They had what you can appreciate is real
good engineering reasons for wanting the imagery. You
know, this is a pretty complicated process that they go
through. It was a large team, and it was a large team
because there are several steps that are required in
this. You know, the first step was just analyzing the
video from the launch and determining there was
something that had come off and had hit the orbiter.
So the first step was about how big is
this piece. And that's the photo folks. They give the
size of the piece and location that it came from to the
transport folks, who then take a look at the
aerodynamic fields between the orbiter and the tank and
say, okay, well, so where did this thing probably hit
and at what angle. There was a fair amount of
uncertainty in that. In fact, a large amount of
uncertainty in that.
So their responsibility was then to pass
that on. You know, it probably hit going this fast at
this angle in that place, but they couldn't pin it down
and they didn't pretend to be able to pin it down.
Their job was to hand that to the impact people who
would, you know, say, okay, it was coming this fast, at
this angle, so it created this much damage. But they
didn't really feel that they had accurate input to make
They would then hand off the tile damage
that they calculated to the thermal people, who would
calculate the potential thermal damage to the orbiter.
So there was this whole string of engineers who were
all in this meeting together who all said: We need to
constrain this problem more. We need some more
information. We need some more data. We could use
some images. Let's go request imagery.
Now the question is why didn't that
request make it to the program managers and up into the
system. We think it's a little too early to
characterize all the different places where that broke
down, but it's everything from just missed
communication, you know, to areas in the system that
might not have appreciated the importance of the
imagery, might not have appreciated what, in fact, it
could give them. Just a variety of different reasons.
So it turns out that this is not a simple story to be
putting together, but that's about where we are at the
A REPORTER: Where was the meeting held
and how many were in attendance?
DR. RIDE: It was tens of people in
attendance, and it was an engineering meeting at JSC.
A REPORTER: Associated Press. I, too,
wanted to ask a little bit more about the in-flight
analysis of the debris hit. I know that after the
accident we were told that Boeing and NASA was going to
go back through and re-look at everything. Is that
over with? Have they gone back and redone their whole
analysis and what have they learned that they did or
didn't do right, or is that still ongoing? If you
could sort of also put sort of a characterization on
the in-flight analysis as a whole, whether you thought
it was too fast, too anything. I don't know who best
to answer that.
ADM. GEHMAN: Actually that's Sheila
Widnall's group to answer.
DR. RIDE: I can do parts of it, too.
ADM. GEHMAN: The board has conducted
and, as has NASA, relooked at the analytical model they
used to determine impact damage. Neither NASA nor the
board are satisfied with the model. The model has a
lot of limitations. It's a rudimentary kind of model.
It's essentially an Excel spreadsheet with numbers that
go down, and it's not really not a computational model.
It's really just a bunch of data based on previous
experience and some testing, but it is not a predictive
model. You go and you look up where you are and you
get this much damage. The problem here, of course, is
that we're off the scale.
A REPORTER: So could you characterize?
I mean, it sounds if neither you nor NASA is satisfied
with it, then obviously the analysis was bad in flight.
I mean, how far do you want to go in condemning it?
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, I think I want to go
as far as I did. Neither NASA nor we are satisfied
that this model is good enough for what we need it for.
It was all they had. The model we're talking about is
this crater model, and it was based upon both what they
have observed and also testing. I mean, they actually
have shot objects at tiles and measured what you get
when you shoot objects at tiles; but as we are all
aware and has been reported before, the largest object
that they have fired at a tile is something like 1 inch
by 1 inch by 3 inches long, nowhere near something
that's 9 inches by 15 inches by 20-something inches.
So when you go and you look it up on the model to see
where you are on this particular foam strike, you're
not even on the page. So now somebody's got to
extrapolate that. So that's not a very satisfactory
In addition to that, the computer
modeling, the capabilities of computers these days are
such that you can do better now than you could then.
So, no, nobody is satisfied with the state of the art,
that we're happy with the state of the art.
DR. RIDE: Let me add to that, if I
could, just to broaden a little bit. I think it's fair
to stay that NASA and the board are re-looking at all
the aspects of that in-flight analysis. So one example
is that the ascent imagery has been reviewed now, using
lots of sophisticated image reconstruction techniques,
and we've been able to narrow down a little bit more
where the hit actually occurred. So that's one example
There are several things to ask about
regarding the in-flight analysis. The use of the
crater program is just one. It had also not been used
as an in-flight decision-making tool before. That's
not what it was intended to be used for. There were
also a couple of assumptions that were made that
probably seemed reasonable at the time that, with tile
damage, the damage wouldn't go below the SIP, so that
the bottom layer of tile would still be left. That
assumption was made. Then, you know, was the thermal
analysis done on the worst case places, did it cover
any of the areas of the CILs. So all of these things
are questions associated with the analysis and, you
know, people are going back and looking at each of
these steps along the way. Again, you know, our focus
is really more on the process itself and what voice did
the engineering group have and how were engineers and
managers reacting to what they were faced with.
ADM. GEHMAN: I hate to belabor this but,
but I fell into the trap of perfect hindsight. Sally
reminded me of this. At the time they didn't know the
size of the foam. You see, I said it didn't apply to a
piece of foam that was this big and this wide and this
thick; but at the time they didn't know that. We know
that now, and I inadvertently transferred myself in
time there. So as Dr. Ride mentioned, that was one of
the many unknowns at the time. I wanted to correct
that before we moved on.
A REPORTER: USA Today. For Dr. Ride.
Along the lines of some of the other questions, have
you found anyone at NASA or among the contractors who
had serious doubts about the crater analysis after it
DR. RIDE: During the flight you're
talking about. We have not talked about anyone yet --
we haven't run into anyone yet who had serious
questions about the crater analysis. What we have
found is that most of the people we talk to were not
familiar with crater, and I think that that just
reflects the fact that it was not a tool that was used
in flight. It was not a decision-making tool, and it
was not a tool that people were used to in this
environment. So, no, we haven't run into that.
A REPORTER: So were the people who
weren't familiar with crater, were they comfortable
accepting the results of the analysis then? They
didn't question it too much?
DR. RIDE: It appears that they were
fairly comfortable with the analysis. It appears that
they asked good questions about what it was based on,
they asked good questions, can it be extrapolated to a
piece this large, and there was some work that had been
done to try to verify that it could be extrapolated.
For example, the engineers went back and tried to apply
crater to, I think, the STS 50 hit to see whether it
predicted something in the ballpark; and it appeared
to. So they seemed to ask the appropriate questions in
the meetings leading up to the decisions.
A REPORTER: Orlando Sentinel. For
Dr. Widnall or Admiral Gehman. I understand that NASA
is analyzing some globules of molten aluminum that were
found in Utah. Could you talk about whether the
analysis has confirmed or rejected the possibility that
they are parts of the shuttle; and, if they are pieces
of the shuttle, what is the significance of the find?
DR. WIDNALL: My understanding is that
those are now considered not to be part of the shuttle.
ADM. GEHMAN: That's correct.
A REPORTER: Florida Today. For the
admiral or anybody on the board. Mr. Blomberg today
pretty much recommended, given the fact that the
shuttle appears as if it's going to be flying into the
2020s, that the United States ought to go off and build
a couple of new orbiters; and I was wondering what your
view on that issue is.
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, I'll speak for
myself. I seriously doubt that the board will address
an issue like that. I suspect that when we write our
report, the board will attempt to frame the issue. We
will attempt to restate the risks and make sure we
understand the costs and the benefits. We'll try to
baseline the debate, but I doubt that the board will
make a recommendation like that. That's really for the
administration and the Congress to decide something
like that. We probably will want, however, to
characterize the issue as well as we can and put that
debate in context; but I doubt seriously if we're going
to come to a flat-out recommendation like that.
A REPORTER: ABC News. I'd like an
update, Admiral, on a couple of issues. What
significant new debris do you have and anything new
from the OEX recorder?
ADM. GEHMAN: I'll talk about the debris.
Maybe I'll led Dr. Widnall talk about OEX things. New
pieces of debris? We have found more RCC and more
left-wing tile scraps, pieces, including some
completely intact tiles. West of Corsicana or west of
Interstate 45. It's not shown on that map up there.
Other than that, I mean, we continue to find a couple
of hundred pieces a day; but I don't think that there's
anything particularly remarkable. I mentioned that we
have found main engine pieces in Louisiana -- Fort
Polk, Louisiana. I don't think there's anything else
that's particularly remarkable that comes to my mind.
As far as the OEX recorder --
DR. WIDNALL: I'd say a few things about
it. My understanding that there's this much data. If
you put each sensor on a piece of paper, it would be
this much. You know, I've seen a couple of traces
particularly interesting, you know, temperature on the
front spar. I think basically, you know, the group
that's doing it -- in fact, they are probably meeting
as we speak; and I'm missing that meeting. It's very
important to do it very systematically, to do it very
carefully. The whole question of the validity of
sensors is important, and in some situations we may get
more information out of the fact that a sensor wire was
burned through at a particular place on the vehicle
than the actual measurement itself.
There are pressure measurements, but my
understanding is the pressure measurements were
designed for ascent and so those pressure sensors,
particularly like pressure of 14.7 psi, which is sea
level pressure, you get them up to almost no pressure
and you don't really get very accurate readings.
Temperature measurements. There are strain
measurements, but then you have to ask the question
about whether those strain measurements are also
sensitive to temperature.
So it's going to take really an
interdisciplinary team to sort that out, and it's
really important to do it well the first time. So I
presented one piece of data just to sort of show you
the kind of data that's becoming available and how you
might tie that into an analysis of the vehicle; but I
think, in general, it's just too early to say. Maybe
by next week there will be some more to report.
ADM. GEHMAN: The OEX data is analyzed,
and we get it kind of in three- and four-day
increments. We're not all hanging over there, waiting
for the next of the 590 pieces of data. So we kind of
get it in little increments after it has been looked at
by professionals. So one of those report-outs is going
on this afternoon.
A REPORTER: Houston Chronicle. I have a
couple of RCC related questions. One, what is your
thinking on this fracture pattern, center-line fracture
pattern? Is that evidence of zinc oxidation, or is
that a question mark? Two, during the mission itself,
how much discussion was there among the engineers about
impact on RCC versus tile and main gear door seal?
ADM. GEHMAN: I'll take the first half of
that, if that's all right, and let Sally talk about who
knew what when. We don't right now have a good answer
for why we seem to see this fracture pattern in which
not all but most of the RCC panels which we've
recovered seem to have broken right at that narrow neck
there. It could be that they were either all put under
some torsion or all put under some tension and then
they all cracked that way. We don't know that until we
do some more testing. Keep in mind that part of our
foam shooting that we're going to do is we're going to
shoot foam at RCC as well as tile. So hopefully we'll
learn some more about that, but that's one of the many
items we've got to run to earth. So we don't know.
As far as whether or not there's any
evidence of discussions about damage to the RCC, I'll
turn it over to Dr. Ride.
DR. RIDE: There was very little
discussion of RCC. It was brought up, but there wasn't
very much discussion about it. Crater, as an analysis
tool, was not intended to look at impact into RCC. So
although it was discussed, the focus was very clearly
on the potential of damage to the tile.
ADM. GEHMAN: I'd like to correct
something. There is a record of RCC repairs and
damage. Yes. There is a record, and that's maintained
by NASA in the orbiter turn-around.
A REPORTER: What does it show?
ADM. GEHMAN: What they used to do, what
they did for years and years is actually take a piece
of tracing paper or something like that, lay it over
the RCC panel, and actually mark every little gouge and
nick and pinhole. Then they make their repairs. Then
the next time the orbiter flies, they come back and
they take that tracing paper and lay it back over again
and mark in new gouges, nicks, and pinholes. They have
been keeping record.
They don't do that anymore because I
don't know what their process is. I forgot to get back
to you when you mentioned that. It doesn't show any
particular trends. That's how we know how many
A REPORTER: That's not the question.
Pinholes are not impact damage.
ADM. GEHMAN: Oxidation.
A REPORTER: Right. What record do they
have, if any, about hits to the RCC and damage from
hits to the RCC? Are they only tracking damage so they
don't know what hits were and what was by other
GEN. DEAL: It's the same thing.
ADM. GEHMAN: Just like we showed those
in the briefings today where we showed, they counted
every nick to a tile, every nick to an RCC, too.
GEN. DEAL: Well, let me expand a little
bit on his question. We're also looking through the
NDE methods that we're looking at with the RCC to see
what they can tell us about the remaining RCC. You
know, the thermography, the slides that we've shown
here in the past and maybe some other type of things,
the ultrasonics we may be looking at, too, that may
give us a better idea if there is some kind of breach
along that leading edge, as well.
A REPORTER: CBS News. Two related
questions for Dr. Ride. They're intangible, and I
guess you're our intangible expert today.
DR. RIDE: Yeah. Great.
A REPORTER: Well, seriously, it struck
me several times during this investigation that you're
dealing with an agency that has a 40-year history of
focusing on the ascent phase because that's where all
the obvious tremendous energies are involved. I'm not
saying it's not during entry, but that's where a lot of
the focus is. I'm wondering if there's a psychological
factor from this agency looking at launch versus entry
that lets you get into a flight like this and so
easily, except this data that you were referring to is
not at all comfortable data to decide this isn't an
issue. Related to that, even after 112 we heard from
the tank guys yesterday that are saying here you've
still got a top-level program requirement that says
you're not supposed to have any foam impact. Okay.
That's still there. And you also have them testify in
answer to one of y'all's questions could you lose a
vehicle from this. They both said absolutely. I guess
I'm trying to understand the psychology that gets you
after 112 to say this is not a safety-of-flight issue.
I'm utterly baffled that this not a safety-of-flight
issue, and I'm wondering what your thoughts are as to
how that could evolve.
DR. RIDE: Talk about the danger of
falling into hindsight. We're actually trying to
understand that, too, because there is the guiding
principle that nothing should hit the orbiter; and it's
written in the documentation. The other thing that's
written in the document is that the TPS system is
Criticality 1. That's on the one side.
On the other side is that through the
history of the 100 flights or so, there's been debris
impacting the orbiter on virtually every flight.
You've seen the records of it. We've been seeing the
records of it. I think one of the things that we're
going to be particularly interested in -- I mean, as
you can imagine, I'm hearing a little bit of an echo
here because the question is when the first damage
occurred on early shuttle flights. I mean, I can tell
you and I'm sure you remember tile damage was a very
big concern in the early stages of the shuttle program,
a huge concern. Everyone was worried about the main
engines on ascent and the tile on re-entry. Those were
the two leading issues in the early days of the
The early flights came back with some
tile damage, but in almost every case it was
turn-around issued. There were changes that were made
to the tiles. There were improvements that were made
in the early days of the program, reasonably
continuous, actually; but as time went on, people, I
think, got used to tile damage from debris off the
external tank, got used to repairing that between
flights, got used to thinking of it as a turn-around
issue. I think we saw that in the way that problems
were handled after STS 87, STS 112, and during 107.
That is just the sort of thing that we're trying to get
So as I said, I think I'm hearing an echo
here. Of course, during the Rogers Commission, one of
the things that came out early on was that the O rings
were not a problem for the first time on this flight,
on 51L. They had been a problem on not just one, not
just two, not just three, but several shuttle flights
before the Challenger accident and NASA had started
to -- you know, it was almost the case that if you --
the famous discussion of Richard Feynman that you
survived it the first time, so suddenly it becomes more
normal and it happens enough and now it's a normal
occurrence. You know, we're trying to understand
whether that same thinking crept in with the foam off
A REPORTER: ABC News. I agree there's a
lot of danger in slipping into the hindsight is 20/20
vision, but I'm not clear exactly on the process of a
chit. For Dr. Ride. I would like to understand how
that works, who can write one, was there a thought
that, did anyone try to write one on this case, what
happens when one is written.
DR. RIDE: The process of a chit. Chits
are used. I'll tell you how I'm familiar with chits.
Chits are often written by the flight controllers in
mission control when they want to task the engineering
community to look at something for them during the
flight. The concept here is that the mission
controllers are all experts on their system but they're
busy working, controlling the space shuttle during
launch, on orbit, or re-entry. They have a lot of
information at their disposal; but if a special
analysis needs to be done or redone or they need to
call in extra resources, they do that by calling on the
engineering community that is supporting the flight but
from outside the control center. That engineering
community is controlled through the MER, which may
stand for mission evaluation room or may stand for
something else. The MER -- the flight control team can
write a chit to the MER, asking the MER to look into a
specific problem. Then the MER will form a team to
look into that problem and report back.
Now, it is possible and I think that
other people can also write chit to the MER, not just
the flight control team. I'm familiar with it from the
point of view of the flight control team, but I believe
that the program office or other people who had some
concern could also write a chit to the MER. But a chit
is the way you ask the engineering community to
evaluate something specific for a flight that's in
A REPORTER: So a concerned engineer
couldn't have written a chit and then it would have had
to have been closed before the process continued?
DR. RIDE: You know, I see what you're
asking. I think what you're asking is could a single
engineer use a chit as a way of raising the flag up the
flag pole? You know, I'll not really sure. I think
that the engineers probably think that they have better
ways of proceeding with their concerns. You know,
there are channels that they have for their concerns;
and I would suspect that it wouldn't occur to an
engineer to write a chit, it would occur to the
engineer to go through these other channels that are
set up specifically for that purpose.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Okay. We'll go to
our phone bridge. Is anyone on the phone bridge?
A REPORTER: Earth news. For Dr. Ride.
You talked to us about your involvement. Can you step
back and give a big-picture contrast, how different
this commission is from the Rogers Commission of that?
Do you see any signs that NASA has slipped back into
their pre-Challenger mentality in terms of safety.
For General Deal, what type of
area-to-mass ratio are you thinking about for the
mystery object. The people who know me know I'll never
avoid touching a statistic. Any thoughts about the
fact that, in the charts you showed about the amount of
time Columbia spent on the lunch pad, that a very
larger percentage of it is just a handful of missions,
a couple of cases where Columbia spent six months on
the pad trying to get off the ground for a single
flight and was that a factor.
GEN. DEAL: He asked you first.
DR. RIDE: Well, I could probably talk
for hours on this subject. So I'll refrain from my
professorial tendency and not do that. Let me just say
that the investigation, believe it or not, is very
similar in a lot of respects. There are just obvious
differences. The difference is in the accident itself.
You know, when we started looking into
the Challenger accident when our commission was first
formed, we actually didn't have any idea what caused
the accident; and we started a slow slog through the
data. We actually thought we were going to be in
trouble because the Challenger exploded 73 seconds
after liftoff. There was no telemetry to the ground
that was an indication of the accident. There was
nothing on board that was an indication of the
accident. The launch videos that we saw didn't give
any clues to what the problem was. There was no
downlinked data that mission control wasn't at the time
looking at that was useful. We weren't sure that we
were going to find anything, because it exploded over
the ocean. So we actually thought that we were in for
a long haul.
Now, we quickly came upon -- we got luck.
We got lucky because when we started through the slog
of all the data, some of the data that was available to
us was the launch photos, the high-resolution
photographs taken on the launch pad. One of those
photographs, if you remember, just showed the famous
puff of smoke. Well, the orbiter was still on the
launch pad, less than one second after ignition. The
puff coming out of the aft solid rocket. So as soon as
we saw that, we said, okay, let's try following these
puffs; and, of course, we could.
Just as an interesting aside, the launch
cameras didn't work well then either; and we didn't
have access to the cameras that would have shown us
exactly where the problem was. But with that clue we
were able to really kind of hone in and put together
the story, not from the photos but using the photos
kind of as the first clue. We were able to put
together the story from the debris that was gradually
found, to track down the flow path; and the telemetry
that we slowly analyzed just to look at, you know,
where were the shear and how were the control systems
responding and put together the story pretty quickly,
much more quickly than we've been able to do here. But
it all started because we got pretty lucky by having
that photographic evidence of the initiation of the
problem. But it was detective work.
Now, what you're seeing here is very
similar detective work that requires a use of
essentially all the available evidence. The
photography is really crucial. Would that we had
high-resolution good launch video of this accident or
this flight just to see, you know, how big was that
piece of debris, where did it hit. Then we'd have much
better justification of honing on that. We haven't
pinned that one down yet. We still are not certain.
You know, we're going through the debris, collecting
the debris, probably at about the rate that we were
collecting it after the Challenger accident, and going
through the real details of the telemetry. So the
investigative work is actually rather similar but
harder in this case.
You know, you asked a question about
comparing the commissions. I would say that the talent
on the two commissions is actually very, very
comparable. I mean, this is a board that started with
a lot of expertise in the details of investigations,
accident investigations. The Rogers Commission brought
that talent onto the staff; but, you know, basically my
impression is that the two teams looking into the
investigation are really very, very similar and have a
very similar approach to the accident and to the
I guess just maybe the final thing to say
here that's also, I think, fairly obvious is that
because of the speed with which we were able to home in
on what the root cause of the Challenger accident was,
we were able to get rather quickly into some of the
other related issues -- decision-making, the role of
the safety structure of NASA, the role of management.
We were able to look at maintenance records and just a
variety of different things more quickly; but I think
that you've got the sense that this investigation is
leading into many of those areas, too, in some cases
somewhat the same way as it did on the Challenger. You
know, the times are different, NASA is different, the
accidents were different, the details are different,
but a lot of the questions that we're asking are the
same and we'll just see what we come up with here.
GEN. DEAL: To answer your questions
about the mass and area and the RCS, I don't have that
data in front of me. So I would rather not tell you
wrong, but I can tell you that that's one of the
reasons why we're doing additional tests at the Air
Force research lab. When we even did the carrier panel
that people have glommed in on as a good candidate,
depending on the orientation, it may not show you the
particular band that you're looking for. So that's why
we're adding in the brackets to it and also the
substructure and looking at different tile structure so
that you can try to do that.
When they do the tests, they take a
carrier panel, for example, and they orient it
different ways because as you've got this radar data,
it shows it starting to tumble as it heads back into
the earth's atmosphere and when you look at it in
different orientations, you can tell which one of
those. So again, hopefully next week with the portion
of the RCC, the different carrier panels and also the
T seal we'll be able to give you better data.
On the exposure to the environment, I
think you hit the nail on the head and that's the
reason that we're drilling down even farther. It's
fairly conclusive right now that the exposure to the
salt atmosphere and also the zinc could be causing
these pinholes and as likely has done that. What is
less determinative right now is the effect of these
pinholes, and that's why we're doing additional NDE and
that's why Dr. Widnall's group will be doing the foam
tests not only against a strong RCC but also against
allegedly what you could probably characterize as being
weakened from flight. We'll check out the integrity of
it before we fire foam at it and then see how that
responds to foam hitting it.
This gets back to the early-on issue
we've had of an ageing spacecraft in an R&D
environment. You've got a wing that's been exposed to
multiple re-entries. You've got a wing that's been
sitting out on a pad. You've got a wing that's been
exposed to zinc on the support structure and also to
salt. What are the chemical effects on that? That's
what we're continuing to analyze.
A REPORTER: During the mission, after
observing the foam debris falling off the tank from the
orbiter, NASA asked Boeing to evaluate whether there
was damage to the thermal protection system that could
be a safety-of-flight issue; and Boeing came back and
said there could be damage but they turned to crater
and some other analysis. In conclusion now, you judged
that conclusion as being wrong. Regardless of whether
the foam did contribute to the accident, was it an
incorrect conclusion and, second, do you know what role
that recommendation played in NASA's decision that the
foam event could be disregarded?
ADM. GEHMAN: I would not necessarily
start the answer to my question by agreeing with your
premise. That is, we have not come to the conclusion
that the analysis was incorrectly arrived at. I mean
obviously it was wrong, but that's hindsight. We have
not concluded that the analysis and the decision-making
was wrong. I mean, they may have done everything they
could with the information that they had available.
They may have had all the right people in the room and
asked all the right questions and considered all the
right factors and just come up with the wrong answer.
So I would caveat my reply by that entry statement.
Then that decision, then, I think it's
pretty clear, did flavor all the rest of the decisions.
That is, once NASA had it in their heads that foam
striking the TPS was not a safety-of-flight issue, it
clearly flavored other decisions such as how high a
priority they should put on on-orbit photography and
things like that. So, yes, it has a cascading effect.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Anyone else on the
THE REPORTER: I just wanted to indicate
that I wasn't trying to determine whether it was
arrived at improperly or properly. So, in hindsight,
it was the wrong recommendation.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: That's your
A REPORTER: No, it's a question.
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, in hindsight it would
have been better to do some other things. Sure. We
know that now, but we're not ready to make a judgment
that that conclusion could have reasonably been reached
at that time.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Thank you. Anyone
else on the phone bridge?
A REPORTER: Discovery Channel. I have a
further clarification for Admiral Gehman and then a
question. When you said that you and NASA and the
board were basically uncomfortable with the crater
analysis, were there any concerns during the flight or
is this purely a post-flight look-back and saying,
yeah, this wasn't really a good piece of data to base
an analysis on? And my question concerns a comment
that you made in conversation with Dr. Blomberg this
morning when you said that NASA needs to have an
aggressive program to look for the unknown unknowns, to
really look for trouble. That sounds very reasonable
when you look at it in hindsight, but do you have any
examples on how you exactly go about putting into a
program like what NASA operates such a thing that
embeds this perspective in it?
ADM. GEHMAN: Let me answer the second
question first. I don't know that I am prepared to
answer the question about whether or not anyone
questioned the crater model during the flight. Let me
think about that for second. I don't recollect about
not -- you know, I don't have all the details in front
of me. The board is making itself more knowledgeable,
just as we have in plasma physics, aerodynamics,
thermodynamics, and a lot of other things. The board
is making itself more knowledgeable in safety theory
and my understanding from the people that have been
consulted -- and we're going to consult more people --
that there are ways to assess your assessment program.
That's essentially what we're saying here. In other
words, there are ways to be constantly on the lookout
for what you don't know.
NASA already has initiated a program some
number of months ago in which they are benchmarking
their assessment programs with the Navy nuclear power
program. Naval nuclear power, like any nuclear power,
but particularly power in submarines, is also a fairly
unforgiving environment for which mistakes are not
easily overlooked and the dangers can be pretty
catastrophic and errors are not very forgiven. So they
are already comparing how they look for unknowns and
how they look for risks and things like that.
So the board is getting itself smart
before we make any kind of judgment on that fact; but
based on what I know to date, I believe that there are
ways to question, assess, investigate, measure risks
and even ask questions about whether or not you're
asking the right questions. And the board will make a
judgment as to whether that program is robust enough.
As far as did anybody question the crater
model, during the flight, I don't recollect.
DR. RIDE: You know, I think a better way
to characterize that was that people were generally
unfamiliar with crater. It hadn't really been used, as
I said, as a during-flight decision-making tool, and it
was just one piece of this long chain of the analysis
which had uncertainties at several different locations.
So one of the reasons for the desire for imagery from
the engineering team, you know, this large group of
engineers, was basically to try to bound the
uncertainties and see whether you could see, you know,
is there tile damage and, if so, how much.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: While we're on the
phone bridge, anyone else?
A REPORTER: SpaceFlightNow.com. A
question for Dr. Ride. Jim Halsell told the board
yesterday that following two moments, the 112 and 107
event, that it had now become a major issue that would
have to be dealt with. I think he said before that the
next orbiter was rolled out, much less flown. However,
Atlantis was rolled over from the OPS to the VAB, mated
to its tank, and was about to go out to the pad during
the Columbia's mission. I wonder if you've seen any
evidence that NASA was actually considering the
long-term flight safety issue following the foam
incident on 107.
DR. RIDE: Are you talking about whether,
during the flight, they were starting to think about
that as a long-term problem for future flights? Is
that the question?
THE REPORTER: Yes. Jim Halsell
yesterday seemed to imply that the mission would have
been on hold, pending resolution of the foam. And I'm
wondering if you've seen any evidence that they were
slowing things up.
DR. RIDE: I think it's too early for us
to say on that right ow. That's one of the things that
we're really trying to get into when we look into what
was the disposition and discussion around the
disposition of the foam impacts after 112, leading up
to 113 and 107; and, you know, we're not ready to
characterize that yet. We're just not sure.
ADM. GEHMAN: Besides that, it's just one
person's opinion, may not be NASA's.
GEN. DEAL: Let me add that they had been
looking into this for quite a while. As a matter of
fact, they were already removing the ablator material
on tanks, starting with Tank No. 129, and they already
had a redesign effort going for the bipod ramp, but it
had been deemed an acceptable risk. Up to that point
in time, they had never had a piece of bipod ramp come
off and strike the orbiter before this. So they were
in the process of already changing this bipod ramp, but
had not accelerated it to the point that you've got to
do it before the next flight.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Anyone else on the
Okay. Thank you. We've got time for one
short question here.
A REPORTER: General Deal, I'm trying to
understand what you were saying about a carrier panel
in light of the impression that we got last week that
the carrier panel was it. We seemed to be told last
week that the carrier panel was the only remaining
candidate on these tests. What is the situation with
that? It's very late in the system, right? That
hasn't changed. The question is which part of it.
GEN. DEAL: It's pretty much the most
likely candidate that we had in last week's results.
It would have been something that fit the carrier
panel's dimensions, what they had. However, it was not
the full carrier panel they looked at. You've got a
band here, and what we had in the carrier panel last
week was it was in and out of that band. We're trying
to see if adding brackets onto it is going to give you
better reflectivity and you can pinpoint it being in
that band at different orientations so you could say,
yes, we were still getting that type of return.
The same thing with the RCC again. You
know, not to repeat myself to you but the full RCC
panel was really out of band. The partial might be.
The T seal might be. So that's why we're still going
further; and last week I think what we tried to
convey -- and you may have interpreted it differently
or it may have been conveyed differently -- was that
was the leading candidate at that point in time, based
upon the data they had. Now that they've already
analyzed all 30, we're going back and looking at a few
more to see what fits in that band and all the
A REPORTER: Is it still there?
GEN. DEAL: It is still one of the likely
candidates, and adding additional panels and the
brackets to it will help really define whether or not
that is a good candidate.
ADM. GEHMAN: I think the exact words
that General Barry used last week was that the only
candidate left on the table was the carrier panel, but
that didn't prove that it was the carrier panel. Of
our samples, that was the only one left on the table.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Thank you very much
for joining us today. As always is our practice, the
board members will be here to answer a few questions.
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