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Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Tuesday, April 8, 2003

1:00 p.m.
Hilton Hotel
3000 NASA Road 1
Houston, Texas

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 your questions.

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 recovered.

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 you to.

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 more.

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.

General Deal.

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 testing.

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 slide, Tom.

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 conclusive.

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 the tank.

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.

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 are.

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 this.

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 vehicle.

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 process.

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 focusing on.

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 transfer.

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 debris corridor.

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 short shrift.

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 taken.

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 their assessment.

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 moment.

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 way.

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 of narrowing-down.

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 was completed.

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 pinholes --

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 mechanisms?

GEN. DEAL: It's the same thing. Serious.

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 program.

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 at.

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 the tank.

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 progress.

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 investigation.

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 phone bridge?

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 statement.

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: 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 phone bridge?

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 different orientations.

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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