Columbia Accident Investigation Board
Home Board Charter Board Members News Photos Events Contact The CAIB
Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Tuesday, May 20, 2003

1:00 p.m.
Center for Advanced Space Studies
Lunar and Planetary Institute
3600 Bay Area Boulevard
Clear Lake, Texas

LT. COL. WOODYARD: All right. I think we're ready to begin. Thank you and welcome to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board press briefing. As always, we'll begin this briefing with opening comments from our Chairman, Admiral Hal Gehman.

ADM. GEHMAN: Good afternoon. A couple of very, very brief announcements, and then we'll get on.

I think everybody is aware that the board made a trip to KSC last Saturday. Very successful. The purpose of the trip was to see for ourselves the pieces of debris which have been reported to us many, many times as telling us important facts about the accident; and, indeed, the board was quite impressed by what we saw down there.

I would like to make mention of a Resolution passed by the House of Representatives, which recognizes the many thousands of volunteers who participated in the debris recovery. Representative Ralph Hall of Texas introduced this Resolution, passed unanimously by the House. I have repeatedly said in my public comments that the debris turned out to be more important to us than we thought it would have been in the beginning, and the benefit that we derive from learning from the debris was only made possible because of the efforts of thousands and thousands of volunteers who walked shoulder to shoulder over the state of Texas. We're very grateful to them.

The week of 2 June, the board is going to begin splitting up. The process of moving to Washington, D.C., will be complete by the following week. To say that the board is moving to Washington, D.C., is kind of an exaggeration. We're actually going to operate with some people down here in Houston and many of us in Washington, D.C. We're going to kind of migrate to Washington. There are a lot of things that some members of the board need to finish up here in Houston, and we will keep an office open here. We will begin our process of migrating to Washington in the week of 2 June, and the board will be starting to hold formal meetings starting on the 9th of June in Washington, D.C. We're not going to close up shop here in Houston.

We will hold a public hearing in Washington, D.C. We tentatively have it scheduled for June the 12th. We will follow the same precedent and same procedures we have before. A couple of hours of public hearings followed by a press conference.

I think that is all I have today. I'll turn it to over to my colleagues here, starting with Admiral Steve Turcotte.

ADM. TURCOTTE: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a little update on the ET foam that we've been discussing over several of the last few press conferences and the ongoing saga of the dissection. I'm here to report to you that is complete.

Next slide. That's what we're looking at, the bipod ramp on the left and right side of ET94, which was the sister tank to ET93 which was flown on Columbia.

Next slide, please. The process is complete. It showed us, as we previously reported to you on this tank, as well as the others, some anomalies. It's a manual process. Be careful to understand that. This is a manual process of spraying the foam. There are what we call rollovers. When you spray a nozzle back and forth, that's where the foam folds over; and there were some areas that contained a void. There were some other voids that were found. That's complete.

Now, be careful to understand the ramifications of this. This is a manual process. In the fact that it is a manual process, you're going to find some deficiencies. So before you draw any conclusions of throwing stones, as it were, at the people or the process in place to do this, it's more appropriately the focus should be put on the design of that process. That's what we're looking at.

As we speak, a redesign of this complete system is going on to look, to include several options which we'll talk to you at a later date; but they're being looked at from enclosing it to making it a closed-cell type foam, many different options. Thus, I can pretty much safely say, you won't see these bipods again on the shuttle.

Next slide, please. Now, once we found the voids, as careful as we've talked about, we're in the process of creating those conditions as close as we can to flight, to find out what happens when those air pockets or voids are exposed. This week we exposed one of those bipod ramps to a vacuum test, put it in a vacuum, not changing the temperature, which would induce the cryopumping theory. That will be separate; that will be in addition to this. But just the fact that we put it in a vacuum this week, we got some cracks, as we kind of expected.

Now, again, that doesn't take into account what will be the later testing, the Q loads or the dynamic pressure loads or the air loads, in layman's terms, that are applied. So once you get cracked foam, we still are going to apply the effects of temperature and Q loading or aerodynamic loads.

Final slide. We also have been talking over the last several months of some of the incidents of previous bipod foam events. We just discovered, on some post-flight analysis on STS 62, a new anomaly. It happened in 1994. By reviewing the film and looking at that, we did find out that we had an additional seventh event. So that's 7 out of 70 events that we could look at because of either a camera or a day or a night launch; 7 out of those 70 flights, we did find that we did have a bipod detach and leave the ET.

If you don't have any further questions, that concludes it. Thank you.

MR. WALLACE: This is really a shared issue. Please leave up Admiral Turcotte's last slide there.

Admiral Turcotte and his colleagues in Group 1 have the hardware piece of this issue, and our group has the Flight Readiness Review disposition of these events in terms of the next flights. As Admiral Turcotte pointed out, if we're looking at the history of bipod shedding events and how they were resolved in subsequent Flight Readiness Reviews, you'll find that we only have five historically, including STS 107. So there were four prior events that were dispositioned and in each event – those were STS 7, 32, 50, and 112 – as Admiral Turcotte pointed out, the next two – 52 and 62 – were not actually discovered until since the STS 107 loss. A review of imaging disclosed that there actually had been two others that had gone unnoticed. When he said 7 out of 70, that's because there are 113 minus 70, whatever that comes out to, that number there was no imaging available to draw a conclusion one way or the other. That means 10 percent of those for which images were available disclosed bipod loss.

In the first three, they were classified as in-flight anomalies following the mission and various corrective measures were taken. Not constraints to the next flights normally. STS 112, the bipod shedding event, which was quite substantial, it was not ultimately classified as an in-flight anomaly. That's sort of an interesting case study in how there seems to be – and we're discussing the bipod foam and then there's the broader issue of all foam – of sort of how those decisions are made and whether or not this had been seen enough times that it was somehow normalized or viewed as something that wasn't going to be a safety-of-flight issue.

It was not classified as an in-flight anomaly on 112, which was just two missions prior to 107; but there was an action given to the ET project – I think this is sort of old news – to go and resolve this. But it didn't have a report-back date until actually the next two missions. It was discussed in the 113 Flight Readiness Review but not discussed in the documentation in the 107 review.

It's interesting. We get varying versions of how important it is, that IFA classification or not. It clearly gives something of that higher level of visibility, and the IFA count is an interesting thing to study, as well. The IFAs overall for the program are down, which you would expect as a program matures, but at the same time I don't know if there's ever going to be a perfect way to keep score on safety issues because you want, of course, to drive these safety problem indicators down. At the same time you don't want to create an incentive to under-report safety problems. So those are some of the things to look at.

I will say that the entire Group 2 is an interview-intense operation, rather than these other guys get to play with hardware and things like that. So our investigation has largely shifted from interviewing to analyzing and writing. That's sort of where we are at this point.

ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much.

Dr. Hallock.

DR. HALLOCK: Good afternoon. I'm going to talk to you about what my colleagues and I have been doing in the engineering and technical analysis group.

First of all, Scott Hubbard, has been honchoing the tests that are coming up dealing with the foam being fired out of the cannon onto some objects. Right now they're trying to calculate beforehand what you would expect when they start hitting the fiberglass panels. These panels are going to begin on May 28th. That's a new date from what you have been told before. I guess they're going to allow them to have Memorial Day off.

The test article itself, which is what you can see in the picture up here, was shipped to Southwest Research just yesterday and made it there yesterday also, which is good. What you're seeing – and maybe it's easier to show on this little view here. This is sort of the same orientation we're talking about. You can see it is rather large. You can see the person here. This is probably 12 feet or something like that. So it's fairly large. What they're checking out here before packing up or shipping, this is a fiberglass panel, No. 5. This is No. 6, which is actually an RCC panel. It is one that has flown on 30 missions. So it is going to be a key one for the tests that are going to be coming up. Then 7. And 8 now is another RCC panel, but it is one that has not flown. It's one we're hoping not to have to use because it is the one and only RCC spare for Panel No. 8 in the inventory; but it is there.

The test for the shooting at these things will begin on June 7th, and that's all contingent upon, after looking at the tests to start on May 28th, making sure we understood everything that happened. Once we're fairly clear what's going to happen, then we'll do it.

This thing is going to be very, very much instrumented, mostly with strain gauges. You can't quite see them here. Not only are we instrumenting the back of these panels itself but we're also putting strain gauges on a lot of the bolts, the spanner beams, and ribs because we're interested in how the mounting hardware itself will respond once hit by this foam.

The next colleague is Sheila Widnall. As we speak – I left there a little while ago – we're having a rather comprehensive overview of the aerothermal story. The idea is to go back over everything that has been done so far to understand what is it we really know and what is it we still want to know and to try to see what kinds of things can be done in the very near term. I say near term because we are getting to the point where we really need to be putting pen to paper to describe what's going on in this particular accident.

My colleague Doug Osheroff has been spending his time looking at both material processes and chemical processes of the various slag that has formed on the inside of these RCC panels and on the tiles themselves. The interesting thing that has come out of it, particularly in Panel 8, by taking X-rays of this thing, they've been able to find a lot of very small globular shapes, spherical shapes. When they analyzed them, it all turned out to be Inconel or Incoflex. Why's that important? Well, let me move on to what he's doing with another colleague, Roger Tetrault. These globular shapes we're finding only behind No. 8 up there, which is quite interesting.

We're looking at doing both chemical analyses as well as trying to understand the pattern of deposition of all of this slag behind these things, and it's very interesting. If you look at just the chemical analysis and just the slag itself, particularly behind Panel 8, if I can do it with my pen, it's very much talking about perhaps a breach right down in the lower part of Panel 8.

Now, why do I say that? First of all, when you look at the layers of all of the materials, the molten layers that have formed on the back, the slag itself, the lowest layer of this thing contains Inconel. Now, Inconel is the stuff that comes from the spanner beam and the foil insulation and the fittings. So it's beginning to tell us that, indeed, when this so-called breach happened, that it was the fittings that were hit. And the reason we're saying it's more towards the left side, from your viewpoint, is that over on this side we have a lot of other mounting hardware and it's all stainless steel and we did not find stainless steel in the slag in behind Panel No. 8. So that's sort of telling us a little bit about direction. It didn't come in and go over here. It came in pretty straight to the point where it did burn out these things and did eventually go into the aluminum spar that's right behind it. And Inconel, you may remember, melts at a temperature of around 3200 degrees Fahrenheit. So we're talking about a reasonable temperature being in there. Now, whether this was the initial breach or whether this occurred afterward is still something that we are trying to figure out from the evidence.

Next is what I have been playing around with. Two areas that I have been working on is, once again, still the fault trees. The idea of the fault trees is to look at all the possible failure mechanisms that you could have that could lead to the loss of crew and the vehicle. We heard from a number of groups already and we're going to be having presentations to the full board, one a week over the next few weeks covering the SRB, the external tank, and the integration aspects, as well as part of a little bit more of the orbiter that needs to go.

Now, part of what we're looking at in this presentation are the things that are fairly easy to dismiss, it does not look like they were a cause. We still have a number of items that we will need to discuss, which are items that probably we'll never be able to close completely because you don't have enough evidence. Things like that are such as orbital debris, micrometeorites, and so on. Things like foam shedding we're obviously looking at as being a possible cause, but things other than – bird strikes is another one. How do you formally dismiss them completely? We're not sure at this point.

The main area that I'm trying to spend some time on has to do with trying to work on the working scenario. I believe at the last press conference Admiral Gehman talked you through a scenario that we've been trying to develop with our colleagues at NASA to essentially say here's where we are in agreement of what is happening there. Now, remember, we're all using exactly the same set of data. We're all working from what is it, the telemetered data that we all saw before, telling us where things are going on in the wheel well; the OEX data, which has been a gold mine for understanding a lot of what's going on; looking at the debris itself, which Admiral Gehman has pointed out to be much more important than what we would have thought; as well as a lot of wind tunnel tests and a number of detailed analyses that have been going on.

What we're trying to do is take this scenario that keeps evolving ultimately to the point where we have it to now translate that to probably one of the key sections, at least in my dealing with what happened, what happened during this flight from launch to the breakup over Eastern Texas.

Thank you.

ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much. Last, Dr. John Logsdon will talk about Group 4.

DR. LOGSDON: This is the public debut for Group 4. Its origin came from, I think, interaction between Admiral Gehman and the Congress, who asked the board to frame the broader public policy debate that follows upon our report. We're not going to solve that debate. We're just going to try to identify the issues that need discussion. So that means looking not only at the specifics of the accident but the broader picture of the organization, the management, the policy, the budget environment within which the shuttle program was operating at the time of STS 107. So that's what the group has been charged with doing.

There's only one board member on the group. That's me. I've asked people with deep and broad knowledge of NASA to work with me. They are Roger Launius, former NASA chief historian, now head of the Department of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum; Howard McCurdy, the chair of the Department of Public Administration at American University and author of books called "Inside NASA" and "Faster, Better, Cheaper"; and Harry Lambright, W. Edward Lambright with St. Maxwell's School at Syracuse University, who's written a very well-reviewed biography of James Webb and a shorter recent monograph looking at the tenure of Dan Golden as NASA administrator. So we've brought people to bear that really understand NASA as an organization, how it operates, how it fits into national priorities; and that's the focus of what we're doing.

We're not doing very many interviews, and we have no toys to play with. So what we're doing is a lot of document research, which for people who are historians or quasi-historians, it's as much fun as toys, finding the primary documents that trace the evolution and development of a program. So we're doing a lot of that as a basis of evidence that we're bringing to bear.

The kind of topics we're looking at – we have our first presentation to the whole board tomorrow and I'm obviously not going to do that presentation now – are issues like the impact of management changes, one might even say management turmoil over the past decade or NASA as an organization and the shuttle program; the shifting of shuttle program management from headquarters down to Johnson as lead center in 1996 and then back up to headquarters in 2002; the 40 percent in purchasing power decline in the shuttle budget over the past decade and its potential impact on the program; the move from NASA as the oversight body for shuttle program to its insight role, with the direct responsibility being through the Space Flight Operations Contract; issues of the interaction between the expectation of when the shuttle would be replaced, which is kind of a constantly-shifting-to-the-future target; and investment decisions on safety and supportability and operability upgrades; the work force cuts and morale of work force at both NASA headquarters; and the broad national policy framework and image of the shuttle that informs decision-making at the Washington level. So we've been working away, but not here. Most of what we're concerned with has happened in Washington. So we're the inside-the-beltway group, and we figure that the rest of the group is coming to join us shortly.

ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much.

LT. COL. WOODYARD: As we always do, we'll begin with questions from here in Houston. If anyone has a question, please raise your hand; and we ask that you identify yourself by name and organization. To help our sound man out, we're going to start out right over here.

A REPORTER: I'm from the Houston Chronicle, and I have a question for Dr. Hallock. I wonder if you could go back to the globule you found inside the RCC. What would be potential sources of the Inconel and does that help you, in your line of inquiry here, determine whether the initial breach was under Panel 8 or a T-seal or something more towards the Panel 7 side? How is this contributing overall to the location of the breach?

DR. HALLOCK: Well, the first part of your question is where did this Inconel come from. Inconel makes up the so-called spanner beam, the main beam that goes through this structure. This is the center part of it. Foil insulation exists just before you get to back where the spar is itself, and as well as some of the fittings where they connect with the T-seal and the next RCC panel. That's the Inconel that exists within. And there's two kinds of Inconel and you can even distinguish between those two.

As I said, when you look at all of that, particularly around Panel 8, it really does line up very nicely with a breach in the lower left-hand corner. The part, as I said, that we're still trying to decide is is that the event or is that something that came along later because it's fairly clear from what we've seen that at some point the bottom pieces of all of these RCC panels in this neighborhood all came off. So was this before or after the initial event? For the most part, I think I'd say maybe 90 percent of us think that probably was the place where it came in; but as I say, I can't really put it down to say absolutely that it is at this point. I hope to, but I don't know whether I'll get to that stage or not.

A REPORTER: USA Today. For Dr. Hallock. How will you determine if that was the initial breach or not?

DR. HALLOCK: Part of it is the timing. That's probably the key thing. That is, what is still on the craft to be burned at that time and to be still able to receive the slag deposits and things like that. So it's really trying to look at that part of it. Part of that comes from looking at the debris, how it was distributed on the ground in Texas. I think I showed a plot sometime ago, where all these panels and pieces of them were found, and we did find that they sort of landed in inverse order. So we're trying to use that in a sense to move back up to the shuttle itself at 200,000 feet and trying to say this broke off here, probably this one went next, next, and so on and try to use that to triangulate, if you will, on where did it really begin.

A REPORTER: ABC News. For Admiral Turcotte or Mr. Wallace. If you've got bipod ramp foam coming off that you know of on 7 out of 70 flights, what does that tell you? I mean, in-flight anomaly? Should this have been raised?

MR. WALLACE: Well, that's an excellent question. Of course, 7 of 70 – I point out that two of those were sort of discovered well after the fact, but it certainly tells you that among this persistent falling foam problem – because you have falling foam on every flight where typically you have, you know, an average of thirty 1-inch divots in the acreage tile and, of course, what does that tell you. This has been a persistent problem that has not been solved. I think that's what it tells you, and now we have these bipod foams events and that's what it tells you, I would say, mechanically and physically. And Admiral Turcotte may want to add to that. What it tells you in terms of process is how did this come to be accepted. I mean, you built a history during which there haven't been any catastrophic consequences of that. So we have to look at whether there was sort of a success-based optimism that could have evolved from that history and then the bad luck of being lined up wrong on 107, based on the best theory, means you have a very substantial bipod ramp shedding event two flights earlier that hit the skirt of the solid rocket booster and actually put a pretty big ding in it. So I think it tells you something about this probably never really being fully solved and getting to somehow become a mind set evolved that this was not going to be a safety-of-flight issue. You see those words in the flight reviews. You see those words in MMT discussions.

A REPORTER: Associated Press. For Admiral Turcotte. I guess I was looking for the number of voids that were actually found in the sister tank and also in flight. There's always a new flight popping up with bipods. Is this really it, or are you still probing? On these other events besides the 112 incident and 107, any of these other events end up striking the orbiter in any place?

ADM. TURCOTTE: First off, let me get to the number of voids. I can't quote you that number right now. We will get that to you next week. I promise. There was numerous rollovers and numerous voids in each of the dissections that we did, and that includes the practice tank that we did and the cousin tank and then now the sister tank. And with that we do have an exact number and we'll get you that.

But the importance here is it's really not the number, that they existed and that further analysis is necessary to find out the thermal effects, the aerodynamic pressure effects, and the effects that that translates to with the loss of that particular piece of foam. Now, that's the bipod foam.

You kind of talked about the other events. Through the history of the program, the acreage, there have been other foam events. That's true. And on a majority of shuttle flights – I could say, I think, very technically all flights lost foam in some way, shape, or form. Not to the extent causing a major piece like this to come off but a lot of the acreage foam, some of the area that's machined – we talked about that several weeks ago, the areas of where it's kind of aerodynamically machined. There are some cracks that appeared there, and that led to some loss of some foam there.

So it's several classes of foam. From the bipod to the acreage to the machined area. All have experienced losses before. Now, the sizes of the losses, those are very small; and as a matter of fact, over the years they have hit the orbiter, caused damage on the tiles – not a lot of damage, but small things that were fixed post flight and considered okay, within family, to quote the phrase.

A REPORTER: (Barely audible) I guess I was looking to know if any of the bipod ramp led back to strikes on the shuttle besides the skirt of 112 and obviously 107.

ADM. TURCOTTE: Not to my knowledge. No, they missed. Kind of the Swiss cheese effect of an accident happening and it just missed.

A REPORTER: Is this it? Will you maybe find another one or two?

ADM. TURCOTTE: Well, I can't say with 100 percent certainty but the majority of all of the previous footage has been gone through and that's the process at which we discovered this. Unless we find something that's a little less than this noise level, I don't think so.

MR. WALLACE: I just have one little point, too. You do have 43 flights for which we don't have image, either the angle of the tank separating or it was at night or whatever, that you just don't have good imaging.

A REPORTER: New York Times. Admiral Turcotte, your point was well taken that this is a manual process and prone to error. But is that a meaningful distinction? Isn't a lot of the shuttle done by hand, you know, these 20,000 tiles, of which there are 20,000 individual tiles? Isn't a lot of this done by hand and not mass-produced?

ADM. TURCOTTE: Yes, it is. And let me make a clear distinction this that. The majority, from most of the bolts and nuts to everything that is done on the shuttle, is done by hand; but it's a well-quantified process.

The point I was trying to make here in the manual process of the foam, a good majority of the acreage foam is sprayed on in an automated process. It's very well known. The process, it lays out in an expected form and is less susceptible to anomalies.

When you build this bipod, it's essentially like taking a spray can, moving it back and forth, which doesn't exist elsewhere on the ET. It moves back and forth and you build up the pod and then you actually shape it. So that's really one of the only major parts where you have so much manual intervention in building this object. The rest of it is pretty much an automated process that happens in a huge silo found in Louisiana and a huge machine that actually sprays it on. So that's the point I was trying to make.

Don't let that carry over into the rest of the shuttle. When you talk about tiles, I'm glad it's a very manual process. It's very tedious, it's very laborious, it's inspected very well, and they take a lot of time to do this and do it right. It would be a hard thing to automate that process, and I don't think you want to do that.

ADM. GEHMAN: I'd like to follow up on Admiral Turcotte's point here. I think that we want to emphasize that the defects that we found in the bipod foam construction are, in our view, not due to human error. They aren't mistakes that were made in the process. They're inherent in the process. That's what we're trying to say. We're not finding fault with the individuals who applied this foam.

A REPORTER: Orlando Sentinel. I'm not sure who this is for. Can a comparison be drawn between what was known about the O-rings in the Challenger era and the foam in the Columbia?

ADM. GEHMAN: I'll start that. That's the 64,000-dollar question. It would be far premature for us to make a comment about that right now, but that's a very relevant question and that will be part of the content of our report. We are not eliminating that possibility. Speaking for myself, we are just at the deliberating phase of our report and we're just getting to those very, very difficult issues.

So, Steve, this is up your alley and, John, too. I would say for right now it's too early for us to comment, but that is a very relevant question.

A REPORTER: For Mr. Wallace. News 24 Houston. Regarding the foam event, the bipod foam event, you mentioned success-based optimism that existed. Was it that they didn't think that the trajectory of the foam would ever hit the orbiter or that they underestimated the force that the foam from a bipod event would hit with?

MR. WALLACE: I can't answer those two specific questions but I think it's a fact – I would just say overall that foam had been coming off of the external tank throughout the history of the program and the bipod foam had come off three times prior, or four, and it hadn't had any catastrophic consequences. It may be that part of that sort of history on which whatever normalization or optimism may have evolved included events where the bipod foam came off much earlier, came off 31 seconds. So the speed was a fraction. We're talking about – this vehicle is accelerating at a fantastic rate. At one minute, it's going Mach 1.4, and at zero it was not moving at all. So it's accelerating very rapidly. So in 107 it came off at 80 seconds and probably 700 feet per second or whatever was calculated was the speed.

So I would say that I haven't really gotten the notion that it was all calculated like you're suggesting, "Well, it can't hurt us." But I do think that part of the history were events where the numbers were different and even the angle of attack. The angle of attack changes from negative to positive, whatever. So there's an element of luck in there and I think that overall historically it hadn't had any catastrophic consequences.

A REPORTER: Stern Magazine. I'm very interested in the imagery, and I understand there was a lot of miscommunication and the requests just got stuck in the wrong channel. Could you clarify this for me? Who exactly requested the pictures, at what time, and who stopped it, and was mission management involved in the process?

MR. WALLACE: That is the most complicated part of this story; and it also is the part of the story that is most dependent on interviews, over 200 of which have been conducted, interviews and evaluations of E-mails.

In general, the requests were initiated at the level of the people who were doing the analysis of the potential damage. They sort of got out of channel, they went a couple of different ways and didn't get up through the appropriate channels, but ultimately what seems to have evolved is that the higher-level decision-makers came to the conclusion that there wasn't a safety-of-flight issue, in part based on an analysis done by analysts who sort of wanted the picture. It's a difficult and frustrating story to try to put together completely. I will say that we're going to tell it completely in our report, while at the same time protecting privileged interviews. I'm very confident we'll be able to do that. That's about as good an answer as I can give you. It doesn't include exactly names and times. It's actually a very complicated story. There are lots of different channels of communication that just didn't work.

A REPORTER: But there must be some names or functions. Was it the group on the meeting of the 21st or the 23rd that asked for the picture, and was it mission management who stopped the request? Who actually asked and who declined it?

MR. WALLACE: Well, the engineers doing the debris assessment asked for it; and there were a couple of different channels of communication. And then there were even some other sort of separate channels going up to headquarters where it was – there were a couple of communications with the imaging agencies where it was given a lower sort of level of priority, but the decision ultimately was at the Mission Management Team level that there was not a safety-of-flight issue.

A REPORTER: Florida Today. For, I think, Steve Wallace. Does the SFOC contract in and of itself or the structure of it provide financial incentive to drive down the number of IFAs that are recorded, and have you found any evidence at all that the contractor might have minimized the number of IFAs that would be recorded, to increase award fee?

MR. WALLACE: The answer to the second question is no; and the answer to the first question is also no, only I have asked that question directly and I'm going to invite Dr. Logsdon who may know more about the SFOC than I do. We raised that question. It is a good question which sort of goes to the overall issue of are there any incentives in this program. I frankly can't tell you how to write the perfect contract where you want people to have safety as their highest priority – and I truly believe that is what they want – yet you want to do that without at all encouraging the under-reporting of safety issues.

I have asked that question myself to numerous people in numerous situations and been assured that the IFA number, that nobody's getting a reward based on that. Now, there are incentives in the SFOC contract for getting things done in certain time frames and accomplishing various goals; but there is first a threshold level of safety, a sort of the safety score that is a prerequisite to any awards. I don't know if Dr. Logsdon wants to add to that.

DR. LOGSDON: To craft a contract that rewards safety performance, that rewards cost reduction, that rewards on-time performance is a very tricky thing. The board is certainly going to look at the balance among conflicting objectives in the SFOC contract itself and how it's worked out. I don't think we're anywhere near done, and Group 1 is doing some of that also. It's something on a lot of our minds: Are the right set of incentives in place?

ADM. TURCOTTE: Just to amplify real shortly on that. First off, the ET is not on the SFOC contract. It's a separate contract. So the anomaly question, yes, that's open; but whether that anomaly originates from a particular piece of hardware is a different contract.

A REPORTER: Houston Chronicle. I'm not sure exactly which board member I'm addressing this to. It has to do with the foam. I'm wondering, first of all, if the findings that you're reporting this week link this any closer to your working hypothesis as a cause for the strike. I guess I'm puzzled about something, where this all goes. I mean, it seems like when you report out, you've got to say, you know, make the foam stick on the space shuttle or armor up the space shuttle so the foam doesn't cause any damage; and it seems so you're sort of back to where NASA was at the beginning of the program. If you can't do either, what do you do?

ADM. GEHMAN: I'd like Dr. Hallock to comment, first of all, on whether or not any of this recent evidence supports or in any way contradicts the scenario; and then I'll address the issue of how do we address it in the report.

DR. HALLOCK: When you refer to the evidence, are you referring to the foam issues or all of the other things that I was talking about?

ADM. GEHMAN: All of the above.

DR. HALLOCK: Well, they all play in in one way or another. There's no question. We're going to have to address all of those things. The issue that's the hard part of all of this thing is the cause and effect. The issues – for example, the one that I'm struggling with right now is there's no question I can prove that foam hit the shuttle, and I think we can prove it hit underneath the left wing. Not only do we have a lot of movies that show that but we even have an accelerometer that was bouncing around like plus or minus 1 G and then suddenly went like 2 Gs at precisely the same time that it looks like it hit. That I can do. Now, did it do damage? That is the hard part. How do you show whether it did damage then or not? If it didn't – and I don't know this – but if it didn't, then where do I turn?

So all of these things play together in a very complex type of thing. Right now, as I say, what we're trying to do, because we're looking at the calendar – all of us wanting to get back to our old day jobs and hope they remember who we are – we're going to have to make some calls here. That's part of what I'm trying to do with this scenario. The reason we're making a joint scenario in working with the NASA colleagues as well as the board itself is to say how far can we go and be able to point to enough evidence and be able to make any point.

ADM. GEHMAN: To get the second part of your question, which is very relevant and one the board is going to have to address sooner or later, the way I would address that is by saying that the board's report is not going to be scenario-dependent. By that I mean, unlike the Rogers report on the Challenger, in which they had a specific event with a specific cause that directly related to the accident and then they went right at how to fix that, we are conducting a much broader review of NASA here. Not only are we going to address the foam shedding issue but we're going to address a dozen other issues that we're concerned about. So we don't feel any undue pressure to relate – I mean, you're right, we're going to tell them to fix the foam shedding, absolutely, but we're actually looking more broadly than that. Maybe the fact that we can't prove that the foam actually broke a hole in the orbiter may be a good thing in the long run because it really is causing us to look much, much harder at contributing factors to this accident, down to and including climate and atmosphere and leadership and management and safety programs and things like that which I believe will give a much, much deeper and broader report in the end. So maybe the fact that we don't have a cause and effect that hits us in the head may be a blessing in disguise.

As far as your direct question, yes, obviously we find that the process of rationalizing away the impact of the foam hitting the orbiter over a period of all these years is not one that we're going to be able to live with.

LT. COL. WOODYARD: All right. We'll go to the phone bridge. Again, if you're on the phone bridge, we would ask that you turn your mute button on so we don't get any background noise.

(Phone bridge not operational)

Any other questions here from Houston?

A REPORTER: USA Today. For Mr. Wallace. Can you tell us what the reaction was to the bipod ramp coming off on STS 6 or 7? At that point had they already started the process of worrying less about this than they might have?

MR. WALLACE: I can't answer your question, although we can get you the answer, because in many of these events there were changes made. Process changes. You know, maybe they changed the blowing agent and they went from one spray gun to two spray guns or angle. I've seen a lot of different corrective measures on foam. I just don't have the documents in front of me to know exactly what was done after STS 7, although that was the first bipod foam event and there was an in-flight anomaly and there was some corrective action taken. I just don't have the documentation to remember. Because between bipod foam in several cases and other foam in many more cases – some of the worst foam events in terms of overall damage were not bipod foam events but where there was extensive acreage tile damage and there were corrective measures taken. But if you want, I can follow up and get you the answer to that question.

LT. COL. WOODYARD: We'll try the phone bridge one more time. Do we have anyone on the phone bridge?

(Phone bridge not operational)

Okay. We'll come back to Houston.

A REPORTER: ABC News. Admiral, on Saturday you said you had about half a dozen recommendations percolating their way through the system. Are you in a position to give us an idea of what's working its way up?

ADM. GEHMAN: No, I can't do that because the way that we classify interim recommendations is not that we aren't sure about them – we are sure about them. They have to pass all the tests as if they were going to be in the final report; it's just that we're done with them. So we haven't done that yet. So I wouldn't want to get out in front of the board – I can't get out in front of the board on this because interim doesn't mean we're not sure. Interim means we are sure; we're just issuing them before the board comes out. We have to absolutely be positive.

A REPORTER: Got a time frame?

ADM. GEHMAN: As a matter of fact, they're on our board agenda for this week to see which ones are mature enough. So when I say percolating – I mean, they're always in work and every once in a while we bring them up and see whether or not the board is satisfied, ready to vote on it. The intent, of course, is that if any of them are related to return to flight, we are as anxious as NASA is to get them out there so that NASA can get to work on them. So we realize the time, the urgency.

A REPORTER: Associated Press. For Dr. Hallock. Is there any more insight into the mystery object from Flight Day 2; and how does that play into your Panel No. 8, maybe a breach there or not? You said you're not sure if that was the breach. How could that not be, if that's where foam, we're 90 percent sure, as you said, hit there? I'm still sort of confused as to all the uncertainty about this.

DR. HALLOCK: The first part of your thing is about Day 2. It's my understanding that they have been testing some other things like the upper carrier panel, which is something that I was suggesting many, many moons ago. It's my understanding that it did not pass, so that we are now left with just two things. One would be the T-seal with a long bracket, I believe, and an RCC panel which also has to have something with it to give it an angle. That's what the radar picks up is when you have a sharp angle to do it. So those are still there, and those are the areas we've been looking at in this case.

The point I was trying to make when mentioning about the Panel 8 is, as I said, it sure looks like it's going to be the leading candidate at this point, but what I still need to do, before I put pen to paper to say that part of it, is to double-check other things that have been going on around that same time. As I mentioned, all the bottom parts of these panels along in this area all came off. So, you know, we could have hot gases entering anywhere along there, but the place where we're really seeing a lot of this damage seems to be right around 8, as I say, right next to 7, the lower-left part of 8.

A REPORTER: So you're thinking that more than a T-seal from that area seems, in your mind, more likely to be a fragment?

DR. HALLOCK: Well, it's still the mechanism. If it is, for example, a T-seal, you're talking about a narrow slit which eventually is going to have to grow in size. How does it grow? Maybe it grows by grabbing the bottom part of Panel 8 and breaking off and that's when you're now talking about a large amount of this hot gas getting in there and things happening rather quickly after that. If it's a very small opening that slowly transpired over a period of time – and the timing is very critical here. The comment we constantly keep saying to each other is, gee, this craft made it to Eastern Texas. If we've got a big hole, if we have an 8-inch hole over the Pacific, I'm not sure we're going to make it to Texas. So we have to have something that is going to evolve with time. So that's the part – I don't think we had a big 8-inch hole there initially. I think we had something that then grew with time.

A REPORTER: NBC. A couple of larger perspective questions. Admiral, your comments about we may not know or find out whether the foam impact actually knocked a hole in the wing. You said that, and you said a couple of other times we may not be able to pin down a cause as specific as Challenger. If you can't in the final report, what is that going to say to NASA and the publicly generally about the confidence for returning to flight? The other question, are you comfortable with the time frame in which you are now working? Do you feel constrained at all in any ways? Is there more you would like to do?

ADM. GEHMAN: Well, getting to the first question, I personally don't feel any unease about coming to a conclusion which does or does not pinpoint an exact, direct, single-point failure. That doesn't bother me in the least, for a whole number of reasons, which I won't give you a whole lecture here.

It's very compelling, it seems to me, to understand that complex systems sometimes fail in complex ways; and they don't fail in simple ways. Sometimes you have to work pretty hard to pin down the complex failure mechanisms; but if you can do that, you will have done the system a great service, in our opinion. That's why I like to use the phraseology that our report is not going to be scenario-dependent.

You heard Jim Hallock just talking about T-seals and the lower half of RCC panels. I would point out that the entire lower half of RCC Panel No. 9 was missing. I mean, one of the reasons we're not talking about the slag on RCC Panel No. 9 is because there isn't any RCC Panel 9. Suppose tomorrow we wake up and Farmer Brown finds all of Panel No. 8 out in his field. Well, there goes that theory. So we can't write a report which is scenario-dependent, because somebody will find a dependent piece.

On the other hand, I do believe that we can do NASA and the shuttle program a world of good if we take a very broad and complex view of this and go after multiple causes and multiple flaws and shore them all up. I'm quite confident with that approach. It's harder and it will be a challenge for us to write the report in ways that people understand the point we're trying to make here, but I believe that it actually is the better report. Enough said.

Let me just give you an analogy. I'm quite taken with the concept of multiple checks and balances in any complex system. If you have a complex system in which you have five or six safety checks and whatever these five or six safety checks are suppose to prevent from happening, it happens anyway, well, the natural reaction of most institutions is to go after the last person in the safety check chain and let the first four go by because this last person was supposed to save the day and he didn't. Now, the system's more complex than that. What about the other people who were supposed to be doing their jobs, too? That's kind of an analogy that I'm struck by here. In a very, very complex system, it may be that there's a complex answer; and we would be not doing the nation a service if we only got 40 percent of the problem. So that's harder to grasp, but it's our challenge to write the report in that way.

Even if we were to be able to prove exactly the fault scenario, exactly which bracket broke or which piece of RCC broke or what have you, I still would not be satisfied that pinpointing that broken piece of material will make the shuttle safer, even if we found a person who was asleep when they were supposed to be doing something, that going after that one person would make the shuttle safer if the whole process that that person belonged to was in some way faulty. That's what I'm getting at.

As far as the time frame is concerned, we don't have a deadline. The Congress has indicated that it would be helpful if we got finished before the August recess. We've set that as a goal. I believe it's attainable; but if it turns out to be too hard for us to do a good job, then we'll miss that goal. It's much more important that we get it right than to worry about a week or ten days here. And you can see that we're dealing with some pretty hard issues.

LT. COL. WOODYARD: We'll end it here in Houston. As always, the board members will remain here to answer any other questions you have. Thank you for coming out today.

(Press conference concluded at 2:03 p.m.)

Back to Press Briefings
Privacy Policy Disclaimer Accessibility