|Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Center for Advanced Space Studies
Lunar and Planetary Institute
3600 Bay Area Boulevard
Clear Lake, Texas
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Good morning. Welcome to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board weekly press briefing. As always, we'll begin with remarks from our chairman, Admiral Hal Gehman.
ADM. GEHMAN: Good morning. I have a couple of small, short announcements to make; and then we'll get to the panel members.
This is our last full board press conference here in Houston. We'd like to thank the Lunar and Planetary Institute for allowing us to use their facilities here. They've been very gracious, and we thank them very much. It's worked out very well for all of us.
Our next press conference will be on the 12th of June in Washington, D.C., which is the same day as a public hearing which will also be on the 12th of June in Washington, D.C. The reason why we're not having a press conference next week is it's a transition week. We're moving to Washington, D.C.; at least about two thirds of us are. Some of the board will remain here in Houston to close up business, but you've kind of got us half in Washington and half here. So next week there will not be a press conference. Also, one of the reasons why there won't be a press conference is because we are now digging into the report-writing phase and we don't have a whole lot of news to put out; but just like last Friday when we discussed the what-if scenario, anytime there is something worthwhile, we'll be available if there's something to discuss.
When we close up shop here on the 31st of May, at the same time we are going to begin the process of closing up our process for receiving unsolicited voluntary comments from the public that is, our hot lines and all those kinds of things. I thought I would share with you, just for matter of record, what the numbers are on the different categories of what I call unsolicited public inputs. We have had a total of 3,150 public inputs to us, broken down kind of as follows. About 2,464 were messages posted on our website. About 73 were E-mails. About 291 messages were left on our telephone hot line, and we received 322 written pieces of correspondence, either faxes, hard-copy letters, or someone would mail in an E-mail. Now, some of these numbers are duplicative because somebody may have sent us an E-mail and then also mailed it in.
A total of 3,150 total inputs from the public, unsolicited. About half of these were what I would call serious inputs. That is, they were not of the category of, "I saw a Martian spacecraft" or something like that. A goodly number of them were just letters which said, "I know where a piece of debris is," or something like that.
About half of them were serious, analytical suggestions on things that we want to follow up on; and about half of those, or 778 of the 3,150, we actually pursued that matter, actually handed that matter out for someone to take action on and report back as to whether or not this was significant or not. So you might say, in rough order of magnitude, about 25 percent of the inputs we got were serious, were valuable, were things that we actually followed up on to see whether or not it was right or not or whether or not it added anything to the investigation. So I consider that to be a pretty successful enterprise to do that.
Our goal for the report-writing remains to have our report done before the Congressional August recess. That's not a deadline. If we don't make it, I'm not going to worry about it. It would be convenient if we could get it done before the Congressional August recess, which is currently scheduled for the 25th of July. We've laid out a work program which will allow us to meet that deadline. If in the process of developing the report and you're going to hear from my colleagues here in few minutes on some of the issues that we need to close out in order for us to write this report if in the process it turns out to be too difficult, we'll take more time. We'd rather get it right than get it in a hurry.
That concludes my opening remarks. I'll turn it over to General Duane Deal.
GEN. DEAL: Good morning. Let me give you a real quick update on what the maintenance and materiel group has been up to. As the Admiral said, we're heavily into the writing phase. Today marks Day 117 of this odyssey of examining the tragedy.
Our team's been out monitoring some of the final stages of testing and evaluation. Today we have people up at Marshall Space Flight Center as we're looking at the SRB boat-catcher test to eliminate that from the fault tree. We have others up at Marshall Space Flight Center observing the vacuum chamber test with the foam and cryopumping to see what we find there. We've wrapped up all of our Wright Patterson Air Force Base visits for the radar cross-section test for that second-day debris that Dr. Widnall will discuss in a few minutes. We've also finished up at Michoud regarding the external tank foam dissection test; and we're also working with Dr. Widnall's group for the upcoming foam test at the Southwest Research Institute.
We've found, as we've been through all of our studies, something we talked about before, very strong industrial safety type programs that are out there that the Admiral has talked about. Very strong security programs. Quality assurance remains a key area that we're examining and focusing upon as we're doing more writing. We've got a lot of interviews and a lot of documentation out there that reflects that we need to update the maintenance and production steps that are examined out there, particularly at Kennedy Space Center. We've interviewed many, many people, from line technicians all the way up through management; and none of them out there agree that we're at the 100 percent point. It's time for a re-look. At Kennedy, for example, they don't even have any regular review of what they look at. It's only on a case-by-case look, and we believe it's time for that.
We're also examining the extent of what we call the fly-as-is dispositions, when you find a problem and they say, okay, let's fly as is. We're looking at those and whether or not those dispositions of a maintenance problem, if they seem out of sync with a manned space flight program. So we're examining a number of those different types of reports.
We're also looking at how closely the ISO 9000 and 9001 is applied to a system like the space shuttle. I mean, you can look at a process where you do the sampling and the great processes and principles of ISO 9000 when you're in a manufacturing business or when you're in an airline industry that may have a technician that does something dozens of times a week, but we believe it's kind of a stretch to say that some of those principles apply to a space shuttle technician that's doing something four and five times a year. So that's something that we're looking at heavily.
Finally, we've also been doing some further analysis into the past foam losses. For example, just last week, after the Admiral was talking to Congress, it's come to our attention, as more people have closely watched past footage, that STS 51F has suffered some substantial external tank flange and inner tank area foam loss. It also appears that STS 51F may possibly add yet another bipod loss from this analysis. If so, this would be the third past bipod foam loss that's discovered since the tragic Columbia loss and could be an indication that it's become accepted something that General Hess' group is looking into maybe not focused upon in the post-flight analysis or maybe not even watched for before, just as those others that have been found since the accident.
To you, it may seem, like Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again, that we've come before you every couple of weeks and said, hey, we've found another bipod foam loss. Well, upon further watching of these films, we've found another one here; and it's just as perplexing to us as it is to you. It reminds me of another Yogi Berra quote, that you can observe a lot just by watching. We need to go back and watch these films, and that's what we've been doing since the Columbia loss.
Sir, that's all I've got.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much.
GEN. HESS: Group 2 continues to take a look at its responsibilities in writing findings and recommendations with regards to mission management and safety and life sciences. Dr. Sally Ride is leading our effort to try to fold in the analysis that we're going to receive from NASA's in-flight options report into her overall perspective on decisions that have been made as far as running shuttle missions. Steve Wallace is our lead person on setting the disposition of foam events and doing the final analysis with that. I'm following up with safety and risk management and overall hazard reporting to see if we can put balance and contrast between that and decisions that management has been making.
With regards to the foam itself, I think it would be safe for to us conclude at this point that of all the foam events that have been covered, to include the large acreage losses as well as bipod pieces, there are a couple of points we'd like to make. None were ever viewed as being a constraint to flight for the next mission. They were all considered to be in-flight anomalies, with the exception of STS 112. In our reading of all the decisions and the study in the FRR process, there appears to be kind of a blurred distinction between categorizing these foam losses as a safety-of-flight issue or an accepted risk issue; and the blurring of the terminology there is pretty important in terms of how you look at flying the next mission after you've had a sizeable loss of foam.
Another case that looks like the analysis that was done, there is an integrated analysis report that was completed but the analysis contained in it doesn't necessarily support the conclusions to continued flight in how it was done. There is kind of a lack of appreciation of the total risk involved. They keep the risk segmented in pretty small pieces and don't take a look at it from an overall perspective to the orbiter and other pieces that are with it. Over time, basically you've heard NASA use the terminology "in family" and "out of family." Well, the family of foam loss just kept getting bigger and bigger. So we never really got to a part where you could make a real hard distinction that something was unusual or out of family.
In-flight options, as we mentioned before, Dr. Ride is going to be taking that and putting it in context for all the decisions that were made with regards to STS 107 because, one, that's what the report has to do, but we are taking a look at four other missions out there where there were significant engineering difficulties that NASA did overcome because I also think it's our responsibility to provide balance to the type of decision-making that NASA does make and there are many excellent examples when they've performed to the level that we expect them to.
In the safety realm, we've just finished our review of all the documentation and the safety policy guidance regulations and stuff. We're now looking specifically at organizations and resources as well as lines of communication. We're going to take a look at S&MA support to decision-makers in the flight review process. The last piece programmatically we're going to be looking at is the shuttle safety upgrade program as it's leading into what is currently called the SLUP program to see the level of effort and planning behind safety upgrades and improvements to the shuttle that will tie into the work that Group 1 has been doing.
That concludes this. Thank you very much.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you, General Hess.
Doctor Secretary Widnall.
DR. WIDNALL: Okay. I'm a member of Group 3, and I will report on some of the activities of members of Group 3, interspersed with some visuals. Then I'll talk about what we as a group together are doing.
First of all, Scott Hubbard has been working obviously on setting up the foam tests, and I've got some slides to show you a little bit about what the test setup looks like, to give you some appreciation of what kind of test it is. My understanding is that there was a one-day slip; and instead of shooting today, they're going to shoot tomorrow. That's kind of a normal sort of thing when you're doing something for the first time. Let's get the next slide.
Okay. So they're about to begin the second phase of testing. The first phase was basically on tiles on a flat surface. Now, they're moving to a much more complex structure that models the leading edges; and there are issues of attachments and panels, T-seals, all of that. I think some of their early tests are going to be on fiberglass because we don't have that many RCC panels that we can go smashing. So we really need to sneak up on this problem.
So let's see the next page. It just sort of shows you really what's involved, sort of the size of the model. It's full scale, of course, and it's obviously representative of a section of the leading edge with all the attachment pieces.
Then the next slides basically shows the gun, which will shoot a fairly large piece of foam at something like 700, 800 miles an hour, which is pretty impressive. You know, engineers really do have a lot of fun. So tell your kids.
Next slide. This gives you sort of a sketch of what the impact will look like. The issue of rotation of this thing is a controllable variable. So the question of where it hits on the RCC panels is somewhat variable within that range. So that's what they're going to do. They're going to impact this. They've done some rather careful analysis to model the effects of rotation which they've got from the video; and obviously when you actually get down to testing the RCC, we won't get that many shots. It has to be set up very carefully. So I think that's probably the last on the RCC.
Now, let's go on to the next slide, which is something that I've really been curious about and, of course, many people have been curious about. That's the whole question of this second-day piece that left the orbiter and was discovered obviously after the accident, going back and looking to see whether we could discover anything associated with the shuttle that would be probative.
Let me show the next slide. Now we're starting to get into some of the analytical work that was done. The piece was identified, the orbit of the piece. It was slowed down by the atmosphere and obviously came into the atmosphere, you know, sort of leaving the shuttle. So we have good data on its reentry. Of course, that tells you what the ballistic coefficient is. It was picked up by several radars radars at Beale, Cape Cod, Eglin, and the Navy.
Next slide. This shows you some of the track, and what has always intrigued me about this data and I just wouldn't let it go is the oscillation. As this thing came in, it had a period of oscillation in the signature; and as it came into lower levels of the atmosphere, the frequency increased. If you're an aerodynamicist what do you say? You say, oh, that's an aerodynamic effect. So I searched to find what was the experience base of why objects oscillated, tumbled, spun, whatever it was they were doing, and who knows about this. So I kept asking these questions and finally ended up at Lincoln Lab, an FFRDC that reports to the Department of Defense and more specifically to the Air Force. They were involved in analyzing this, but I took specifically the question of this period to Lincoln and I asked them to do a first principles analysis of this piece.
The next slide basically shows what one really needs to think about. One needs to think about shape and size, which controls the signature. Shape controls the signature also. They looked at every single radar signature that was available. They recalibrated radars. They extracted every single bit of data they could possibly get, and so they tried to put this whole thing together to explain every observation that we had. This, of course, was a joint effort between the Air Force and NASA and Lincoln, of course, working with the Air Force.
The next slide. You know, I know enough about these press conferences. You know, you say, "Well, it's going to be the T-seal," and then after the press conference is over, you find the T-seal. So I'm not going to do that, but what I am going to say is that we're looking at various candidate pieces. We're looking for a piece which is stable in its aerodynamic behavior and also has a reason to spin. One candidate is a T-seal, a half a T-seal, which has an inherent built-in twist because it has to fit a curved leading edge. That particular candidate, when analyzed aerodynamically and with radar cross-section, seems to explain the observed behavior of the frequency as this thing reenters the atmosphere.
The next slide shows that. It shows the frequency as a function of time, fit with two different atmospheric models. Of course, you have to have an atmospheric model in order to carry this out. So I feel very pleased that we have got the analysis to this part. We will probably do a couple of more cases with other potential candidate pieces again, not to hang your hat on any one piece and say, oh, that's it. But I think the whole question of the second-day piece and how it fits in is now becoming clearer. So that's all I'm going to say on that.
Let me talk just a little bit about what else is going on. Roger Tetrault, of course, is working on debris, including chemical and physical and damage analysis. Jim Hallock is closing fault trees and is also working with NASA to develop this joint scenario, and that's what I really want to focus on.
About two or three weeks ago, we presented this joint scenario to you about what we thought had happened. It was a very high-level scenario, didn't connect everything up. We told you what we felt comfortable saying about this fact and that fact and that fact.
Now, what Group 3 needs to do is to go back and just focus in on the part that would be specific to engineering analysis and just try to put more facts on the table that are consistent. This problem is very interdisciplinary. It involves materials and chemistry and analysis of heat damage. It involves aerodynamics and thermodynamics. It involves structures and aeroelasticity. So we need to sit down and put together a detailed level scenario, and then we need to ask questions like do we have all the analytical work, all the experimental work that will fill in and validate these pieces. You know, when you've got to write a report, it really concentrates the mind, as you can probably tell. So my mind is concentrated now on forming an interdisciplinary detailed joint scenario from Group 3 and then making sure that we have the analytical results that we need to validate this scenario. So that's my main focus at this point.
ADM. GEHMAN: Thank you very much.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: All right. We'll start here in Houston with questions. We'll begin on your right, my left.
A REPORTER: Houston Chronicle. My question's for General Deal. I'd like to go back to the remarks you made earlier in the press conference about processing at the Kennedy Space Center and inspection procedures. It sounded like I was hearing, from what you said, that there might be either more personnel or more time needed to process a space shuttle to make sure that everything was correct and inspected. I'm wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on that. What are you talking about? Can you flush that out a little bit?
GEN. DEAL: Sure. We've talked before and you're well aware when they went to the SFOC contract, they went from a lot of NASA inspectors down to a few NASA inspectors and shifted a lot over to USA, down to from 40,000 plus to around 8500 of what we called the Government Mandatory Inspection Points or the GMIPs. What we've come to in talking of the different interviews that we've had and the different documentation that we've reviewed, there's a few things that NASA's not letting their eyes on that are Critical 1 type items and we believe they should be letting their eyes upon all those Crit 1 items. We've also found a number of them, not a great number, but some that aren't value added. You know, looking at something two steps later that they didn't need to look at twice; they could have waited until the second step in there. So it needs refining.
You know, they go through a process, if someone wants to add a GMIP, where they have to bring it up and then justify it all the way through the system, through engineers, all the way up through the management, versus a periodic review. We believe it's time for a periodic review because they have admitted they do not have one. So we need to look at that and further refine those. Does that answer your question?
A REPORTER: I'd like a little more amplification. Is it your sense, then, that more time may be necessary to process a space shuttle when they fly again or more people will be needed, or how would you balance that off in sort of a practical response to your concerns?
GEN. DEAL: I think our response is it's not the board's business to tell them, "You need to take more time." I think our very recommendation would be, "You need to reevaluate your inspection points." If that requires more people to do those, it will require more people; but it shouldn't expand the time period they do it because it will just be an extra set of eyes in the processing as they go along. Now, of course, if they found things that were incorrect, of course, that would add some more time to it; but we're not here to tell them to go add these people or go make the time period longer. We are saying you need to reevaluate this, and you may end up adding those GMIPs, which could add people and add a little bit of time, but not significantly.
A REPORTER: USA Today. For General Deal again. What were some of the Criticality 1 items that NASA was not laying eyes on, as you say? Do you have any indication that this kind of situation created any kind of safety risk that they shouldn't have been taking?
GEN. DEAL: Not in these particular ones. I mean, there's always the potential that they could. We found some things where they check a rope and a line that's used for an alignment when they're doing some mating of tanks, the SRBs, but they're not necessarily looking at the alignment itself, you know, which may rise to level of criticality a little bit higher. We're looking at a hydraulic pump installation. They'll check out a pump but not necessarily the installation itself, which is a Critical 1 Item. Then there's a lot of other smaller things that you look at you know, wires chafing that they have found when they have done some of this type of stuff, to one that's semi-provocative that was a big investigation after STS 96 when they found something that was stamped for ground test only that had flown. They went through a big NASA investigation after that and determined that it was okay to fly and it was really more of a communication problem in this particular instance between Canoga Park, Stennis Test Center, and also Kennedy Space Center, that they had changed how they marked things and not everyone knew about it. So that indicates more of a communication problem than actually looking at the hardware, but those other examples are some that we're looking at.
A REPORTER: CBS News. For Admiral Gehman. In your report you've addressed this at some point in the past but not in detail do you see any need to recommend something like a qualification flight versus just a go-back-up-to-the-station flight right off the bat in other words, instrument this thing, test things out or whatever?
ADM. GEHMAN: In our terminology, the subject of requalification has a different meaning than what you said; and the board is considering but has not yet ruled on whether or not a recertification or requalification of either part or all of the STS system should be necessary for another 20 years of flight. Certainly the analogy in the commercial and military aviation regime in which a vehicle, an airplane is approaching its design service life and you want to fly it some more, there's a requalification or recertification process, pretty extensive. We have that on our plate. We have not reached a conclusion about that.
A REPORTER: Just a follow-up. Have you even discussed or thought about whether or not they should actually launch what I would call a demonstration mission, as opposed to launching STS 114 or whatever?
ADM. GEHMAN: It's a matter under consideration, yes.
A REPORTER: ABC News. For General Hess. Would you elaborate a little more on how the "family" gets larger and why they continue to view issues as "in family" as opposed to "out of family"?
GEN. HESS: Sure. I think that the best way to approach that is to kind of understand, as you've learned from us before, they've been losing foam off of the external tank ever since STS 1. In almost every case when they get back and take a look at the shuttle upon return, it has turned into a maintenance kind of issue; they have to repair tile and stuff like that before the next mission. Over time they have in their study, I think, just come to appreciate foam as being a maintenance issue as opposed to a safety-of-flight issue; and as a consequence they're building body of experience is that the shuttle always comes back and we always do maintenance on it. So over time it quits being a focus of something that might be dangerous as opposed to something that's going to cause them to turn around and work when they get the shuttle back.
A REPORTER: You talked about STS 51F. Does that now make eight instances of bipod ramp foam coming off, out of 70 flights?
GEN. DEAL: I don't think we're willing to say that yet. We have one good still photo and it appears like it, but we're having to go back. Before we come to you and say for sure we've got this, we want to be able to come to you and say we've looked at the frames before and the frames after and that divot has stayed, it's not a piece of ice floating by or another piece of foam falling off and floating by. We're in the middle of that right now. I was hoping to get an E-mail before I came here to tell you, but unfortunately not. I've got the still picture; however, the still picture's inconclusive.
A REPORTER: Associated Press. For General Hess. You sort of touched on this, but I'd like a little more information about the decision-making specifically after 112 and how a big piece of foam came off, struck one of the boosters, left evidence that it had struck, and yet the next flight goes off without this even being really seriously discussed. What have you found that allowed flights to continue rather than halt after 112 in particular?
GEN. HESS: Let me go back and kind of clarify one of the premises in your question here. First of all, there was some serious discussion about the foam loss from 112 in the flight readiness process for 113, and the program did direct a study to be done on the bipod foam loss. Now, the body of their knowledge at that time indicated that that had been the first time a significant bipod piece of foam had come off in, say, roughly a decade. So it was a "one of" kind of event in their memory, and they did direct that the appropriate people go back and study and make sure manufacturing processes and stuff like that hadn't changed and take a look at it. And they moved right ahead into STS 113 and flew that mission and then apparently by what they knew did not have any trouble with the bipod foam. So when they got to 107, it really was not an issue anymore; but the study requirement was still outstanding.
ADM. GEHMAN: The due date on the study was?
GEN. HESS: Initially December, then February. After 107.
A REPORTER: Is this where you think a better archival system would have helped, because clearly this seems to be an issue that was discussed a couple of months ago in a public hearing actually, that a better archival system is needed so you don't think you've just got a "one of" kind of event.
GEN. HESS: True. I think you have to look at the ability to retrieve the trend information from the various data bases that they have, and it's a fairly mechanical process. It can be done, but it takes a lot of work to get the out. The other part of it is as we go back and take a look at the perception by management that losing foam had become an in-family experience because it was just going to cause them work to turn the shuttle around. At the same time, obviously by the discoveries that General Deal and his group have been making in terms of we found certainly two missions where they had bipod foam loss that they really didn't know about, there was a lack of connection between the program and the people doing the maintenance turn-around and looking at the films to try to track it as an issue in the first place. I don't view that necessarily as a critical failing, but it is certainly an influence on what we have to report, as far as the board is going to do, in terms of management decisions and how the program was approaching the issue overall.
A REPORTER: LA Times. I've talked to some NASA employees who say that the culture is not conducive to raising concerns or raising problems over and over again that they may have. I was wondering in this foam case whether you're aware, as you've looked at the paper trail, of anybody who said we really need to pay closer attention to this and who wasn't listened to and, secondly, if you have any feeling whether that there were cultural constraints that led people to not to want to raise the concern too loudly for fear of their career.
ADM. GEHMAN: Ken, why don't you start out, then I'll put in my 2 cents worth.
GEN. HESS: I think the answer to your question, in short, is, no, I haven't found or seen or talked to anybody who felt that if they had thought that foam was a problem that they wouldn't be listened to. The plain fact of the matter is there was a general understanding about foam within the organization at large.
Now, we have talked to you before about various barriers to up-channeling information about this particular foam loss on STS 107 that I think have at their basis a little bit of the culture that you're asking your question about. The safety organization was quiet about the analysis that was being done and reporting through the safety channels that there may be a problem. The management channels were really concentrating on foam loss as a turn-around issue as opposed to a potential safety-of-flight issue in how they handled the STS 107. I think those kinds of attitudes and approaches do have at their heart a cultural appreciation for this particular event.
ADM. GEHMAN: I would add my 2 cents worth on the end of that that a considerable part of our report is going to be addressing this underlying and hard-to-pin-down attitude or climate that you were referring to in your question. We are going to be quite interested to speak on this subject; but we also want to speak on it with a good, firm basis that we know what we're talking about. We're not going to speculate about these things; but there is ample reason for us to be concerned and to look into it very, very carefully.
Some people have characterized it not the way you characterized the question but they've characterized it as a change in posture, from one in which you had to prove that it was safe to fly, to one in which you had to prove that it was unsafe to fly. In other words, the people who had doubts about anything were essentially outside the circle and had to work their way in, rather than the doubters being inside the circle and then you had to prove that it was safe to fly.
Of course, there's a lot of reasons for this. This is not criminal activity or anything like that. You have 112 successful flights. You've got to assume you're doing something right; and you've got thousands and thousands of dedicated people being very careful about what they do, catching many, many flaws before you launch. So they've got lots and lots of successes to prove that they're doing a lot of things right.
There are a number of underlying issues that we're going to attempt to address in this report, and we want to be sure that we've got them addressed in a responsible way. So we have to be a little bit guarded about what we're saying here.
A REPORTER: Orlando Sentinel. Following up on that, the matter of underlying issues. I've heard in various conversations that the work of safety and mission assurance is not now a place in NASA where you become a rising star and there may be a tendency not to put the best and the brightest people in that realm. It's not a place for achievers. Can you address that? Is that a factor you've delved into?
GEN. HESS: Yes, it's a factor that we're looking into; and we've heard the same sorts of reports that you have heard. I think really the approach that the board is going to take is, one, our interview process will ask those sorts of questions; but we're looking at the mechanics of the organization. Is the organization created so that safety can have the appropriate influence on the process that it should have in a very high-risk venture like launching the space shuttle? I think that will be more of the context of how we will answer that particular question.
A REPORTER: Florida Today. For the Admiral. I am curious whether or not you are going to interview the former administrator as you've said, you're going to talk about context and the circumstances under which you might do that. Is he going to be allowed testify in a privileged situation?
ADM. GEHMAN: It is our intention to interview the former administrator when we move to Washington.
A REPORTER: NBC. Back to the issue of the people who are watching safety. I was very dismayed to hear the comment that you didn't find anybody in the safety office who thought that they were at 100 percent and yet NASA, which I think suspected that, set up independent organizations which were supposed to be watchdogs on their safety. They were supposed to remind them and kick them in the head when they detected things were not. But who was going to guard those guards? Are you going to look at the functioning of these independent groups and where they may have fallen short of what they were responsible for, which was catching this kind of thing in advance?
GEN. HESS: I think that's kind of a combination answer from myself and General Deal. In short, yes, we have to take a look at the construct under which the safety program operates. You know, it's one thing to look at the regulations and policy guidance and those kinds of things and evaluate safety as to whether or not they're given the right parameters under which to operate but then to go out and test exactly how they're doing it on a day-to-day basis. There may be another answer to how S&MA does their work.
I think most of us would agree that the independent nature of S&MA is probably with a lower-case "i" as opposed to a capital "I". We have to be able to put that in context. We can't just, as a board, step back and say that they're not independent enough, that they haven't done this, that, and the other thing correctly, without being able to offer them an opportunity to look at it a different way. That's what we are attempting to do is offer our constructive recommendation.
A REPORTER: Houston Chronicle. My question is for Admiral Gehman. You've mentioned over the last several weeks that you don't want a scenario-dependent report in the end. You've mentioned also that you've seen other issues that may be as serious as the foam problem. I don't want to assume that you haven't brought some of these up, but could you elaborate on some of the other issues you may touch on in your report that you find great concern for with regard to shuttle operations?
ADM. GEHMAN: I can explain what I mean by we're not going to write a scenario-dependent report. We may or may not be able to state with unequivocal, complete certainty that the foam strike, which obviously did happen, knocked a hole in the leading edge of the orbiter. There's no question that the foam hit the orbiter, but we may not be able to prove that it actually caused some kind of a breach. Therefore because we're working so hard on determining exactly what caused this shuttle not to return safely to earth and we're looking at so many engineering and physical and mechanical processes and chemical processes that took place, it has caused us to look broader, much more broadly at the material condition and the operation of the shuttle program, probably more broadly than any review in the past. This probably is a blessing in disguise, particularly if you're thinking about NASA's thinking about operating the shuttle for another 20 years. It probably is a good thing that we're doing such a broad review.
Therefore, our findings and our recommendations are going to be based on this very, very broad review and not based on a single, solitary initiating event like the foam hitting the orbiter. We're not going to rule that out. I mean, the foam hitting the orbiter may have caused a breach and that may have been what allowed the heat to get into the wing, but since we can't prove that and we can't disprove, for example, orbital debris or micrometeorites we can't disprove that we're left with the position of having the report stand on its own weight and all of these other things that we're looking into like safety and management and risk assessment and work force issues and the stature of the S&MA organization all of these other things are going to have to stand on their own. Our conclusions and findings will have to stand on the merits of our work, and we cannot refer back to the foam hitting the orbiter as proof of everything. That's kind of what I meant.
Since it's likely that we're going to be able to say that the foam was the initiating mechanical or physical event in the terms of something like most likely or most probably or the board is confident but we can't prove it, we have to allow for the possibility that something else initiated this event; and our report will have to take that into account. That's the best way I can answer, I think, that question.
A REPORTER: NBC. On that answer. You gave NASA a hypothetical a month ago as to say if they had known immediately after the accident, what would they have done about a rescue mission. I would like to give you a hypothetical. If your panel had been called last year by NASA and told, "We are getting worried about keeping the shuttle running for a long time. We are getting worried about our own safety program. Will you all come in and spend 117 days or four months looking at what we're doing?" How much of what's going to be in your report would you have found before Columbia was lost?
ADM. GEHMAN: We actually have asked ourselves that question. That's a very, very fair question; and the way I break it down, I break it down into two sections. The first section and this by the way, this is not hypothetical; we're actually doing this. As a matter of fact, the author here is sitting beside me. All this foam business, we've been saying that foam has been hitting the orbiter since the first flight. NASA is never not being reviewed by a blue-ribbon panel. NASA is being reviewed by somebody all the time. Well, what did all these other panels say about this? Is this just NASA's fault alone that they've been ignoring the foam issue? What about all these other real smart people like the Rogers Commission and the Augustine Commission and the Aldridge Commission, et cetera, et cetera, and Harry McDonald and all this good stuff?
So we are actually conducting a review of the literature to see where all these other wise people were on this subject of foam and whether or not, if we had been called in before the Space Shuttle Columbia took off, whether or not we would have raised our alarm bells about this foam business or not ourselves. We actually are asking ourselves that question.
The second part of the question is and I have said this before in public I think it's a bit unfair and hypocritical of us to say, "Look at the O-ring problem. You should have known that. Look at the foam problem. You should have known that." Okay. Give me another one.
I mean, it's unfair to wait until the accident and then look back and say, "Oh, look at that problem. You should have known that." Tell me something else you should have known. Find me another one, if you're so smart. We've actually challenged ourselves to answer that question before we set ourselves up in judgment over other people who are doing the very, very best they can.
In hindsight, it's really easy to find these flaws. So if these flaws are out there laying around and everybody should have seen them, okay, well, tell me what the next one is if you're so smart. Tell me the next one. So if we as a board can't answer that question, we are very slow to sling spears at other people who also failed to answer that question.
Now, don't misunderstand me. If there is a flaw in the system or there's a better way to do it, we have going to document that and we are going to be quite straightforward in pointing it out; but if we can't answer those two questions, we are going to be a little careful, judicious about sitting in judgment over other people who had to make these decisions not in hindsight but in foresight.
Now, let me just say that the answer to the first question about what's the next one out there, what other ones are they calling within family which might go out and bite them, we actually are working on that question because we think that would be a great help. So that kind of gets to your question about if this board had been called to existence before the Columbia took off. We would have asked that kind of question also.
You know, I don't want to belabor this; but a third very interesting question is suppose the Columbia had returned safely. I mean, suppose the foam had hit the Columbia and done some damage of undetermined origin and the Columbia returned safely. Okay. Now, we've got two major foam hits out of three flights. Now, would that have caused any policy changes or anything like that? That's another way to get at asking the same kind of question.
So you take that third test I said. Suppose the Columbia had been struck by foam, some damage had been done, but she returned safely. Now you take the present NASA management systems, apply them to that question, and see what kind of an answer you get. That's kind of the framework of how we're approaching. If we take that test and apply the present NASA management system and we predict we come out with not the kind of answer we want, then we are going to be critical of the present NASA management system. So that's three ways to get at the question that you asked.
Maybe my board members would want to share.
GEN. DEAL: I'll add a fourth way. That's through the interviews. When we talk to technicians all the way through management, we do talk about Columbia and STS 107, but we also give some more generic type of questions. You know, budgetary impacts to what you've been doing over the last few years. Have you been able to get the resources you need, the tools, the parts, the people? We ask questions about safety and about security, and we ask what I commonly call the "King for a Day" or "Queen for a Day" question: "If you were in charge of all of NASA, what's been gnawing at you? What would you change if we gave you the right budget?" We get some pretty good answer out of those things, where they come forward with some of these things that they've said, well, you know, this is something we've brought up and we have not been able to fix due to such and such and such.
ADM. GEHMAN: This gets directly to the question of why we say over and over again that we're not conducting a scenario-dependent investigation, because you ask people hypothetical questions like this: What's bothering you? What would you change? We're not asking them what would you change about foam strikes. We're asking them about lots of things. Of course, once again, it proves the value of conducting privileged witness interviews.
What happened to the phone bridge?
LT. COL. WOODYARD: We're going to go to our phone bridge.
A REPORTER: I've been out of the country for a couple of weeks. So I hope this isn't something you've already dealt with. Just a question on the nuts and bolts of the organization of the final report. Do you know yet how many chapters there will be and what the subject matter will be of the different chapters?
ADM. GEHMAN: No, I don't know exactly. I can tell you that it's going to be a very, very thick report and that it will be in narrative form. That is, it's going to start off: "Once upon a time." I mean, it starts off at the beginning, and it's going to be a multi-layered report. That is, you'll be able to have a beginning where it has a very high-level, cursory discussion of something and then you just keep going and it gets down to the next layer and you keep going and it gets down to a very, very detailed engineering layer. I also know that you're going to kind of have to read the report to pull the recommendations out. It's not going to be a comic book kind of report. Other than that, we're going to try to make it easy to read, in the sense that each chapter will be kind of a stand-alone chapter. You're not going to have to be flipping back and forth to appendices and things like that to find things. Whatever charts and graphs and pictures that we refer to will be right there in the text. But it will be a thick report. It will be voluminous; and, as I indicated a long time ago, it is intended to be the baseline for a very serious public policy debate on the future of the safety of the shuttle program and its role in the manned space flight program.
A REPORTER: Is the beginning the scenario, or is the beginning the overview of what then leads to the scenario?
ADM. GEHMAN: It's going to start with the 1960's decision to build the space shuttle. It starts at the beginning. It's a narrative: "Once upon a time."
A REPORTER: NBC. Admiral, you were talking a while ago about the fact that you will not be able to come out at this juncture and say it was definitely the foam that caused the breach in the wing, most likely cause. We were talking a while back about the fact that when Columbia was modified back in '99 out at the Palmdale plant that the people out there had difficulty in getting the RCCs and the T-seals on straight on the left wing of Columbia. In fact, they couldn't do the job and they had to call some old troops back in that did it before to get the RCCs and the T-seals aligned.
Now, have you ruled out the fact that that could have caused some kind of stress on the system itself, weakening of it, that you might have had a T-seal that finally went on this second flight after it was modified out there? Where does that stand?
ADM. GEHMAN: There will be a section of the report on the subject of the strength and the integrity and the pedigree of the left wing. We are aware of that incident. I think that Group 1 has looked into it in great detail. That will be in the report. It will be discussed in the report. I will point out that you kind of answered the question yourself in the sense that when they finally did it they did have to do it twice, you're right but when it was finally done, it was done correctly and to spec. Therefore, we couldn't very well say that something was damaged. But there are a whole number of things like that that we have documented in our report, a whole number of events leading up to the launch and the preparation for launch of the Columbia, all of which will be documented in the report, including that one.
A REPORTER: Earth News. For Dr. Widnall. I realize you don't want to hang your hat on the T-seal; but looking through the ballistics charts and the radar charts, it seems like everything that's remaining is made out of reinforced carbon-carbon material, both the T-seals and the panels. Would you be willing to at least hang your hat on that? And any thoughts about the independent analysis of that Event No. 6 piece falling off, that it has the same A over M as RCC material?
DR. WIDNALL: Well, let me take those two questions separately. I do believe that we are going to try to identify another piece of RCC panel maybe broken off and submit that as a candidate to have similar calculations done. I don't want to put all my eggs in one basket. But break and then go onto the question of debris. I think sitting down and trying to put together this entire scenario, certainly Debris 6 would be a part of that, to try to analyze, you know, what is the scenario for damage, how does that affect the aerodynamics, how does that affect the heating, how did this thing make it all the way to Texas. So we need to sit down and try to construct a scenario that at least obeys the law of physics and aerodynamics.
A REPORTER: For Admiral Gehman. We look forward to your report making it to the New York Times best-seller list, and we've all been asking you about details. Are you going to be addressing whether or not it's cost-effective to continue to fly the shuttle or whether or not the government should look at a replacement and whether or not the shuttle should be completely grounded until then or only flown until a replacement becomes available?
ADM. GEHMAN: Those kinds of decisions will be made by people other than us. The board will attempt to frame the discussion along those items by stating our opinion of what the real costs are and what the real risks are and what the real benefits are, but the conclusions will have to be reached by the Congress and the White House and the administrator of NASA.
A REPORTER: SpaceFlightNow.com. I just wanted to follow up on something Admiral Gehman said about how NASA would have acted had Columbia made it back safely, perhaps with some damage. I'm wondering if the board has seen any evidence that NASA was taking the bipod foam issue seriously as far as upcoming flights, whether they would have grounded the fleet or whether there were any actions in work at the time Columbia was in orbit that suggest they might have done so.
ADM. GEHMAN: General Hess can answer that question.
GEN. HESS: Our analysis in answering that question is fairly preliminary. Right now I think that we would have to proceed under the assumption that there was a very serious effort made on behalf of the program to direct a study of STS 112 foam loss. Now, realizing that STS 113 was basically a night launch and therefore ET separation happened at night, that would be really an unknown as to whether or not there was bipod foam loss on that; and faced with STS 107 and the significant piece of foam that came off and how late it came off in the ascent would lead NASA to sit up and pay attention to that particular event. Now, the decisions that they may or may not have made, we're going to have to wait just a little bit of time before we decide whether or not we thought that that would form a constraint to flight or not.
GEN. DEAL: It's probably also pertinent to note that they were already looking into the bipod, as General Hess has talked about. They had been given a suspense date of December, which was slipped to the 6th of February, to talk about 112; but they were already working on the bipod redesign. That was going to be part of the in-process changes on ET No. 129. So it was already in process to do that. They may have expedited it, but that's only conjecture at this point, depending on what would have happened at the 6th of February.
A REPORTER: Washington Post. Admiral Gehman, will there be any recommendations one way or another on altering NASA's current relationship with the contractors or any assessment of the efficacy of the current arrangement, given your findings on problems with safety and maintenance?
ADM. GEHMAN: The board will address the contract and whether or not the contract enhances safe flight or in some inadvertent way perhaps works against safe flight. I can't comment right now on what we may say about that. We're deeply into that right now.
There's two issues here. One is contractor performance, which we are looking at, along with all the other performance matters. That is, we're not make any differentiation between the performance matters as to whether the person's a contractor or whether he's a government person. We're not making any differentiation about that.
The second thing is whether or not the contract is suitable for the purpose of this program. That is, we may have wonderful contractors; but the contract may actually need to be restructured. It's far premature for me to make a comment on how we're going to address that.
A REPORTER: National Public Radio. You mentioned a report looking at the effect of foam hitting the shuttle. You said people didn't really sort of grasp the danger at that time. Which report was that, and what exactly did it look at?
GEN. HESS: Well, there was a hazard report done as part of NASA's overall safety effort that connects problems in the PRACA data base with certain hazards, as well as items off of the FMEA CIL list. So the hazard report really connects all those issues. When they took a look at the issue of foam loss that dealt mostly with smaller pieces of foam hitting the acreage tile areas, did not delve too seriously into what might have happened if a strike were to be on the leading edge, as an example. And the substantiation that it was within the accepted risk dealt with issues like have a proven capability to put the foam on the external tank, that the processes were certified, that the people putting them on were expert, those kinds of things, as differentiated from empirical evidence of what would happen if you had a piece come off at 80 seconds into flight and it hit the leading edge. There was not that kind of analysis done.
I'll have to provide the date to you. It's been in existence for quite a while; and also in the Flight Readiness Review process to STS 113, there was a direction given to update that hazard analysis.
A REPORTER: Admiral Gehman. Florida Today. I was just wondering if you might have any interim recommendations to pass along today.
ADM. GEHMAN: Not today. We continue to work interim recommendations every week. It's part of our weekly regime, and we'll release them as soon as they're ready.
A REPORTER: Discovery Channel. Admiral, how are you going to ensure that the Gehman Report doesn't just join the already overflowing library shelves of those other blue-ribbon commissions to NASA about how to improve safety?
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, I can't ensure that the CAIB report doesn't just go on a library shelf; but I think that the support that we're getting from the oversight committees in Congress, as well as the administration and the commitment by the administrator of NASA not to allow that to happen is very reassuring to the board. As you may be aware, NASA is already creating another standing independent panel, led by Tom Stafford, who is going to review NASA's implementations of our report. So the answer to your question is, of course, I can't guarantee how our report will be taken, but I think there's sufficient interest in both the Congress and the White House and the administrator of NASA that this will be taken quite seriously.
A REPORTER: On a related more general note, oftentimes NASA has said that it's the lack of funding that has kept it from implementing many of the recommendations made by ASAP and other advisory commissions. In the perhaps some examples you could cite or some of the board members could cite about how you go about making decisions, will you rank safety and costs and what needs to be taken into consideration in a complex program like the shuttle?
ADM. GEHMAN: The report has a section and we are currently working very, very hard on filling in the section on budgets and the impact of budgets. We intend to address that very deeply. There are a number of pieces in that area. There's the overall size of NASA's budget, which is really a reflection of the commitment of the American people to space exploration. Then there is the piece of NASA's budget which is devoted to manned space flight, which includes the International Space Station as well as the shuttle and its replacement program. Then there is the allocation of funds within the shuttle program to various pieces of the shuttle program, including safety upgrades, safety programs, and things like that. All of that is going to be dissected in our report, and we hope that we'll be able to make some strong recommendations and some direct recommendations on what the appropriate amount of money to run a risky program like this is.
I'm not going to tell you right now that our conclusion necessarily will be that you need more money. Don't jump to that conclusion. But we clearly are going to attempt to have specific, direct, and unequivocal recommendations on the relationship between budgets and what it costs to operate a program like this.
A REPORTER: Admiral Gehman. Aviation Week. A question for both you and General Deal that follows on the earlier question on contracts and contractors. I want to make sure that I understand the subtleties there. Are you able to comment specifically about what concerns the board or, for that matter, heartens the board relative what you found specifically with quality assurance and quality control at United Space Alliance in the overall process and at Lockheed Martin, more specifically, with the ET?
GEN. DEAL: I can give you several general comments. It's something that I don't really believe we ought to be getting into right now until we've had the board have a chance to look at it and weigh all the data. The bottom line of all the contractor work that we have going on out there is we have a lot of dedicated, motivated people that were deeply struck when the Columbia tragedy happened, and they want to get back to business. Now, putting that aside, there's still the processes that we've alluded to already about what NASA is looking at and checking the contractor on. We've got numbers of interviews where even the line technician for USA or for Lockheed Martin or even, for example, the USA quality inspectors say, "I sure would like another set of eyes looking at what I'm doing. I've done this three times this year and I would like to have someone else looking at it, just to make absolutely sure." Because this is manned space flight. They all have their hearts in the right place, as far as where they're headed.
As far as anything being jeopardized, safety of flight, I'm not willing to jump out on that, walk that plank whatsoever, because we've got enough eyes looking at that. Some of the tangential issues, however, are a concern because you've got a lot of people that are doing the right job, you've got a lot of eyeballs being laid on things, but maybe not enough people because when you do these interviews, people are talking about the amount of overtime that they're working that could be bringing some work stresses into what they're doing. And it's not just on the contractor's side. It's also on the NASA side. So that's why, as we do this look that we're talking about where you look at the quality program and you reevaluate are we looking at what we need to do, do we have enough people doing it, you can also address these overtime situations, as well. So in a nutshell, I think that's it.
ADM. GEHMAN: Right. I agree with General Deal. The board has not yet fully, as a group, addressed the conclusions that come out of these issues. What I indicated to you is that they kind of fall into two broad, general categories. One is the actual on-the-floor performance of functions. That's what General Deal was just talking about, and then the other is the contract itself, whether it's structured rightly, correctly, to reward the kind of behavior you want and not inadvertently rewarding the wrong kind of behavior.
I'll just give you an example, and I don't have any knowledge or evidence on this whatsoever. If you have a contract in which you can get paid bonuses for on-time launch, well, that instills a certain kind of performance in your contractors. If you're going to get paid bonuses for launching on time, then how many bonuses do you get for slowing the launch down? So that's the kind of thing we need to make sure that we understand. We do not completely understand it right now, but we've got to make sure we understand how this contract operates and that it's serving the program in the best way possible.
A REPORTER: Admiral Gehman. Newsday. If the board were to make recommendations on recertifying or requalifying the shuttle system, do you envision that having to take place before return to flight, or could that take place over a period of time?
ADM. GEHMAN: Well, I'll give you a personal opinion because the board has not addressed this yet. My own personal opinion is that that would not be a return-to-flight issue. The recertification or requalification issue is related to the announced intention of NASA to fly these things for another 20 years and it's not our charter to address that issue, but we may comment upon it just because our knowledge of this is pretty deep. So my own personal opinion is that that would not be a return-to-flight issue, even though nearly everything in the requalification list might be a one-time event; but it's related to long-term operation of the shuttle program.
A REPORTER: Admiral Gehman. Orlando Sentinel. I wanted to ask you briefly. I know you're aware that in 1999 Shuttle Columbia launched and had a short circuit that knocked out one of the computers that controls one of the main engines. After that, there was an extensive review of the wiring in the shuttle fleet; and, in fact, a study looked at the various conditions of wires in the front, mid-body, and aft of the orbiter and drew conclusions about the useful life that was left in those. Has the board seen any evidence or anything that suggests that the shuttle continued to fly after certain wiring had outlived its lifetime?
ADM. GEHMAN: I looked at that study and that particular fault. We are very much aware of both the computer problem caused by wiring and the study, the Harry McDonald study that came from that. We've looked at it very, very deeply. I look at it from a different view than the hypothesis presented in your question. I don't know if either of my friends here have any knowledge of whether they flew another mission with those wiring problems or if they fixed it before the next flight or they fixed it during the next OPF. I don't know. We'll have to find out how they addressed those issues, whether they fixed them before the next flight or not; and we'll be pleased to get that for you.
We approach that whole incident from a slightly different point of view. That's the point of view that we've been talking about for an hour here. That is, how did the processes, how did NASA's internal process react to those recommendations and how did they manage the information that they were given. In other words, how did these things happen. I must admit we are focused on a slightly different issue, but I'm sure someplace in our two tractor trailer loads of documentation we looked at how NASA treated those recommendations. We'll get that for you.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Any other questions from the phone bridge?
We'll come back to Houston for one or two more.
A REPORTER: Associated Press. For either the Admiral or someone else. You said repeatedly how the foam shedding has got to be fixed. When you say that, are you limiting yourself to the bipod area or do you want the entire tank, which has been shedding on every single flight, as we've heard, even just a little? Does that all need to be fixed, in your mind, for a return to flight in other words, zero foam loss from any part of the tank from here on in?
ADM. GEHMAN: That's not how we're approaching this question. When we look at how did NASA handle, approach, fix, disposition the foam strike, we are looking at not only the bipod ramp foam strikes but all foam strikes. Now, what our recommendation is going to be with regard to what you've got to fix and how soon you've got to fix it and all that good stuff, we're not yet there. That would be an interim recommendation if we had known that right now. So I can't comment on that.
GEN. HESS: One thing I would add to your thing is, as it currently stands, there is not a requirement that none of the foam will ever come off the ET, because there are levels below the orbiter where it sheds foam and it's not going to do any harm. So it will never, "No foam will be lost"; but we do have to address the context of those pieces in places where it could come off and actually do harm to the orbiter and potentially the crew, wherever it might be from.
ADM. GEHMAN: Wherever. Right. Ken's exactly right. It's not a requirement that the ET not shed foam, but it is a requirement that Thou shalt not touch the TPS, the thermal protection system. That's a requirement. And there's a couple of offenders to it. There's foam and ice, just general foam and ice, and then there's the bipod ramps. We are looking at how the processes of NASA need to absorb that and how do they take action to fix it. Now, how the board speaks on the subject of what you've got to fix before you can fly again, we aren't there yet. So I can't comment on that.
GEN. DEAL: Just a footnote to that. The bipod ramp discussion is really a matter of academic discussion now because that bipod ramp will never see the vacuum of space again. Within about a week and a half, we will have some type of new design that NASA is saying this is what we're going to do from now on.
A REPORTER: For Dr. Widnall. I realize, as you mentioned, you've been to these news conferences before and tomorrow people will report that it was definitely a T-seal that showed up in the data. Getting back to your question of how did it make it to Texas, I assume from what you've said that you are going to possibly test a large piece of just an RCC panel since that is still an option.
DR. WIDNALL: Right.
A REPORTER: Do you think, based on your knowledge of this at this point, could the thing have re-entered with a 6-inch-wide hole in an RCC panel and make it to Texas? I mean, does the T-seal not make more intuitive sense for a small breach that got worse as you proceeded versus starting with a really big hole in the wing?
DR. WIDNALL: I mean, that is part of the analysis; but the total area of a T-seal and its effectiveness as a source of heat entry is pretty substantial. You know, that is an analysis that's going on right now. I mean, the modeling that's going on is various sizes of round holes plus slots, slits.
I'm starting to think of this. It isn't just one event. There are multiple events. There's the initial heat that comes in from, say, a preexisting damage to the leading edge. Then that seems to damage some internal structure. Then debris, fairly early, begins to come off. Well, once debris from the leading edge comes off, there's an additional way that high-temperature gas can get onto the wing. So I'm starting to think about it in terms of Heat Event 1 and Heat Event 2, and I want to know whether the time scales make sense. Once debris begins to come off, then you have aerodynamic effects and one piece of debris coming off I mean, the wind tunnel tests seem to show that a fairly large section of, let's say, Panel 9 and don't quote me coming off, would give you some explanation for the temperature rise on the OMS pod, which is another bit of data.
So putting all these wind tunnel tests together, forming some kind of scenario, if you had a fairly large piece of RCC coming off at the time at which the temperature rise on the OMS pad began, then what kind of heat input would that make to the spar of the leading edge and what's the time scale between that and getting to loss of control which we know occurred over Texas? So it's that development of a detailed scenario. And what does Rogers say about the debris? You know, what was heat damage? What about this chemistry of metal deposits on the inside of various RCC panels, attachment fittings melting. So we need to sit down and kind of march through a time line and in sort of analytical building blocks to explain this.
ADM. GEHMAN: Let me follow up on her comment here. We've got Dr. Osheroff sitting here now and Dr. Widnall. Between the two of them, there's nobody smarter in the country on this. I tell you personally I am very, very slow to build a mental plot of how this heat, you know, how big a hole and how the heat got in there. The reason for that is every time we hear a report on this, the physics of this move around a little bit.
For example, it's well known that the orbiters have returned to earth very, very safely with an entire tile missing and there's aluminum under there and that 6-inch-by-6-inch hole was subjected to 2750 degrees or 2500 degrees or whatever it was subjected to and the aluminum held up just fine. What all that means is that the boundary layer, whereas it was deflected a little bit because of some tile, it was not deflected enough for the heat flux to actually get at the aluminum. So this is pretty complicated, and it depends on the shape of the hole, the place of the hole, remembering that the orbiter is coming in at 40 degrees cocked up to its velocity angle. So it's not a wing like we think in which the leading edge is really on the leading edge. So I personally am slow to try and concoct in my mind the mechanical scenario, for all the reasons Sheila just mentioned, that there's all these complicating factors.
Now, what she and her folks are trying to get at is they're trying to build a thermal map that indicates how much heat and how fast the heat gets in there to satisfy that requirement. I tell you, I am slow to adopt any kind of a 4-inch hole, 6-inch hole, T-seal hole, slit, round, square. I'm kind of slow to fall in love with anything.
DR. WIDNALL: We're just basically looking for what I would call internal consistency. You know, can we develop a credible picture of what happened that agrees with the data as well as the analysis.
A REPORTER: Just based on where you stand today, do you expect to be able to do that by the end of July?
DR. WIDNALL: Well, again, I think the Admiral said it very well. We're not trying to do it to what I would call engineering precision. We're just trying to make sure that the scenario is credible, kind of what I would call a little better than an order of magnitude analysis, but we don't want to postulate things that obviously couldn't have been true. We're looking for credibility.
A REPORTER: USA Today. For the Admiral. You said earlier that there may have been a switch from proving it was safe to fly to having to prove it wasn't. Did that happen only at the top level, in other words, at the Flight Readiness Review, or did that percolate down; and when do you think this started happening, since there was such an emphasis after Challenger of proving it was safe to fly?
ADM. GEHMAN: You're asking me for board conclusions now, and you'll have to read it in the record. That was speculation on my part, and whether or not we can prove that remains to be seen.
A REPORTER: LA Times. If this were a murder mystery, you might have a witness saying, "I saw the accused fire a gun at the victim," and you might have another witness who was an emergency room doctor saying, yes, the witness came in with a hole in the stomach and that's where he was bleeding from. A lot of juries would say that's circumstantial evidence, enough to go beyond a reasonable doubt. So I'm trying to understand. You now have photographic analysis that shows a piece of foam hit the wing in a certain spot, you have this whole other body of analysis, thermal and aerodynamic, which suggests the breach occurred at the spot where you think the foam hit, and you may very well have test data that shows that a foam could actually break a piece of the RCC. That's a pretty strong circumstantial case, but you're saying you can't really be definitive about it. I'm wondering what's the caution there.
ADM. GEHMAN: I would caution you because I don't agree with your analogy. We do, indeed, have witnesses that saw someone shoot a gun, but the problem is we don't have a hole. We have a patient that died, but we don't know why he died. There is where the analogy breaks down.
We have an unhappy outcome and we have an unhappy beginning but we can't if I had a picture of a hole or if we came back and we found a piece of RCC on the ground someplace that had a curve in it or something like that, I might change my mind, but as you well know in this area where we are projecting the breach occurred, we have no RCC. I mean, it's all burned away. Now, you've got to wait for the report to come out to determine how this may be 12 to 1 here in which everybody says, no, "The foam did it," in which case that will be the way the report reads. We'll see how it turns out.
LT. COL. WOODYARD: Thank you. That concludes our briefing. The board members will be here. We ran a little over. So we'll only have about five or ten minutes. Thank you very much.
(Press conference concluded at 11:26 a.m.)
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