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Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Tuesday, June 24, 2003

1:00 p.m.
National Transportation Safety Board
Conference Center
429 L' Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, D.C.

MS. LAURA BROWN: Thanks for bearing with us. Sorry for the wait. We'll get started here. What we're going do – I think most of you know this, but we're going to do a briefing as we normally do with the Board, and then after that, immediately after that, Scott Hubbard is going to give us an update on where we are with the foam testing down in San Antonio. So, it's kind of a two-for today, and so, we'll try to get started here. I introduce you to Admiral Hal Gehman.

ADMIRAL HAROLD GEHMAN: Good afternoon. As you are aware, the Board has just about finished its transition from Houston to Washington, D.C. Most of the Board members are now working out of Washington. We still have a small office in Houston that we are using for a reference library, archives, research kinds of purposes, and we still do have a little bit of work that we're doing in Houston. For example, we have a couple more fault trees to close out. We have a little bit more analysis that we're waiting on, that we're working jointly with NASA on, but for the most part, most of the Board members are now operating out of Washington and we are concentrating solely on deliberating and writing the report, which is – which is what we're doing right now.

You are aware, and previously announced, in lots of published reports that the issues about Congressional access to all of our records and databases is resolved. And starting last week on a daily basis now, staff members are visiting us at our headquarters, pouring through databases and looking at indexes, and we're actually helping them do whatever it is that they want to do. That process is working very nicely. No issues have come up that I'm aware of. That process is ongoing every day, just routinely, and seems to be working just fine.

Other than to reiterate that what we're doing is the hard part of trying to write a report, and we are going through addressing one issue after another to make sure the Board is in agreement with that issue and that we've characterized the Board's view on this issue correctly, so me and the editors can get it down on paper right. That's just a laborious process and it's going to take another month, and that puts us toward the last week of July.

So, that's all – really all I have to say. I'll introduce my colleagues over here. We'll just go right down the row, and then we'll be glad to take your questions. Admiral Steve Turcotte.

REAR ADMIRAL STEPHEN TURCOTTE: Good afternoon from Group 1, Material and Maintenance Issues. We continue to close out our requests for information from NASA. We have currently about 10 items open and we're looking to close those very shortly and continue with wrapping up our report. We've mostly pulled most of our people back from – from the various facilities out of Kennedy, and we have a couple of more people left in Houston. But the focus the next week or so is to be – to get most all of the information requests closed out and finish getting our words on paper, and that's all I have today.


MR. STEVEN WALLACE: From Group 2, we're the Operations and Training Group. I think most of you know that by now, and my colleagues Maj. General Ken Hess and Dr. Sally Ride. We're all, of course, as the Admiral said, working hard on writing a report what – pulling the sort of diverse investigation together. I think what's become even more apparent as we started this part of the process, is how much of an overlap there is among the – among the groups' work and we're trying to sort out all of our individual stories into one clear and cohesive single story.

Foam is a good example. I believe everybody up here has a piece of the foam so to speak. Admiral Turcotte's group is looking at the way the hardware is put together and designed, and Mr. Tetrault's group is doing the foam testing, and we're sort of looking at the people side of all these issues; the decision making, the pre-flight clearances, the disposition of prior anomalous events. So, that's where we are for Group 2.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Do you want to talk about the return to flight?

MR. WALLACE: Sure. Do you want to do that now? Okay. Return to flight, there are a number of issues and a number of recommendations relating to return to flight. We have issued a couple of recommendations already and will be shortly issuing a couple more. There are no surprises in here and, in fact, you can look at the publicly available NASA efforts.

Many of our recommendations very closely parallel their efforts and, in fact, there isn't – there's not a contest here where we're trying to think of something to recommend they haven't already thought of, although we will have a few recommendations that are – that are different. And particularly, I think, we will probably shortly be putting out a recommendation on orbit, or on station inspection and repair of the thermal protection system. NASA has efforts underway in that area.

We're still working out the – the fine points of what we're going to require, taking into consideration the different environments the shuttle operates in. Those appear on orbit missions, science missions, Hubble missions, and station missions, recognizing what manifests mostly for the next flights are – are mostly station missions. This is part of – you know, I think we're trying to look forward and address the overall mission safety by – by both in seeing whatever can be done to reduce the likelihood of the failures that – that we believe caused this accident, or that may have caused this accident, or other failures that – that we've identified that could potentially create hazards, and sort of decouple those from the loss of the crew and vehicle in the sense of improving – not only reducing the likelihood of those events, but also improving the ability either of the Orbiter to tolerate damage, or for there to be a capability to repair it, so.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Thank you. Mr. Tetrault.

MR. ROGER TETRAULT: OK. I represent Group 3, and that is the Technical Group, as most of you are aware of. There are five members in the Technical Group, and I'll just briefly run through kind of what we're up to these days.

Dr. Osheroff is completing his writing in the final report, and he is concentrating particularly on the external tank and the foam of the external tank, and the foam testing, which he did.

Dr. Widnall is doing a final review of the aerodynamic testing and the thermal testing, and that final review will be done with NASA on Thursday of this week at Johnson Space Center. That's related to thermal testing and aerodynamics relative to a round hole, and I'll be attending that meeting with her. And we also have a meeting on July 2, which will be our last meeting at Johnson Space Center, where we will review the aero and thermal analysis relative to a slot. And of course, a slot mimics what you might see if you had a T-seal gap, which was there.

Dr. James Hallock is returning to JSC. He's here in Washington returning to JSC on Wednesday where he'll be doing and trying to complete fault tree analyses. One of the things that he has completed, which will be going into our final report is, in fact, the joint Columbia Accident Investigation Board and NASA Accident Scenario, which is basically complete at this point.

Scott Hubbard, as was told to you, will be here right after this meeting to give you an update on the background of the tests that he's running relative to the foam impact. And as you are aware, there are a number of tests, which are still outstanding that we would like to complete before the final report is submitted.

For my part, as you are aware, I have been in charge of the debris, most of which has been down at Kennedy. There is one test, which is outstanding right now that we would like to complete, and that is arc jet test, which is being run at Johnson Space Center attempting to duplicate the knife edges, which you may recall were formed on RCC debris located in the Panel No. 8 and 9 area. So, that's a test, which is outstanding. They started that test this weekend and it's ongoing right now.

From the debris standpoint, we have completed all of our work at Kennedy Space Center. We, as you may recall, had two Kennedy Space Center residents. Both of those have been released, and we had one onsite investigator and he has been returned to Johnson Space Center to help in the report editing. In essence, we have now completed all of our work with regard to the debris down at Kennedy, and we no longer have any residents or any trips even planned to go back there at this particular point.

Let me take a moment to kind of summarize what it – what we found from the debris, which was located at Kennedy. And if I could have that first chart, I'd like to give you kind of a summary of the issues and things that we found there. Let's look first at the – the first three bullets, which are up here.

With regard to the debris, we found that we were lacking a lot of debris. In particular, there were no spanner beams from the panel areas 8 through 10. Spanner beams, of course, are made out of Inconel, which is a nickel-rich material. There are no spar fittings for Panels 8 through 10. These are the fittings, which attach to the spar, itself, and attach the RCC to the spar. Those are stainless steel fittings. And there were no lower RCC of any substance or size for Panels No. 8 and 9. So, you have all of this material, which is missing.

Now, that is not conclusive that there's a problem in that area, because material might not just have been found if it had fallen to the ground and in the search we may have missed it. However, the fact that there's such a significant amount of missing material from this particular area is very telling, and it certainly in my mind, points to a problem between Panels 8 to 10. And it also points to the fact that we are likely to have burned up much of this material particularly in the spanner beams and the spar fittings from these areas, and we have other evidence, which I'll indicate – which seems to indicate that, in fact, those missing pieces did, in fact, burn up as the aircraft was re-entering the atmosphere.

Let me go to the fourth bullet, the early loss of tiles behind Panels 8 and 9, and if I could go to the next chart, please. What I'd like to show you is, this is a chart of tiles, and what's important here is, the darker red tiles, which are shown in this area, are behind Panel No. 8 and 9. It is very hard to see where that – where that is located, but this is Panel 8 in this area here, and Panel 9 in this area. Those are the furthest – those dark red spots are the furthest west tiles that we found. And of course, what that indicates, is that there was probably a breach somewhere in the 8 to 9 area. The hot gas flowed into that breach. It heated up the inside of the wing. The RTV, which holds the tiles to the outside skin of the wing heated up, and basically lost its adhesion capability at approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit and they fell off furthest to the west. Again, another indicator pointing to the fact that the breach location was probably in the 8 or 9 area.

One of the other important parts is, that in this area, we have a number of tiles, which have a light brown deposit on them, and we've taken some preliminary chemical analysis of that light brown deposit. And what we find from that preliminary analysis is, that that deposit is high in iron and it's also high in nickel. You may recall that the spanner beams, which hold the RCC, which appear to be missing, are in fact, high in nickel. And the spar fittings, which are – hold the panels to the spar, itself, are stainless steel, so they would be high in iron. What you surmise from that is, that in fact, the hole was somewhere in the 8 to 9 area, and as the airflow was flowing in, some of this molten material from the spar fittings and from the spanner beams was, in fact, being deposited on the lower side of the wing in this area and that's what we're seeing when we do the chemical analysis.

Can I go back to the first chart, please? Now, the next three charts I've shown you previously in previous press conferences. You've seen the photographs that are appropriate for these areas, but let's – let me just go through them again.

You may recall with regard to the knife-edges, there – the only location where we had these knife-edges is in the 8 and 9 area. One of the things, which is very unique, as we've looked at these knife edges is, that in fact, the knife edges to some degree appear to be formed by hot air coming from Panel 8 heading towards Panel 9. Another indicator not only that you're in the 8 to 9 area, but also that it's more than likely coming from the Panel 8 area.

I've also shown you – and I'm going down to the next bullet that says "heavy and unique slag on Panel No. 8." I've already showed you photographs of that heavy slag and shown you x-rays of that slag, and you may recall that the slag when we x-rayed it had spherical deposits, which were deposited on the inside of Panel No. 8, and those were – were deposited in a fairly uniform fashion indicating that the splatter was coming from inside Panel No. 8, not from panel further down-wing or up-wing. Again, another indicator that it's Panel No. 8.

When we tested those deposits, which were the first deposits made on the inside of the wing, and we know that because there's other slag, which covers it. What we found was that, in fact, these are high nickel deposits, again, indicating that one of the first things to melt inside the wing leading edge after the breach occurred was, in fact, the spanner beams. And so, we are fairly certain that we are right in the correct area with Panel No. 8 in that the spanner beams were one of the first things to melt in that area.

The second to the last bullet talks about heavy tile erosions on the lower corner of carrier panels. These are due to carrier panel tiles. You may recall that there was very heavy and unique erosion there. The reason for that erosion was hot air coming from Panel No. 8, flowing through a designed U-gap in the RCC at Panel No. 8. There is actually a designed gap there next to the T-seal, and that allowed hot air coming in Panel No. – in Panel No. 8 region to pass directly over those – those tiles causing that slumping and erosion, which I have previously shown you.

And then finally, when we look at the debris plot, this certainly suggests a wing failure at RCC Panel No. 8, and let me go to that wing plot – to that plot of the debris, if I could, which is the last one. Thank you.

Let me kind of go through this plot for you. What we've taken is every piece of RCC, big or small, that we found on the ground and located it where we found it. If it's red, it's the left wing from Panels 8 through 22, and you'll notice that we divided that left wing up into two segments. The yellow is the left wing, Panels 1 through 7, and then the right wing, which is blue (and you can see is all the way down here) is 1 through 22. And then the light blue, we – there isn't any RCC on the vertical tail, nor very much, but what we did there is, just took every piece that came from the vertical tail and we plotted them.

And then, we plotted the median for where we found all of these pieces, and what you begin to see is a debris pattern begin to emerge, where the left wing RCC from Panels 8 through 22 was the furthest to the west, which of course, the direction of flight was in this direction, followed by the left wing, Panels 1 through 7, which dropped off in this area. The right wing, which is way downstream, and the vertical tail, which is in this area. What this suggests is, that at break-up, what we first saw was the left wing, or a portion of the left wing, left the aircraft in this area, fell to the ground, followed by the tail, followed by the right wing.

Now, what's really important in all of this as you look at it is, that when you look at the left wing, which has both red and yellow in it, it's a very long stream. What we believe happened is, somewhere in this area, a portion of the left wing came off, a portion of the left wing continued to ride with the aircraft downstream, and that would have contained Panels 1 through 7. And at some point later on, this Panels 1 through 7 began to come off the aircraft. We believe it probably ablated as much as fell off, that the pieces were just open to the airstream and were falling off as it continued to fly downstream.

And what is really interesting is, you will notice that there are some red spots in this area, and there are a lot of red spots up here, which are all Panel 8. So, you have Panel 8 debris, which is downstream. You have Panel 8 debris, which is upstream. That begins to indicate to us that, in fact, the breach – not only the breach but also the wing broke apart at Panel No. 8 region. Otherwise, you wouldn't have those pieces strewn over that lengthy piece of territory.

So, those are the indicators that we have from the debris. I think when you look at it, you can probably conclude from the debris alone, that the most likely breach that we had in the wing occurred at Panel No. 8, or in the vicinity of Panel No. 8. And, at this particular point when I say the vicinity of Panel No. 8, I would also include the T-seals on both sides of it, because we cannot definitely eliminate those two T-seals at this particular point. So, we feel fairly certain on where the breach was. In spite of the fact that, I think, the debris alone gives you a pretty good idea of what happened to the aircraft and where it happened to it. In my mind, it's not the most compelling evidence that we have, in fact, that the breach occurred at Panel No. 8.

Previously, you've been shown the wiring diagrams behind the spar of the OEX wires, and how those were breached, the timing at which they were breached, and all of that is very compelling in terms of it being a breach that occurred at RCC No. 8.

So, when you put all of these things together, I think, as the Admiral talked about earlier, we've been trying to line up all the Swiss cheese holes. I think those holes have lined up pretty good. They certainly are pointing us to the area of RCC Panel No. 8, as being an indicator of where the breach occurred in the wing. And not only that, but as you well know, we have the photographic analysis and evidence, which indicates that the foam struck on Panels 6 through 9. And when you put all of those pieces of Swiss cheese together, it's a pretty compelling story that, in fact, the foam is the most probable cause of the shuttle accident. That's all I have, sir.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: OK, by way of – by way of wrapping up, let me refer to a couple of things that you mentioned. Mr. Tetrault referred to this scenario, this joint – this scenario that we're – joint scenario that we're about to close out. You may recall about six weeks ago we actually did it at a press conference, and we did it in a public hearing, we worked through in a public hearing and in a press conference, what we called the entry joint scenario, in which the Board and NASA agreed on what the facts of the entry are. And that was – I felt that was very important, because I didn't want six months from now, or a month from now, I did not want there to be two versions of the story out there. And so, we have agreed on the facts of the entry.

We then felt that, particularly since we'd found this MADS recorder, which brings new data, that we ought to have an equally rigorous look at the ascent, and have a complete agreement on what happened on ascent. That working scenario is now almost finished. Both NASA is checking facts and words on their side. We are checking facts and words on our side, and we are very, very close to agreeing to a joint working scenario on the front end of this mission. So, we will now have complete agreement on what the facts are of the whole – of the whole mission. And I'm very – I think that this is – and this will be one of the enclosures. It'll be an appendix in our report, so that – that in addition to reading the verbiage, a reader will be able to go back and go through in excruciating detail to reconstruct this thing to any researcher's satisfaction, and know that it's an agreed set of facts between us and NASA.

The second thing I'd like to follow up on is, the foam impact testing, which Scott Hubbard will be following us to get to some great detail. Let me just summarize by saying, that in preparation for a second set of testing on real RCC, we are now going through kind of the pre-test calibration, shooting at fiberglass models of Panels 8, 9 and 10 in preparation for actually shooting at real RCC in Panels 8, 9 and 10, which will be as close to representation of the accident as we possibly can get. And we continue to learn. These are very carefully instrumented tests, and I'll let Mr. Hubbard get into the details of what we've learning.

Just at the macro level, what we're doing now is, we're – we are taking test shots to make sure that the actual shot at a real piece of RCC gets us what we want. Because there are not any spares of these RCC panels laying around, and well – I've got to be careful, because in some cases there is one spare. But let's put it this way, we don't have RCC panels around on which we can do multiple tests on. So, we're going to get one shot at this and we want to make sure the shot's right, and that's why we're doing this pre-calibration testing.

So, based on that, we're ready to take your questions.

MS. BROWN: OK, rule for questions, no multiple part questions, and I'm going to start out since there's so many of you guys here today, taking one question per news organization. If we have time, we can let the additional two or three people from the same newspaper ask questions as well, but we have a phone bridge to take some questions from, too. So, let's start out with Todd.

MR. TODD HALVORSON: Todd Halvorson of Florida Today, for Roger Tetrault. Regarding the debris plot that you have, can you associate that to a time mark for me to tell me how close that was happening to loss of the signal with the vehicle, particularly with the left wing breaking up?

MR. TETRAULT: Yeah, I do know. I don't have it exactly, but I do know that we're talking about after the loss of signal. What – what is likely, if you look up there and see the red center for the RCC and then the vertical tail, the blue center, and then the right wing, the real dark blue center, those are likely to be on the – on the timeline, the breakup events A, B and C. And if you look at the distances between them, as I recall, the time spans between A, B was 19 seconds, and the time span between B and C was like 3 seconds. And you can see that pictorially they probably fit that fairly well. So, I – we have to be a little careful because using this center has a little bit of error built into it, because each piece, of course, aerodynamically floats a little bit different when it comes off the Orbiter. Some of them are going to drop straight down. Some of them are going to fly. And so, it's – it's not a real accurate plot, but I think it's – it's accurate enough to give you some useful pieces of information.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We did, early in the investigation, attempt to start a process of plotting various pieces of debris back into the sky, and we got a whole bunch of experts together and concluded that that's not a profitable exercise. The variables are so – there are so many unknowns. There are so many variables. Even where you take something like a main engine, which has a high density ballistic coefficient that is fairly well known, it turns out there are so many unknowns that you can get any kind of answer you want. So, I agree with Roger's comments on it.

MR. TETRAULT: If you assume that the right wing and the left wing are basically the same in terms of their structure and the number of tiles that it has and so on, and that it breaks up about equally the same, then what should happen is, they should be fairly representative on the ground of how they broke up in the air. That way, we're making that kind of a leap of faith in terms of making these kinds of plots.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Relative to each other.

MR. TETRAULT: Right, exactly.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The left wing came off before the right wing.

MS. BROWN: OK. Why don't we move down this way, Mark?

MR. MARK CARREAU: Mark Carreau from the Houston Chronicle. Well, my question is for Roger Tetrault as well. I thought I heard you mention foam stronger today than I ever have, and I just wondered where that leaves issues like bolt catcher debris that you brought up, the possibility of micrometeorites, or orbital debris. I guess I'm trying to gauge how certain you are.

MR. TETRAULT: OK. Yeah, you're right that this is probably the first time you've ever heard me, personally, say that it is highly probable that the foam is the cause of the accident. And that's probably the first time you've heard members of the Board say it with that kind of strength, but we think that the – when you look at the analysis of all the things that are pointing to the same area in terms of the hole versus where the foam hit, that that's a fairly compelling story.

There are two areas that you – both of which you have mentioned, that we can't absolutely close out and can't absolutely say were not the cause of this particular accident. But we have no evidence that indicates that they might have struck anywhere near where this accident occurred. Whereas, with the foam, we have some fairly solid evidence that it occurred right in that same area.

That being the case, then I don't think you can eliminate them, but I – I don't think that they are active players in this particular accident, but those are issues that we have to be concerned with for future flights, and certainly can't disregard. So, we don't – we have no intention of disregarding them, but from what is the most probably cause, we believe that the foam is the most probably cause.

MS. BROWN: OK, Marcia?

MS. MARCIA DUNN: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press. Perhaps for Mr. Wallace or Mr. Gehman. Your interim recommendations, when do you think they will be coming out? You said imminently. And could you sort of go through a few more besides the on orbit inspection and repair, and what – and just sort of give us a preview?

MR. WALLACE: Actually, the – it's hard to predict exactly which ones will precede the reports we already have. I think on orbit repair, there's a variety of activity. The only other sort of area, I think, we could speak about, there's a variety of activity on imaging, and we have already issued one recommendation on imaging, and NASA has efforts underway. In other areas of imaging, we have some thoughts on that. I sort of break imaging into three parts. One is, on orbit using whatever assets are available for on orbit imaging. That's the recommendation we already issued.

Ground based cameras, which are already in place, we could have a recommendation in that area because the results – the ground based images on STS-107 were not very satisfactory. Lots of things weren't working quite right.

And the third area are things that are attached to the stack as it goes up, and that would include both the umbilical cameras, which are the cameras, which film the separation of the external tank, but are not down-linked. So, that's – that's an issue that we're discussing, and not – no final decision on that yet. And NASA, I know, is also considering mounting cameras on the external tank, or perhaps on the solid rocket booster. I'm not sure. That has been done before. So, everybody is looking at it with the same objective of getting, you know, imaging that tells you the whole story clearly and using it routinely. And those are some of the areas.

Beyond that, the – the – with the report only perhaps a month away, it's difficult to predict that there will be a lot of – very many recommendations that will precede the report, other than some of those areas we just discussed.

MS. BROWN: OK. Right here, Ralph?

MR. RALPH VARTABEDIAN: Hi, Ralph Vartabedian from the L.A. Times. Am I understanding correctly that you're saying the shuttle flew what looks like a couple hundred miles with half its wing missing?


ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Well, that's – first of all is that I wouldn't call it "fly" what it was doing at that point. From the point – from the point of loss of signal – from the point of loss of signal and the visual images of the breakout of the shuttle, yes, it was couple – the farthest piece of debris downstream was a couple hundred miles beyond that. That's what –.

MR. TETRAULT: Yeah, that's true that the debris spread. The field was spread over a substantial period of area, but let me orient you sufficiently on this chart. The distance between the red square and the light blue square is probably about 60 miles, and the distance between the light blue and the dark blue square is probably about 20 miles. So, those are the distances between the two.

MR. VARTABEDIAN: Could you address the part of the question that it would lose half the wing?

MR. TETRAULT: There's – there's debate amongst all of the experts on whether it was half the wing that came off at area 8, or just the leading edge of half of the wing. I think the prevailing theory right now is it was more than likely the leading edge of the wing and the heavy spars, which run across the wing, held for some period later. But – but if you lost the leading edge, you would lose the RCC panels from 8 through 22, which is why you have that kind of a pattern, which was establish.

MS. BROWN: OK. Back here, Frank?

MR. FRANK MORRING: Frank Morring with the Aviation Week, for the Admiral or Mr. Wallace. On your recommendations that may come out before the report on inspection and on orbit repair, is there agreement within the panel yet on what order – what level of specificity you're going to have? Are you actually going to specify how small a crack you can see, how you can fix it?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: That is, essentially, the reason why the thing wasn't out two weeks ago. The Board is struggling with how specific to be, how demanding to be. We struggling with how – what the degree of difficulty it is here, and we're being very careful with the words to make sure we issue a recommendation, which is understandable and executable and doesn't lose its meaning as we disband and go back to our other lives. So, we're being very, very careful with the words, and that and some other technical reasons is why it hasn't gotten out three weeks ago, because we're – we're being very careful about that. Steve?

MR. WALLACE: It's focused on a safety objective, and it – as I'll think you'll find all the recommendations. There's not – there are – we don't – we haven't redesigned anything and we don't intend to.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We're trying to state what we want to happen, not how to do it.

MR. MORRING: How do they know if they – if they've hit the mark?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: They have – they have an independent review panel, the Stafford Covey Group, and – and someone else will have to determine whether or not they hit the mark or not.

MS. BROWN: OK, next? Next question, Tracy?

MS. TRACI WATSON: Traci Watson, and I'm with USA Today, for Mr. Tetrault, I guess. Can you tell us anything about the vehicle was behaving given which pieces had come off at this time? You know, whether it was flying stably, or you know, bucking somehow?

MR. TETRAULT: Well, I don't think we have any certainty there, because at this particular point we have no data coming to us. Obviously, with some piece of the left wing coming off, you would assume that there'd be extra drag if it was the leading edge, that you wouldn't have drag, and that you'd have more drag potentially on the right wing, if the full portion of the left wing came off. So, I think you're getting into a regime that we probably can't explain very well at this particular point, nor is it really relevant to the – what caused the accident, or how do you go about fixing it.

MS. BROWN: OK, Earl?

MR. EARL LANE: Earl Lane with Newsday. On the aero thermal analysis, can you now say what size hole you assume caused – what size hole the breach was, or what size slit the breach was?

MR. TETRAULT: We do know that a hole that's 6 to 10 inches in diameter meets the requirements for the rapid burn through, if you will, the burn through that you need to burn the wires behind the – the spar and all of those kinds of things. So, it meets those criteria if you have the hole that's in a 6 to 10 inch area. My suspicion is – we didn't go beyond the 10 inch, but something a little bit larger may still be meet that requirement.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The testing – the testing refers to essentially flux, or heat flow, not shape. You know, as Roger previously indicated, this could be a long narrow slit, or it could be a nice little round hole, or it could be a jagged edge. So, we don't – we don't know that.

MR. TETRAULT: Yeah, I think in general you could probably convert a round hole into area, and then probably convert that to a slit. However, there are some unique features when you go to a slit. If you assume a slit, you probably have a rib beside it, which means that it's not just an open slit, it's a controlled slit with a panel – with two – two web surfaces, which are going to direct the heat influx. So, there are going to be differences between the two. I started out by saying, in general you could probably convert one to just – convert it to area and it might work for a slit, but that's why we're running these separate experiments, is to understand what happens in a slit a little bit more. And why – I said experiments. We're really running the aero and thermal analysis to try to understand that criteria a little bit better. And that will all be out by July 2, as I said.

MS. BROWN: OK, Bill? Bill?

MR. WILLIAM GLANZ: For the Admiral. Bill Glanz, Washington Times. Can you characterize the level of interest in the – in the tests by Hill staffers? Can you characterize the level of interest in the testimony? What are they looking at? Who's looking at it?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: They are – professional staff members of both the Senate and House Oversight Committees and Subcommittees, right now they are – no, I mean I wouldn't want to try and characterize what they're looking for. But they are essentially going through our Index, which is 4,400 items, documents in it, the 170,000 pages of documentation that we've accumulated so far and they are just beginning. I mean they're just – they've just started and – and I have no influence and don't keep any record of – of what they're – what they're looking for. Theirs is an independent review.

MS. BROWN: OK, thanks. Matt?

MR. MATTHEW WALD: Matt Wald, New York Times. For anyone on the panel, how has the scenario that you're now almost complete on changed since you first laid it out about a month ago? Have there been any significant changes?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Well, let me take a first shot at that. It's clearly the biggest change didn't happen – it's not recent, but the biggest change of all, of course, was finding the MADS recorder. That was a major change, because at the time, we were all focusing on wheel wells and things like that, and we weren't all focusing on wheel wells. There were some people who were going around saying that this heat had to be coming in farther forward than that. But – but most of our – of our attention space was on wheel well, main landing gear door seals and all those kinds of things.

Whether or not the scenario – I can't think of anything that – the work that's been done the last six weeks has refined the scenario. It tends to confirm the foam theory and that's how I would characterize it. If anybody else wants to take a shot at it?

MR. TETRAULT: I'd also say that the – the ascent scenario has really been put together in the last six weeks. With the finding of the additional data, that gave us the ability to really look at the ascent in much more detail and I think that the last six weeks has really been concentrated on the ascent side, as opposed to the descent side.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Now, we have – some interesting things have come out of the ascent scenario work, but I don't think that they – they relate to – they relate to other issues that we're also looking at. I'll give you, for example, five of the seven documented cases of less bipod ramp foam coming off all involved the Columbia. Now, that's interesting. And one of the two – one of the other two was the Challenger. These – so, six of the seven are the kind of the first two orbiters, the heaviest orbiters and all that kind of stuff. And so, we're really curious about stresses, vibrations, noise, shaking, rattle, rolling, weight, thrust, thrust vectors.

We're really curious about whether or not these two orbiters had launch parameters that were different from the other orbiters, which might have caused – might have participated in the cause, might have contributed in the loss of the bipod ramp. Well, that's the kind of insights that's coming out of the ascent scenario development. I wish I had an answer for that, but – but you asked the question about are we learning things? Yeah, we learn – we learn stuff all the time, and my foam guy here probably would agree that it's interesting – I mean this is just another interesting thing about foam shedding.

MS. BROWN: Next to Matt, I don't know if you had a question? No, OK.

MS. DEBORAH ZABARENKO: I'm Debra Zabarenko, I work for Reuters. Since RCC Panel No. 8 seems to have some looming importance, what are its dimensions?

MR. TETRAULT: Sorry, I didn't bring the chunk with me. It's – it's the biggest of all the panels. That I do know, and you know, as I'm sitting here, I'd say it's about this big.

ADMIRAL TURCOTTE: I could probably even show you the arc. It's about like that, and it's about that wide.

MR. TETRAULT: Yeah, it's a little more than a yard I would think.

ADMIRAL TURCOTTE: It's a big panel.

MR. TETRAULT: It is the biggest of all the panels.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: It's also relatively complicated, because it's kind of the point where the wing changes its direction. It's got some complicated pieces to it.

MR. TETRAULT: Right at T-seal No. 7 is where the wing changes direction. So, Panel 8 is the first one on the new slope.

MS. ZABARENKO: I know Laura said no two-part questions, but I'm trying to squeeze one in. The design gap, how big is that?

ADMIRAL TURCOTTE: It's about an inch, just a little less than an inch to about like that?

MR. TETRAULT: You're talking about the design gap that allows the air to flow from 8 across the carrier panels over No. 9, yeah.

MS. BROWN: OK, Richard?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I understand NASA is still talking about return to flight in December, or in a matter of months. Does – does that timeframe – well, I guess this is for Admiral Gehman. Does that timeframe indicate to you that they are serious enough about taking care of the items you've – you've identified, or do you think that's a realistic timeframe for return to flight?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I don't draw any – I don't speculate on the date of return to flight. I would say that having read every word of the Draft Report, and having gone over what might be possible recommendations, I don't see any recommendations, which are so – so difficult to accomplish that they shouldn't be able to return to flight in six to nine months. So, I – other than that, I wouldn't put any numbers on it. So I – and whether or not – what that indicates in the attitude on behalf of NASA, I'm not going to comment on now.


MS. KRISTY NABIELSKY: Kristy Nabielsky (sp) with N.K. (sp) newspaper. In light of your – I don't know how to state this question. In light of the fact that you now think foam is the probable cause of the accident, have you communicated this to the NASA team, and has there been any response?

MR. WALLACE: Well, you know, I think we're all – well, we haven't actually stated the actual probable cause. I mean clearly the – even if Roger has, but the – you know, it's – it's kind of sequence of failures there, but certainly NASA is looking at the same information that we are and responding to it in advance of – they're not standing around waiting for our – for us to issue a recommendation. At the – at the conclusion of all of the flights, there is a Program Requirements Control Board meeting where they set out specifically in-flight anomalies and other issues to be resolved, and the ET bipod foam loss has been at the top of that list since – since the accident. And so, I think the short answer to your question is, it wasn't necessary for us to sort of bring this to NASA's attention? They were already working very hard on that issue.

MR. TETRAULT: I would offer as confirmation of that, the fact that we have a joint NASA-CAIB scenario, which in fact, ties all of those together. So, I think we are of one mind, basically, in terms of what transpired here.

MS. BROWN: OK. Over – did I miss anybody – any reporters right back there? OK, go ahead.

MR. BRIAN BERGER: (Inaudible) Brian Berger with Space News. Is the Board going to be content with NASA returning to flight with some of the other external tank foam issues unresolved?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The – it's hard for me to answer that question without issuing the report. Let me say that – that the – I believe that the report is going to suggest that you have to take action in each of four areas.

First, you have to take action to either minimize or prevent, as best you can, foam loss, and certainly you have to prevent the egregious foam loss, the big ones – the big pieces.

But we're also going to suggest that you have to toughen the orbiter's ability to take debris hits, because the orbiter is going to continue to take debris hits. It was designed not to, but that's now proven to be not the case. So, you have to increase the orbiter's ability to take hits.

You also – number three. You also have to improve your ability to recover from a hit, and that means you have to be able to inspect the orbiter after it's launched. And if you find something wrong, you have to be able to make emergency, temporary one – one-mission repairs in case the first two steps don't – don't accomplish it.

The fourth logical thing that you should do is, increase the crew's escape and survivability chances. I believe that we're going to speak to the first three, but probably not the fourth. So, I can't answer your question about are we going to be satisfied with what NASA does about the foam, because it's not just the foam that NASA has to do something about.

MS. BROWN: OK, behind Deb? No, OK. Eric, Cathy, you guys want to come up with one question?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Along those lines then, given all that you know now about the probable cause and where the foam struck and the size of the hole and all that, do you still think that it would have been possible to detect the problem and launch a rescue mission?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Our knowledge of what could have been done if somebody had known that there was something wrong hasn't changed since the last time we – we spoke about it. Those scenarios have not been refined any – any further because they are extraordinarily hypothetical, and we – I don't have anything more to say about that. Yeah, I don't know anymore about what could – you know, what if, could have been done.

MS. BROWN: OK, Gwyneth?


ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I'm sorry, we can't hear you up here.

MS. GWYNETH SHAW: Do you think the (inaudible) from now, or is it from when the report is given to them?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Yeah, I can say, I don't know when – I don't know when to start counting that.

MS. SHAW: My other – my real question is that you just mentioned four things and said you'd probably address three, but not the fourth, which is crew escape. Why would you not take that up as one of your recommendations?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We are taking the same position that the Rogers Panel took on the same issue, and that is, the details of crew survivability are best handled by NASA, within NASA, without – because of the potential for gruesome kinds of speculation about how the crew died. We find that's best done by NASA. The Rogers Commission came to the same conclusion, so we've elected not to comment on that.

We are going to comment on crew escape and crew survival as a policy issue. That is, we're going to comment on how we got to the present status, but whether or not improvements need to be made, or etc., we're going to leave that – we're going to leave that to NASA. It was just a decision we made.

MS. BROWN: OK, Kathy, do you have a question?

MS. KATHY SAWYER: If you'll permit me?

MS. BROWN: Yeah, I'm making an exception.

MS. SAWYER: Yes, thank you. I would like to know, Admiral Gehman, could you please reveal the secret internal disagreements that you and the other members of the Board are having as you write the report? At what level does it occur? Is it philosophical, technical, can you elaborate on that?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: There's nothing secret, I mean, you heard it here – you heard it here just right now. For example, the Board is – is – well, we really haven't got to this yet, but I know that we will get to this, because we've had – we've had other issues. The Board will have to decide what word we want to use – what word we want to use when we describe the degree of certainty that we use to say that the foam caused damage to the leading edge of the left wing. Do we want to say, we think it did, we're sure it did, it might have, we think most likely it did, the Board is confident that? And so, I have 13 different opinions on that and at some time I'm going to have to lock everybody in a room and – and come out with one set of words.

We have to do that, essentially, 500 times. Because on these interim recommendations, for example, the reason why the interim recommendation that Mr. Wallace spoke of on making repairs on orbit isn't already out is, because it's very, very difficult to do that, and the Board is trying to craft words, which will box – that will force NASA to do something without crafting words, which are so impossible to be done that nothing gets done. So, and that's what we're working on. There's no secret. I mean there's – I don't like to use the word secret.

MS. BROWN: Thank you. Allen?

MR. ALAN LEVIN: Hi. Alan Levin with USA Today. For Mr. Tetrault, you described how pieces of Panel 8 were discovered along a very wide area in your diagram. What I'm trying to do is get my head around the idea – my assumption with no physics background would be that if Panel 8 was where the breach was and where it broke up first, that those pieces ought to have fallen, relatively speaking, the soonest. How do you explain that they would keep breaking off over a – for a long period of time like that?

MR. TETRAULT: Your assumption is correct that you ought to see some early pieces, if that's where the breach was as it begins to melt and break apart. However, if the panel splits in half and half goes downwind with the orbiter and half goes with the wing when it fails, then you will get this wide dispersion, if you will. And that wide dispersion, which is very unique to – to RCC Panel No. 8, seems to indicate that that's not only where the breach occurred, but that's also probably where the wing failed, which is highly probable when you look at the scenario of the heat entering and so on and so forth.

MS. BROWN: OK, I'm going to take a few quick questions from the phone bridge. You guys still with us on the bridge?

MR. PHIL CHEN: Phil Chen here.


MS. BROWN: OK, Gina, are you there?

MS. TREADGOLD: Yeah, I'm here. Admiral Gehman, what revision of the timeline are you up to and how does that differ from the last timeline we saw, which was Revision 15?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: When – when we have an agreed scenario, which we are just days away from completing an agreed scenario, I will ask NASA to issue, then, a new timeline in which the agreed events would then be put into it. That's how we – that's how we document what we agree. By the way, the agreed scenario is a book. It's actually a technical – it's actually a technical paper. It's about 120 pages thick. So, it actually – it actually exists. It's not just PowerPoint view graphs.

MS. BROWN: OK, Irene, are you there? OK, Phil?

MR. CHEN: Phil Chen here.

MS. BROWN: OK, go ahead.

MR. CHEN: OK, for Hal Gehman, your comments about the bipod ramp, I take it that probably about a 7 means that the 51 NASA's case is not confirmed. And reading between your tea leaves, you said five out of seven were in Columbia, one was Challenger, and coincidentally, one of your Board members flew on that flight. The last one was on Atlantis, and the most recent case of bipod foam loss, off the super lightweight tank, the only time a super lightweight tank lost a foam, does that tell you anything, because that one stands out also as being so unusual?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Yeah. We – we are doing a – a retroflective (?) analysis of every – every parameter that we can think of, even down to – what was the name of the guy that sprayed the foam ramp? I mean what was the humidity in the Washood (sp) Plant when it was sprayed? How long did it stay out on the pad? We are trying to find any common characteristics whatsoever. What were the I-Loads (sp) and Q-Loads (sp)? What was the – were there any unusual stresses? You know, temperature of the day? We're trying to find any common similarities we can among these seven launches to – to see if we can pinpoint why this – why the left one. You know, why is it the left one that always fails? We're looking for anything, and I wouldn't want to pick the ones that you chose as being any of our favorites? Did you want to say something, Steve?

MR. WALLACE: Oh, orbital inclination another –.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: – Orbital inclination is another one –.

MR. WALLACE: – All the tanks, we had three types of tanks.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Yeah, what types of tanks were involved? How long between when the ramp was – was sprayed and did it sit before it was launched? We're looking for – we're looking for any kind of similarity there, and so far we can't find any.

MS. BROWN: Harwood, are you on the line?


MS. BROWN: OK, go ahead.

MR. HARWOOD: Thanks, it's Bill Harwood, CBS, for Roger Tetrault, I guess. I just want to make sure I understand, and I realize none of this is exact, but when I look at the timeline, Debris A was followed almost immediately by a big change in the lift-to-drag ratio, which I guess is consistent with what you're talking about. B and C both came away before you got back to the last two seconds of telemetry, which shows the fuselage is still in tact, but there's no data from the left wing at all. Is that – that what you're talking here, that you went into your original level with, a big chunk of the wing either came off or whatever, affected the lift-to-drag ratio, the vertical tail came off, and then at least part of the right wing, I guess, before you come back to that final two seconds? And then, the actual breakup is another 10 or 12 seconds after that for the fuselage. Is that generally correct?

MR. TETRAULT: I'm not sure, because you began to lose me when you started talking about – about data, which was available, because at the time that I'm talking about, there was no data that was available. Are you going back to stuff that's over in Arizona?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: He's talking about the 32 seconds – the 32-second gap. The way I'd answer this one, Bill, is the power of Rogers' analysis, which I find to be very compelling, is that this analysis is done first of all independent. They aren't influenced by other people's work. And this is debris analysis, and I find it very compelling that they do this very, very sophisticated debris analysis and kind of come to the same conclusion. And so, he's talking about the, you know, the 25-second gap, and then the two seconds at the end, that indicate – that indicate that the vehicle was still in tact, except that there was no longer any data. Now, when the left wing came off, we're not – we're not really sure we can pin it down to which second the left wing came off.

MR. TETRAULT: Well, my supposition would be that it would be slightly after that point.

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Slight after that, right.

MR. TETRAULT: And so, you would have no data relative to it. The only data that we would have is the debris that's on the field and how it's located.

MS. BROWN: OK, anybody else on the phone bridge.

MR. PETER KING: Laura? Laura?


MR. KING: Yeah, hi, Peter King. Could I get a question in?

MS. BROWN: Sure.

MR. KING: Peter King with CBS, and I just want to clarify one thing. To the Admiral, you said that one of the four points was to increase crew escape and survivability options, yet you said that the report is not going to deal with this issue. Can you clarify that a little bit and explain why you're not going to deal with this issue a little bit more?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The whole issue of the last few seconds of the crew's flight, and precisely how they died, and which parts of their flight equipment worked and didn't work, we have elected not to deal with – with those matters. Now, that data is being looked at and being preserved, but we elected not to deal with that. It's just that – we think that – we think that getting to the cause of this accident and making recommendations for safer operation of the shuttle is plenty big enough a challenge for us, that redesigning the crew's survivability escape systems can be left to somebody else.

Nevertheless, the reason I brought it up and opened this box is, because we do feel that there are steps that can be taken to decouple or to loosen the tight relationship between foam debris damaging the TPS and loss of the vehicle. And – and there are a number of steps that need to be taken to do that. It isn't just one fix, and that was what my message was. But let me just say that the Board just, you might say, well, we gave this some thought. We gave it some serious thought. We looked at what the Challenger Commission did, and we elected to say that this is better handled by somebody else in a different forum.

MS. BROWN: OK, thanks.


MS. BROWN: Hello?

MR. SPEAR: Kevin Spear with the Orlando Sentinel.

MS. BROWN: OK. Go ahead quick, Kevin.

MR. SPEAR: This is for the Admiral, and this may not be easy to answer in a – in a brief fashion, but can you offer any updates on what kinds of recommendations there might be for broad changes in NASA management and culture?

ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The only – I cannot give you any specifics on that, except to say that a goodly portion of the report, perhaps half, is going to deal with the issue of management and management techniques. And we are – we are deep in the process of getting the Board to agree on what it can agree on, and how to – and how to couch those recommendations. Once again, we will not tell NASA how to organize. We will not draw a wiring diagram for them, but we will tell them what we believe are the characteristics of a – what we believe to be essentially a flight development program that – that would – would help ensure safe operations. We'll – we won't tell them how to do it, but we will tell them what needs to be done.

MS. BROWN: OK, thanks everybody. That's it for this briefing. The Board members will be available for just a few minutes, and then we're going have to move on to Scott Hubbard, and they have a meeting back in the office, so.


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