Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
June 24, 2003
429 L' Enfant Plaza, SW
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
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
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.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Mr. Wallace?
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
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Do you want to talk about the return
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
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
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
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
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
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
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Relative to each other.
MR. TETRAULT: Right, exactly.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The left wing came off before the right
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
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?
MR. TETRAULT: Yes.
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
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
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
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
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
MS. ZABARENKO: I know Laura said no two-part questions,
but I'm trying to squeeze one in. The design gap, how big
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. BROWN: OK.
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
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?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible).
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
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
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. GINA TREADGOLD: Yes.
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
MR. WALLACE: All the tanks, we had three types
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?
MR. BILL HARWOOD: Yes, I am.
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
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
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?
MS. BROWN: Yes.
MR. KING: Yeah, hi, Peter King. Could I get a question
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
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
MS. BROWN: OK, thanks.
MR. KEVIN SPEAR: Laura?
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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