|Columbia Accident Investigation Board Press Briefing
Friday, June 11, 2003
National Transportation Safety Board
429 L' Enfant Plaza, SW
MS. LAURA BROWN: The format we're going to have is a press briefing with the five Board members you see here, followed by a briefing with Scott Hubbard to give us an update on the foam testing done in San Antonio.
So, we'll follow the usual format, and I'll turn you over to Chairman Hal Gehman.
ADMIRAL HAL GEHMAN: Good morning. The Board is occupied almost exclusively with writing the report. We are working our way through the issues. And as every time we write something and it presents some kind of an issue, then the Board has to take time and address whether or not we are in agreement with how it's written and that we agree with the conclusion.
This is taking a little extra time and, as you probably are aware, after consulting with the Oversight Committees of Congress, I announced that we're not going to not make our goal of having the report ready before the Congressional Recess for August. So it'll be ready sometime in August, around the middle or third week of August. We'll miss the goal of having it done before the recess, and now it'll come out during the recess, which is not as convenient for some, but it's more important that we get everything right. And all of the leadership of the Oversight Committees completely agreed that it's more important that we get it right than we get it quick. So, we will continue to get it to work as hard as we can, and we will get it out just as soon as we can. But, it's gonna be I estimate the third week of August, or something like that.
As my colleagues will discuss, just about all now of the investigatory things are about finished. The foam shooting was one of the last major ones, even though there are still a few tiny little things that we are still working on, and have been working on this week. But, just about all the investigatory pieces are done. And we'll talk about that a little bit more, as will Mr. Hubbard, who will be here later to give you as much detail as you want on the foam shooting.
And one of the other issues that we also finished up this week was and I'll let Dr. Hallock talk about that in some detail is the agreement between us and NASA on a detailed timeline for what happened when, and I'll let Dr. Hallock talk about that.
So, I'll turn this over to my colleagues now.
General Deal, do you want to go first?
BRIG. GENERAL DUANE DEAL: Yes, sir. Thank you. And thanks again for the opportunity. I've got just a very quick update, as I think we all do, on this day 161 of our first phone call that we talked with Admiral Gehman.
As I look through past notes from previous press briefings, just wanted to recap some of those things because a lot of them still ring true from the very first one we had with you.
As we're doing this big strategic look, we found out it's very important that we cannot overlook those tactical underpinnings of all the strategic things we're looking at. You can revise the programs out there and fix the top of the pyramid, but if we're not taking care of the bottom of it, things are gonna crumble.
And those are things that we've talked about before, like the quality assurance program, make sure NASA keeps its eyes on the products, particularly down at Kennedy Space Center. Not just contractor performance, which we're also looking at, but the contracts and the way they're written, and also the designs that they're performing to.
Then as General Hess is gonna cover in his group in big detail in the report, risk assessment. You know, so the potentially deadly events don't become acceptable and we need to identify now those potential deadly events, which the Admiral's been beating us up to continue to uncover those as well.
A lot of this boils down to what Dr. McDonald talked about in our first open hearing, not treating the shuttle as operational, but as an R&D vehicle. You know, as he said, you need to treat the launch as the first launch, each orbit as the first orbit, and each re-entry as a first re-entry.
Another thing that you'll be seeing when the report does come out is our examination of more than 50 prior reports on the shuttle and the shuttle program, the recommendations, and also the NASA responses to those recommendations.
Some of the responses have frankly been, NASA takes it and says thanks for your input to manned space flight, and then nothing happens. But, they have responded to many, many recommendations and they've given some reasons why they haven't responded to other recommendations that are very valid.
But, when you see this, I'd like you to be slow to criticize some of the past reviews for not spotlighting things like foam. For example, you could say, well, Rogers didn't specify it back in 1986. Well, up into that time, 25 flights, there had been one foam incident, you know, from the bipod ramp. Aldridge, in 1992, there had been two confirmed ones. And the Shuttle Independent Investigation Team, our assessment team back in 1999, there were three known incidents.
But, as you all have reported, under the Board's scrutiny as we've looked at it, we've gone from four to five to six, to now seven bipod incidents that were known and visible. And there's about another 40 percent that were not visible, so we don't know about those.
And then the final thing I'd like to bring up to you, and I can show you a photo later on. We didn't have this in enough time to show you a slide, but it had to do with a story that some of you reported on back when STS-101, was some of the hot air penetrating inside of the leading edge.
We had looked at that, in case there's any doubt about it. That's some of the hundreds of thousands of maintenance actions that we had looked at. We looked at every TPS-related discrepancy post-flight, particularly focusing on Columbia, of course, but across the fleet.
And we looked at this back in March. We got the reports. It was part of the FRACA Database. It was not considered a major problem. NASA did all the proper fixes, along with USA to fly it again, and did fly again successfully. And it was not considered to be a major breach. And if afterwards anyone would like to see the pictures, I can show that to you as well.
And sir, that's all I have.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Thank you.
MAJ. GENERAL KENNETH HESS: Good morning. Group two still continues to write away on its portion of the accident report. We finished our work into the individual investigation of imagery and emails, and the MMT management decisions and things such as this, as the Admiral's indicated.
But, we're now concentrating our efforts on trying to roll all those events into a little bit larger context, so that we can give a fair appreciation in the report for the complexity of the program and the decisions that have to be made, without singling out a very minute detail and then judging the entirety of NASA efforts by very small instances.
We're doing that within the context of organizations that deal with high risk technologies, as well as organizations who, in the literature, are assumed that should be high reliability organizations in and of themselves because of what they do.
And in parallel to this, we're gonna measure NASA safety and mission assurance efforts against some fairly accepted standards for high reliability organizations and come up with some conclusions at the end.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Thank you.
DR. JAMES HALLOCK: Good morning. Just as the other groups are doing, we have been furiously writing and editing and so on. However, we do have a product we are just releasing today.
Two months ago, the Admiral did release a very short working scenario, as we called it, on what was going on in re-entry. And what we mean by this scenario is talking about the basic facts of what's going on. What are the events that occurred, what are the timelines that we're dealing with, and so on. And trying to get it to a point where we can talk about these are things that we think that we all agree upon did occur and so on.
Well, as I speak, next time you have a chance to log on to our Web site, you will find a document, which is actually broken up into three PDF files because it adds up to like 17 megabytes, so we wanted to make it easier to download if that's what you're interested in doing.
Now, this is a joint report, as I said. We worked together with the NAIT, the NASA Accident Investigation Team and ourselves, and put it together to make sure these are all facts that we both see. Do remember that all the study, we're all using the same data to try to understand what happened in this event.
This report will become an appendix to our report. And part of the intention of doing that is that it gives us a place to point to so that, when we're writing our sections, particularly the areas that I've be working on, that we can focus our attention in the report on things like causality and interpretations of the data, and point to this joint report as having all of the basic facts and evidence.
Now, this working scenario is more complete than what you saw before, because we are addressing all the phases of flight. We're starting from pre-launch to the launch, beyond orbit, and then the re-entry itself. And the re-entry has a lot more information in it than it did a few months ago.
I want to emphasize that we're the report is emphasizing purely the technical aspects not, you know, what happened and what didn't happen. And the other aspects that my colleagues here are addressing are not included within that report. So it's purely the technical issues that's going on.
A lot of what's in the report you have heard already. I mean, it's previous times, whether it were any of my colleagues, whether Sheila Widnall, Doug Osheroff, Roger Tetrault, or Scott Hubbard or myself, we've talked about a lot of the things that we have been finding and now all of those materials are in the working scenario.
I do want to make it very clear, through, and we say it right up front in the report, that the information is as of July 8th, which is Tuesday of this week. So I mean, we'll not have, for example, a lot of the information that Scott Hubbard will be talking to you when we're done here, since that's happened as recently as this morning, I'm sure, on some of the information he's going to talk about.
So, we drew a line in the sand just to make it convenient. Somewhere you have to stop writing and start moving on to other things, and so that's the way we elected to do it in this case.
So, it does have a lot of information, a lot of results from analyses, tests and simulations and so on, some of which have been completed and a lot of which are still unknown. The real detailed studies of these things, the real detailed results from these things will come out in subsequent reports, both by NASA in a lot of the things that they're doing at this point, as part of return to flight, as well as documenting all of the excellent analyses that they have done. And as well, you'll see more of this information appear in our report, both in the body of the report as well as in the appendices.
That's it for me.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Okay, thank you very much.
DR. JOHN LOGSDON: Yes, good morning. The role of group four in the investigation is to try to provide a broad organizational, management, political, legendary context within which the shuttle programming was operating, has been operating over time and at the time of the accident. There's been a fair amount of attention recently to the budget aspects of that, and certainly the budgets are an important element of the program's context.
But, we are looking at issues beyond budget. We're looking at NASA's organizational culture, particularly the culture of its human space flight elements, the shared norms, the shared values, the belief system of those that are one of the only two places in the world that know how to put people into space. And we believe that that value set had some impact on the way the organization performed.
We're looking at the management structure, the relationship, as I think it was General Deal said earlier, between NASA responsibilities and the responsibilities assigned to the Space Flight Operations Contract, managed by the United Space Alliance, and the other major shuttle contracts. So, we're looking at the management issues.
We're looking at the uncertainty that's pervaded the program, really for almost two decades, as how long the shuttle would be flying. The first kind of articulated suggestion of the need to replace the shuttle was in the report of the National Commission on Space in 1986. That said the shuttle should be replaced by 2000. And then the date at the time of the beginning of the X-33 Program was 2005. And then, by the end of the 1990s, the replacement date was 2012. Now, it's sometime in the indefinite future, but before the accident. And that affects your investment strategy, what upgrades you buy, what infrastructure revitalization you undertake. So, all of that are the sort of things we're working on.
And I think one final comment is that the Board is not intending to make detailed suggestions on future systems in shuttle replacements. I think we will say something about the need to get on with the next generation launch vehicles, but we are not intending to design alternatives or evaluate alternatives. So there's, I know, some expectation of that among people waiting for our report, and people shouldn't expect it.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Thank you very much, Dr. Logsdon.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, we'll take some questions. Do we have a microphone? Great. Okay, we can start at that end.
Earl, go ahead.
MR. EARL LANE: I was wondering, in your interviews on the management side or on the culture side, with individual line engineers, are you able to do have you done those interviews in solo, without minders?
DR. LOGSDON: It's group one that's done the workers level interviewing, so I'll let General Deal respond to that.
GENERAL DEAL: Well, we haven't done many engineers. Is that what could you revise .
MR. LANE: People on the floor (inaudible).
GENERAL DEAL: Yeah, without getting into the content of the interviews, it's one-on-one interviews, at least 80 percent. There have been some where we have multiple board members there but, no, they're coming in individually on their own under total privilege.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Mark?
MR. MARK CARREAU: Mine is for Dr. Hallock. Regarding the timeline, I think as I understand it, you're adding things at the beginning that might have been significant to during the launch phase perhaps, or processing. I wonder we haven't had the chance to look at it yet, but could you give us a preview of what's in there that's significant to look for that may have had an influence on the mission?
DR. HALLOCK: Well, there are many things that were addressed in that area whether and some of the things we addressed purely to point out, you know, this did occur, but we're not sure whether, you know, is this something that is so important that, you know, it led to some of the consequences of the act and that came later.
So, it talks about a lot of things. One that, you know, there were radars that picked up other debris during this time frame. We do talk about the various things in the sense of the wind shear that was experienced around, you know, 57 seconds into the launch and how that affected the craft, both in the sense of its motion as well as how the nozzles moved. And other consequences in there, such as things like the so called term Òsloshing,Ó that is, the motion in the oxygen tanks and so on.
So, it does go through and talks about them, gives some more information about those specific events.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Can you state your name and affiliation when you ask a question? Cathy?
MS. KATHY SAWYER: Kathy Sawyer from the Washington Post for Dr. Hallock, again following up on Mark's question.
Is there anything new in the timeline, or even if it's not in the timeline. Can you tell us what new things you've learned in the course of Sheila Widnall's investigations and studies about the aerodynamics, now that you've blown a big hole in the wing section this week, about how the shuttle's lasted so long basically, getting across the coast and all the way to Texas.
DR. HALLOCK: Most of what's in there, as I say, are things that we have discussed with you people in the past. Most recent stuff, not all of which is in this scenario at this point, but let me talk about it, and that is the aerothermal types of events.
What we were wondering about is that we know what will happen if you have a 6, 7, 8, 10-inch hole in the panels. The question has been, suppose we just had a portion of the T-seal that was missing. Can we also have these same things occur? And basically, it's the calculations and stuff that have been done have shown that it's kind of hard to have it happen, at least within the time frame we're talking about.
The point being, when you have a plume that typically, nature wants to make it a nice round circle, to be the shape of the plume itself. When you're now coming to a T-seal, which is now a slot, it's not as effective a way to transmit all of that heat and energy from the outside to the inside, into the wing or into the channel behind the RCC panel.
So, that part of it is as I say, it's not completely addressed, because a lot of that happened last week that we learned most of these things.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Debra?
MS. DEBORAH ZABARENKO: Debra Zabarenko. I work for Reuters. This is for Brigadier General Deal.
For our readers, how can we how do you treat a vehicle differently if it's non-operational? It's a little surprising to think of a vehicle that's as old as the shuttle that's, you know, not being considered an operational vehicle?
BRIG. GENERAL DEAL: Well, I think that's a philosophical question that any one of us could answer in different terms. And the Admiral may want to talk some more about it.
But, if you put it in the context of any other type of aerial vehicle (inaudible) a spacecraft, they have thousands of test flights under their belt before they're called operational, before you go out there and you do just normal types of missions, whether it's Navy or an Air Force aircraft or an FAA certified jetliner.
Another thing that's so unusual about this, without talking down to any of you, is that this is the first time where we've had these re-usable parts that and we need to really track. We need to have what we call Òfleet leader programs,Ó where you're keeping track of the parts that are aging. The Òbad actor programs,Ó we call them, where you're keeping track of the components that fail on a continuous basis, before you go out and say this is operational, we can fly anybody in space that we want to, it's more of a philosophical approach that we're concerned about saying that.
Versus treating it, as Dr. McDonald did, that, you know, you need to treat every single launch just as seriously as the very first launch of this vehicle, and make sure that you cover all of these things and you're watching those things that we found out during the investigation that they, well, we're going to continue to give them flavors upon labors, and fly-as-is upon fly-as-is type of labors. And that's just become a common Board concern I believe. That's the short answer.
Sir, anything else?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Well, I agree with what General Deal said completely. Any one of us could speak for 15 minutes on the differences that an approach makes, whether you call this thing operational or a development vehicle. Each one of us has our own favorite anecdote, our own favorite way of looking at it.
To me, the most important thing is, in the case of an operational vehicle, like a commercial airliner or something like that, the events that you use the vehicle for, takeoff and landing and transporting people, and then also the turnaround in-between flights. If it's an operational vehicle, you expect that each one of these events would be nearly identical and repeatable. And therefore, it's easy and it's logical and it's prudent to contract that out, because you essentially want repeatability. You want the thing to happen exactly the same way each time, and you expect the same results each time. You can write specifications, you can write a contract, and get the kind of performance that you want out of that.
If, on the other hand, it's a developmental vehicles, you are your expectation is that it will not be the same every time. You are always on the lookout for little, tiny little differences. You're suspicious of little, tiny little differences, and also you demand extraordinarily accurate and intrusive instrumentation so that you can detect little variances in how the thing operates.
And you also don't have an expectation that, when the thing lands, that you can turn it around and get it back in the air again quickly. There is no expectation that you can do that, and there's no expectation that you can do that economically. To me, those are the to me those are the other two big differences.
And as I say, every one of these people here, each one of my colleagues could give you a 15 minute answer to that because I cannot emphasize too strongly how the Board is impressed with how deeply and how broadly the difference translates itself into practical applications. I mean, I just can't tell you how often we have run into that.
And we consider it to be truly significant, just as General Deal said. We find it to be pervasive, it's just everywhere. So, I think I'll leave it there.
DR. LOGSDON: Let me not talk for 15 minutes, but 30 seconds, just to give you a figure. This STS-107 was the shuttle's 113th launch. The F-22 Raptor, which is our new fighter plane just entering service, had 1,600 takeoffs in its flight test program. So, a factor of 10 greater in during its development program.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Marcia?
MS. MARCIA DUNN: Marcia Dunn, Associated Press.
Dr. Hallock, I'm just wondering, based on all the info that you've got in your head right there, is it conceivable that the real hole that was created by the breach during liftoff was 16 inches big, like it was in Monday's test? Or do you think that it was much smaller? I mean, could you sort of characterize it?
And for Admiral Gehman, I'm just wondering how much Monday's test is going to make your report writing easier in terms of defining the conclusions.
DR. HALLOCK: Well, first of all, when we're trying to determine really what happened in this particular thing, we've had to rely quite heavily on a number of tests that were done, such things as doing arc-jet testing, where you're trying to simulate the environment and see how long it takes for things to happen; how long will it take to burn through, you know, 25 mils of aluminum, or how long will it take to burn stainless steel and so on.
And then you're also using some very, very sophisticated computer programs say, okay, how can we take the energy how much energy can we actually take and put into this cavity that's behind the RCC panels? All of those have pretty because we're talking about a hole that's probably more the 6 to 10 inch type of thing.
The if it were as large as the one that we just saw on Monday, 16 by 16 I believe is the size, you're talking that's so large that you're gonna be turning you know, bringing lots of energy in. And I would think the event would've happened much sooner. In other words, the Columbia would not have made it to the state of Texas.
Also, you've got to remember and I assume Scott will tell you more about this type of thing and that is, it's quite critical where you actually hit on that RCC. If you move it up or down just a little bit well, you saw what happened. I mean, in previous flights where on that same area, you aim a little bit higher and what do you get? A lot of cracks. At this particular point you got a rather large hole. And I'm sure if you move down a little bit or left to right or whatever, you'll get smaller ones.
But, coming right back to the thing, I personally believe that we are talking about something that definitely has to be in the 6 to 10 inches, because that sort of agrees with all of the calculations, and even the experiments that have been done where we're trying to go back and look at timing. That's the critical issue here. How long did it take for certain events to occur.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: And to the second part of your question, Marcia, the Board felt that this testing was very, very important, because it will help us to actually determine how strong a word we use to equate the foam strike, which we know happened, to the creation of some kind of damage that was pre-existing prior to the entry. And this allows us now to use a word which we haven't agreed to yet but use a word which expresses a high confidence, a very high degree of confidence that we have indeed found the cause here.
I would recommend that you pay close attention to what Dr. Hallock said. I think that I think that Mr. Hubbard when he gives you your report, he's going to report that we've found more damage. And so, we are not in love with this 16 by 15 inch hole, and we don't put a whole lot of we aren't putting a whole lot of significance into the size of the hole because there it damaged the RCC in other ways, too, so stay tuned.
BRIG. GENERAL DEAL: And as one that was down there sweating with those of you that were down there, we were pleased because it showed it was within the realm of the possible. It didn't show that's what happened because, as Dr. Hallock said, where you aim it is very, very critical. And I think to tease Mr. Hubbard again he's gonna have a lot more for you about the other things that happened that you didn't see that day.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: You need to ask Dr. Hallock this question, but I mean Mr. Hubbard. Ask Mr. Hubbard to follow up on this. But, if you take all of the approximations and all of the unknowns and all of the analysis, that is what I'm talking about is we aren't exactly sure at what angle the foam hit the RCC at. We know pretty much, but not exactly.
We've got the speed of the foam down to fairly accurate, but not exact. We don't know exactly the strength of the RCC. It turns out nobody knows the strength of the RCC. The Òas builtÓ condition of the RCC, the Òas builtÓ strength of RCC panels varies widely, and we have those numbers. It's all over the map.
So, we have all these unknowns factored into it to for us to create a piece of damage which was so close to the predicted piece, we find to be compelling. But yet, I wouldn't get into inches. I mean, I wouldn't the fact that this hole's a little bit larger than what the thermal dynamic analysis indicates how much heat got into the wing, it's in the right ballpark, and we found this to be important.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Traci?
MS. TRACI WATSON: Traci Watson with USA Today for Admiral Gehman.
You mentioned a moment ago that, in an operational vehicle, it's logical to rely on contractors. Does that imply that it's not logical in an experimental vehicle?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I don't want to get into a conclusion that we might write in the report. We were asked, well, what's the difference? And I don't mind discussing differences, but I have a little problem with getting too far along in toward conclusions.
You can contract for developmental work, and it's done very successfully in lots of places in the U.S. government. It's a different kind of contract than an operational support contract.
LAURA BROWN: Bill.
MR. BILL HARWOOD: Bill Harwood, CBS, for Dr. Hallock.
Given the hole in the scenario that you're gonna let us see today or on the Web site, can you maybe take just a moment and walk me through the wing? I mean, earlier scenarios, there was uncertainty about did the plume strike the upper surface on the interior of the wing and then bounce down in the wheel well, etc. Can you kind of just tell me what your best thinking is now, and exactly where the flame moved through the wing and what failed (inaudible)?
DR. HALLOCK: Trouble with the word Òexactly,Ó but I can tell you what I think happened. It's pretty much what happened the last time I had a chance to talk with you people, in that it does look like this hole was down in the lower portion of the T-seal. And that .
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: RCC .
DR. HALLOCK: Or the RCC. I knew I'd say something wrong in the RCC itself. And that, remember, we talked about the deposits that we found on the back of the RCC panel number eight, and this is where you found various metals. And at the very lowest layer, we found things like the inkenol (sp) and so on.
Well, if that's the lowest layer, then that must've been the first thing that got melted. And then you look inside and where does that come from? It comes from the cermachrome insulation that's in there, as well as from the spanner beams. And then you look at the next layer and so on.
So really, it looks pretty much to be as was explained once before, and that is it worked its way and it burned its way through, and it eventually now you'll have it gets to the spar, the aluminum spar itself. And when you get there, you burn a hole through that and, at that point basically, everything is now going into the area, into the wing area itself. The wing box area itself. And that's where things other things happened.
For example, the first thing that it looks like occurred were the burning of the wires, and that's what caused all of the results that we saw way back in early February. Remember, we were all looking at the sensors that were in the wheel well. Well, a lot of that occurred due to the damage to the wires that connect to those sensors.
And then ultimately, we think it went from there. And then we did find a path that would get the super heated air into the wheel well itself.
So, it's pretty much, as I say, and we've been talking about. And all of this comes from looking at, not only the sensors themselves but, as I say, it's incredible how much we learned by the fact that a sensor wasn't working. In other words, the wires or, in some cases the sensors themselves, were cut.
We had a very good timeline here. And I talked to you once before about it, that everything was put through what's called an ÒIRB Timeframe.Ó And so, when we say this happened now, and this happened two seconds later, it happened two seconds later. So we're fairly sure of those timings.
So, if you can now go back and look at this wire went and, one second later this wire went, the next one, and then you see the wires are right together. And so it sure sounds like the beam is getting bigger, or the hole is getting bigger, and as it's doing it, it's burning the wires themselves.
LAURA BROWN: Okay, thanks.
MR. TODD HALVORSON: Todd Halvorson of Florida Today for either Dr. Hallock or Admiral Gehman.
Given the fact that Columbia was the only shuttle outfitted with an OEX Flight Data Recorder and, given the fact that that hardware has been so important to the investigation, I'm wondering what the Board feels about OEX Flight Data type recorders being placed on all shuttles in the future and/or the ability to down-link data from such a device real time?
DR. HALLOCK: Shall I?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Go ahead.
DR. HALLOCK: Yes, that's been a very important topic, and there are a lot of things that I've been looking at and writing about, obviously.
First of all, strictly speaking, as I believe it, the OEX box really refers to that box, that one box that we found on a mountainside, or hillside, excuse me, in Southeast Texas.
The other shuttles do have a system, a so-called ÒMAD System,Ó (sp) and the what's called the OEI (sp) systems. So they do have a lot of sensors on them, it's just that Columbia because it was the first shuttle to fly had a lot more sensors on it.
And interestingly enough, those sensors also had a projected lifetime of something, you know, measured in years. And yet, here we are, 23 years later or whatever, and most of these sensors are still operating, which has been fantastic.
The key ones that we use are the temperature sensors. I think there's only like three of them that weren't working from the original number that were out there.
So yes, it is a part of what we're looking at. We think those need to have sensors there. Once again, because we're still learning. That's what we keep saying here. We're still learning about the environment we're talking about. And so the more information you can get, the better. And I certainly do want to see sensors there and they should be there for all of the flights.
LAURA BROWN: Richard?
MR. RICHARD HARRIS: Richard Harris from National Public Radio, I guess for Admiral Gehman.
One of your recommendations to NASA was to be able to have on orbit repair of both RCC and tiles. I think when we were back then, all of us were thinking of holes that were four inches, six inches, pretty small holes and cracks and maybe things like that that tend to be repaired.
Now that you realize that a 16 inch hole is within the realm of possibility, do you think that that's still a realistic recommendation? Would you expect NASA to be able to repair a hole that size on orbit?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I can't evaluate whether or not their whatever repair capability that they come up with would be able to repair that large of a hole or not. They have to be able to repair they have to be able to repair holes in RCC caused by debris. If they can't stop the debris, they gotta be able to fix the hole. If they can if they can stop the debris to where it's tiny little pieces of debris and it causes tiny little holes, then they can have a tiny little hole fixer.
The no shuttle is gonna fly with a bipod ramp again. So, you're not gonna see this happen again, I don't think. And I've mentioned this before in press conferences, and it's in our recommendations, that we view this as a system.
NASA has to cut down on the amount of debris that comes off. They have to toughen the Orbiter. They have to be able to inspect and repair the Orbiter, and then they also gotta give the crew a better chance to survive.
All four of these contribute to safer operations, and not any one of them in my view is a fix.
MS. LAURA BROWN: John? Or Matt?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible) either/or?
MS. LAURA BROWN: Well .
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Well, we're being we'll be generous today.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Yeah. Since Marcia asked a two-part questions, I'll let both of you guys ask questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: But I only get a one-part question?
MS. LAURA BROWN: Yes, you only get a one-part question.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Okay, if only ask half a question, can Matt get one and a half?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, time's up.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: And that was your question.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You folks have promised an open and transparent process and, in fact, you've delivered a remarkable amount of information to us over the course of this investigation, your briefings, your hearings.
Is there anything else in the report? I mean, are we gonna have anything to write in August? Or should we all just, you know, file briefs and go home?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We are not consciously saving up things for the report. But, there are some parts of the report that really we have not said a whole lot about. Certainly, General Hess's comment about some of the management issues. The Board is still wrestling with some of the words and some of the findings.
That part is not very mature yet, so there may be like I say, we don't hold anything back. As soon as we know something, we release it. So but there may be some things in there that have not been publicly talked about yet because the Board hasn't agreed to them yet.
That's one thing. And also, you haven't seen all of this written down on one piece of paper yet. And we've talked about a thing here and a thing there. We've talked about inspection this and quality assurance that, and testing of this and these things. But, when you see it all written down, the tone may be something that we haven't come across yet.
We've been putting things out as we know them. We said we tell you things every time we come across it. Every time we have a we agree on a recommendation that affects return to flight we issue it. But, you haven't seen it all strung together yet. So, there may be some news value in the tone of the report, but I'll leave that to you.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Matt?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible). I wonder, I can imagine the kinds of things you've said the kinds of things you would be asking NASA to do. You said some specific things to NASA.
What do you expect out of Congress when they get back after the vacation, do their speed reading through your report, worry about the war in Iraq, worry about everything else. What kinds of actions are you hopeful Congress would take this year?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I think that I anticipate that there will probably be some fairly detailed and rigorous public hearings on some of the things that we brought up. I think that there will be a number of unanswered questions as a result of our report.
What we're gonna attempt to do in our report is to write a report which enables policymakers to properly characterize risk and cost and things like that. But, what the nation wants to do with that is we're not gonna give them we're not gonna give the nation the answer. So there will be a whole number of things that have to be resolved.
And Congress will have to hold hearings in order to get enough information from us both from us and from NASA and probably some independent experts to see whether or not the direction that we pointed them is something they need to follow up on.
I think that another area that we're gonna leave unresolved is the non-return to flight, long-term recommendations. Who and what body is going to be the enforcement body for following up on those things. I mean, we complete our report. And remember, our report is not finished when we hand in volume one. There's gonna be all these appendices and all this documentation, so we'll be working for another six to eight weeks after we turn our report in.
But, there are a number of long-term recommendations. We turn our report in. The Board disbands. Now, who and what process is going to be the forcing function for the long-term recommendations? And Congress is going to have to wrestle with that.
We may or we may not make a recommendation in that area but, whether we make a recommendation or not, it has no authority, has no force. So, that's an area that we're gonna kind of punt the football and give it to the other side to figure out.
The short-term, the return to flight recommendations, there's no problem with that. I mean, they can't fly the shuttle until they do that. And I think there'll be plenty of attention, both from the Administration, from the NASA Administrator, as well as Congress to make sure that every recommendation that we label as a return to flight is properly addressed.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible).
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: There are no return to flight recommendations to Congress. That is correct. The issues like whether or not they need more money and things like that are gonna have to be worked by Congress. And we're not gonna put a dollar figure on it or anything like that. But no, Congress is not gonna get any return to flight recommendations.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Bill, do you have a question?
MR. WILLIAM GLANZ: Bill Glanz, the Washington Times for Dr. Hallock.
You mentioned that the new timeline had things in there that you and NASA could agree on. Are there things that were that had to be excluded that you couldn't agree on?
DR. HALLOCK: The only part that we didn't want to put in that was where we're drawing conclusions, because we feel that's the CAIB's duty. So, writing the scenario in terms of saying here are the fact, I think it was fairly open. You know, this is a fact and so on.
There were some things where you had to carry it another step, much like I talked about a little earlier, as to answering the question about what happened. Some there, you do have to draw some conclusions and so on, but it was all based on we thought fairly good engineering and scientific information.
So, you really as I say, the one thing it does not contain are the conclusions. As I said, that's part that's the job of this Board.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, Frank? Do you have a question?
MR. FRANK MORRING: Frank Morring with Aviation Week for General Hess.
Could you tell us some of the other organizations that you were examining in your benchmarking effort, and give us a little bit on this sort of analog you're trying to get at between these organizations and human space flight?
GENERAL HESS: Sure. We took a look at the other organizations that launched anything into space. We took a look at the Air Force Space Launch Program and how they have Aerospace Corporation helped them independently assess their readiness for any particular launch.
We have studied a relationship that has been ongoing for since before the first of the year between the Navy's Nuclear Submarine Program and NASA, where they're already doing some benchmarking between one another to see the differences in those two particular programs.
And we've had a panel of experts come and talk with us, some of whom you've already heard from in the press, like Dr. Diane Vaughn and Dr. David Woods and others like that, who have talked to us instructively about what high reliability organizations should behave like.
Now, the contrast that we're trying to do is to take a look at what the theory says those organizations should act like, in terms of should they be learning organizations? How adaptive should they be to the environments that they're in? Should their communications systems be formal or informal, centralized or decentralized?
And we're trying to make some parallels there that will be instructive for NASA in looking at itself in the context of this accident.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Question behind Frank?
MR. NICK ANDERSON: Nick Anderson. Hi, Nick Anderson with the L.A. Times for Admiral Gehman.
I wonder Congress this week began talking about a supplemental appropriation of another $50 million for the space shuttle investigation. I think that brings would bring it up to $100 million so far if that's approved.
How much is the Accident Board's budget going to be, when it's all said and done? Do you have a guesstimate on that now?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We the accident that the Board part of this is gonna cost something in the order of $15 million, maybe 20. Now, that's not to include the debris recovery fees, which FEMA paid for, which as we know, cost something like $300 million. And also a lot of the investigation was done by NASA, and some of that $50 million is going to offset NASA some.
But the Board, the money that we spent is gonna be a small, small fraction of the 50 of the first $50 million.
MR. ANDERSON: (Inaudible).
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Fifteen to 20 million.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Other questions out there from people who haven't already asked questions?
Dennis? Do you have a question?
He's you want to .
MR. DENNIS POWELL: Hi. Dennis Powell with ABC News for Professor Hallock.
Professor, can you talk to me a little bit about anything new in the scenario upon re-entry that might be in there that we haven't heard before? Specifically, is there anything in there that might tell us whether either of the pilots tried to take control of the shuttle?
DR. HALLOCK: First, thanks for the promotion. Gee, I'm now a professor! First of all, are there any new issues in there. None come to mind. I can't think of anything.
In terms of the crew, I think you know, there was an event that we talked about way back when where I think it was inadvertent touching of one of the controls or switches.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: It was a stick bump.
DR. HALLOCK: Right. And that's the only part that I know of where there was any attempt to take control of the shuttle.
Because remember, up until right near the end, it was doing everything it was supposed to. And there really wasn't a need at that point to do anything. As I say, everything seemed to be working until we got to the very close to the end.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I think the only thing on entry that in the joint working scenario that wasn't in the previous one is that, when we did the previous one, we had a whole bunch of tests, like wire burn through tests, and things like that that weren't complete at that time and now they are.
So, we say, for example, if it took 20 seconds to burn through the aluminum spar, that is the temperatures inside and the temperatures outside the spar indicated that it burned through in about 20 seconds or 60 seconds.
We went and did some second and, yes, that's what it takes that's about what it takes. So, I mean, that kind of testing wasn't in the original one. It is now. And none of it while none of it proves anything, we did not find any test which disproves our working scenario.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Question here.
MR. BRIAN BERGER: Brian Berger with Space News. This question's for Admiral Gehman.
I'm wondering if the Board has looked next door to the space shuttle program to consider some of the implications of your findings on ISS safety, given that the two are pretty closely linked?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: A little bit. We have, for example, in our study of micro-meteorite hits and debris, we kind of asked ourselves how does this international space station do it and some things like that.
We have made ourselves aware of how the ISS operates. We made ourselves aware of the limiting factors for how long it can stay up. We are kind of amateur generalists in how the ISS operates. To see if we found any obvious connects between the two .
Does anybody want to expand upon that? I mean .
GENERAL HESS: That's not the only other area that we looked at. We did do some general comparisons between the safety and mission assurance approach in the space station, versus how the space shuttle program runs. And there they had their own distinct personalities about how they're operated. But, that was always for our own background and to give us some comparison.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Go ahead.
MS. KRISTY NABIELSKY: Kristy Nabielsky (sp) with N.K. (sp) newspaper.
Some time ago, you were all exercising how, even if you were to find the primary factor, the cause of the accident, that you might still have other contributing factors. And I was wondering, if that's still the case, what are those contributing factors that you might still be considering?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We've actually come a little further than the way you've described it. The way the Board report is gonna phrase this is, we started off with kind of a hierarchy of factors. I mean, we have the direct mechanical thing, and then below that we had the contributing factors.
We've now decided that these things are equal. And that's why we're being so cautious and so careful about the management sections and the safety sections and all those kinds of things, because the way the report I believe the way the report is going to characterize these things is we have what we're now calling either the physical or mechanical failure, and then we have the systemic failures. And we're now putting them of equal weight. So but I'm not gonna I can't it would be premature to go much farther than that because we're writing that section.
MS. NABIELSKY: (Inaudible) factors.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I'm sorry?
MS. NABIELSKY: Within the mechanical factors you were you're obviously not focusing I mean, the smoking gun is now the foam, the foam hit. Are there any other contributing mechanical factors that you're still considering?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Yes. Once again, we are going to say that all of the evidence assures us that the foam did it. But, there are other mechanical processes which we cannot rule out. We're not very we're not very pleased with what we found about bolt catcher testing and the bolt catcher has to remain open.
As a matter of fact, in the fault tree close-out, there are a goodly number of fault tree elements which are not closed out. There are a couple of them, a handful of them, which are mechanical kinds of things, including micro-meteorite debris.
Jim, you want to say any more about that?
DR. HALLOCK: Yeah, that's one for example. You know, you could get the same kind of damage from an orbital debris or a large meteorite striking it. And we can't absolutely rule out I don't think it occurred on this particular case, but you can't just say no way.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The report will be very careful about that. We're gonna be very careful about that.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Gwyneth?
MS. GWYNETH SHAW: Gwyneth Shaw with The Orlando Sentinel for Dr. Logsdon. You mentioned that in the report you're going to be talking about some of the next generation launch vehicle ideas, (inaudible) particular design. But, are you gonna go back and do any evaluation of some of the previous efforts, the technology that might be used in the future, or how budget affected the decision not to move forward with those projects?
DR. LOGSDON: Well, we're not gonna go back and do a technical evaluation of Mask (sp) or X-33. I think the earlier attempts at shuttle replacements, that's well beyond our mandate.
We're gonna note that the nation has spent fair amount of money starting down the road of the next generation launch vehicle, and then back off and reflect a bit on how that has affected the future of the shuttle program in terms of upgrades and infrastructure revitalization.
But, we're not going to get into the business of engineering future launch systems.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Did I miss anybody? Okay, we're gonna have a brief accessibility with the Board oh, I'm sorry, the phone bridge. Thank you.
Who do we have on the phone bridge?
MR. PHIL CHEN: Phil Chen here.
MR. LAURA BROWN: Okay, Phil. Go ahead.
MS. GINA TREADGOLD: Gina Treadgold with ABC.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, thanks.
MR. JAY BARBREE: Jay Barbree from NBC.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay.
MS. IRENE BROWN: Irene Brown with Discovery.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Thanks. Okay, Phil, go ahead.
MR. CHEN: Okay, I read really fast. I've been skimming through the scenario that's on the Web site, and one thing really struck out at me. Table 3-6, which lists the various ET-bipod foam. I'd not realized until now that the STS-107 foam is almost twice the size of the largest previous, yet is there anybody who is (inaudible) which talks about that?
And figure 9-6, which shows the relative rainfall for the various different ETs. It says that the error bars don't correlate, but it seems like it's a really big spike for the ET-93 tank used on STS-107, in terms of the amount of rain it got exposed to.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: The fact that this piece of foam that came off of the in 107 was much, much larger than NASA's previous experience is, of course, important because I mean, it gets into the question of why didn't that alarm the engineers in the program. I mean, that's kind of basic to our investigations.
Yes, we were aware that this is a dramatically larger piece of foam that came off and this is way out of their experience, yet they wanted to call it just another piece of foam.
Yeah, we and then the other business, I'm not I don't have I mean, I remember seeing that chart, but we attempted to plot we have I should've brought this mind boggling matrix of 600 things by 900 things, in which we have attempted to map every single factor of ET manufacture, foam application, and mating and demating. We have attempted so we could find some commonality of why these particular seven bipod foams came off.
But, we have mapped how many days it spent in the open, how old how long was it between when it was manufactured and when it was launched, was it manufactured on a Monday or a Friday. You know, what was the phase of the moon. I mean, we attempted to we attempted literally we literally have hundreds of things. And that one of them was how much moisture was this system subjected to from the time it was rolled out to the launch pad? And it was quite a lot. They had a couple of really drenching rain storms and this system was subjected to many, many inches of rain.
And so the question, of course, is did it absorb water? And so we have to go back and do all kinds of tests to see how this closed cell foam absorbs moisture. And our conclusion is that it doesn't absorb moisture very much, so we found that to not be very compelling.
Did that answer your question? Since I don't have the charts in front of, I can't .
MR. CHEN: Well, I was looking at figure 9-6, and it shows the total rainfall on STS-107 compared with other missions. And it shows 13 inches of rain for STS-107, and it shows various other color bars, and it says that the error bars overlap so there's no significant difference in the average values. But, the next highest level is only about seven inches, and it seems to me that that's far more than just an error bar and so it does seem to stand out.
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Well, it stand out, but what we attribute we don't attribute it as a causal matter because we were in all the testing that we did, we were unable to get this foam to absorb much moisture. It doesn't matter how much it rains on it.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, thank. Jay?
MR. BARBREE: Admiral Gehman, this is Jay Barbree with NBC. The elephant in the room that people don't seem to want to see is accountability. NASA hasn't addressed this. Will the Board address this in your final report, accountability?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: We have said from the first day, the first hour, that we are not going to address personal responsibility, personal accountability.
We have also said from the first day, and we'd be consistent with that, that if we find any criminal wrongdoing, we'd notify the right criminal authorities right away. And if we find any process that didn't work, that is a board or a committee or a check or a balance, that that will be in our report.
And if the Administrator of NASA or somebody else wants to go and see whether or not some individual person was responsible for that process failing, then that's fine, they can go do that. Our report will be will lead them in that direction.
But, we will not, we have not and we did not address or look for any personal accountability here. However, if a reader of our report or Congress or the Administrator of NASA wants to follow up on some process that doesn't look right because they think maybe somebody fell down on the job, it'll be pretty easy to do. But, we did not do that.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Gina?
MS. TREADGOLD: This is for Admiral Gehman. Admiral Gehman, would the size of the hole in the wing that we saw on Monday, would that have been visible by any imaging access that you know of?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Yes. Absolutely. The question is, how far away is that imaging asset? It's as you well know, it's more complicated than just do you have a camera. It's how far away is the camera and what's the light and what's the angle of incidence? But, the answer is it's possible that a hole that size it is within the realm of capability to take a picture of something that size.
Now, once again, you've got to remember. You're looking at a black hole on a black surface. So whether or not it would've been visible or not, and what the angle and the shadows would've shown, very, very very, very hard to predict.
DR. LOGSDON: Let me add just one comment to that. I mean, that's almost a half a meter, 16 inches. And the commercially available imagery systems had resolution close to that.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Irene?
MS. IRENE BROWN: Thank you. This is Irene Brown with Discovery Channel.
Admiral Gehman, if NASA had been more oriented to operating the shuttle as an R&D project and then recognize the danger to Columbia, have any of the Board members found anything that could've been done to save the crew?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: Everything we know about the crew's chances of recovering from this have been discussed in public testimony and press conferences. We did a very thorough, but hypothetical examination of what could've been done, either in the sense of a rescue or a repair, and that's all been we don't know any more than what we've already told you about that. That would've been very have to be a series of about six ifs, all lined up in a row, in order for that to have worked.
But, to speak very callously about this, that if you consider this to be a developmental vehicle, if you develop the whole if you consider the whole process of putting humans in space and getting them back safely, this will still be a developmental process. I mean, we're still learning how to do that. We have not perfected it.
This is what I'm I'm hypothesizing. If you agree with me that we have not perfected this yet, we have not learned everything we need to know yet about routinely going into space and coming back out of space, then even if you have a situation where you have a tragedy like this, you're obligation is to learn as much as you possibly can about this tragedy.
And the fact that we've allowed cameras and range instrumentation and on-board instrumentation, and all kinds of things like that to kind of gracefully atrophy over the years, leads me to bring this issue up that there are some signs that it's been considered a routine operation, or an operational vehicle rather than a test vehicle.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Is there anyone else on the sound bridge?
MR. PETER KING: Yeah, Peter King of CBS.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, Peter, go ahead.
MR. KING: Hi, thanks, Laura. And for Admiral Gehman, Peter King, CBS News Radio. Wondering if this past week's ICC foam test, or anything else that we've heard to date, changes your thoughts on a return to flight shuttle in six to nine months from your thoughts just a couple of weeks ago?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: No, it has not changed our mind. My crystal ball tells me that the probably the most difficult and challenging return to flight recommendation has already been issued, and that's the on-orbit repair.
The ones that I know about that are in the hopper that we're considering right now are they're challenging and they cost money, but they probably are not as difficult as the on-orbit repair. That's probably the toughest one.
And so no. That foam impact test doesn't, in my view, doesn't change the return to flight timeline or degree of difficulty.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Anyone else on the phone bridge?
MR. DAN BILLOW: Yeah, Dan Billow at WESH TV.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay, Dan, go ahead.
MR. BILLOW: Admiral Gehman, do you have an opinion on what an incredible piece of bad luck this all was, and that that piece of foam could've hit in a lot of places in a lot of ways, and probably not done any damage.
It seems that, you know, finding the chink in the armor the way that it did was of extremely low probability event. Or on the other hand, would you say given the management problems, that something like this was inevitable?
ADMIRAL GEHMAN: I'm gonna have to not answer your question direction, because you're kind of asking for the bottom line of the report there.
I would say that the Board is convinced that coming and going into orbit remains an enormously dangerous task. And even if you had the world's best engineers and the world's best managers working on this thing, there's still a high degree of risk in what we're doing here.
You've still got a it's still not flying in a commercial airliner. It's not like taking a drive in your car. It's dangerous. It's very dangerous. And it will remain that way.
So, under that rubric, you could say that, even if we had the best managers and best engineers in the world, you still have an element of you're in a business where something could still cause you to have a tragedy like this.
On the other hand, when looking into this particular accident, we think that we have found some issues, some practices, some managerial, budgetary kinds of things which we believe are could be done better, even if we had not had this accident.
I mean, if they had impaneled this panel to look at NASA for five months, seven days a week like we have, I suspect that we would come up with probably the same set of recommendations, even if the Columbia had not been lost. Because we have so many people on this panel that are safety people by profession, rather than astronauts.
So, I that's a long-winded answer to your question, but that's kind of the best I can do without being very definitive about what the report's gonna say.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Anyone else on the phone bridge?
Okay, General Deal has one thing he wants to address about an earlier question.
GENERAL DEAL: Yeah, the first question that you asked me was a yes or no question. I gave you a yes or no answer. I thought it would be instructional just to take a minute or two and tell you about how we got some of the human inputs that we got. You know, Dr. Hallock can tell you about all the telemetry and the tests and those type of inputs.
We had some very open processes here. We had briefings that people came and gave us, and reports that are a matter of record. We had the open hearing that you all participated in, you know, number two. Number three, did other things that you do in your professions, and that's background type interviews that don't appear on record. But they were either former or current NASA people, or contractors that were giving us some background to help us build our story and get our perspective.
Then there were the privileged interviews that you asked about. I personally did 72 of those interviews and there wasn't a single interview that had more than one witness. And I asked General Hess, and none of his had multi witnesses. And that's for, you know, a number of different reasons. Because that allows us to control the access. That doesn't put any type of pressure on the witnesses as to, well, I wonder if they're gonna say what I said. And some of the witnesses were a bit concerned, because I think you were alluding to whether or not there any of their supervisory chain there. And they weren't.
There were a number of things brought out in those interviews under privilege that could've cost people their jobs, and that's one of the reasons we do it under privilege. And they would not have been as open and as honest with us had they had different people in there, or perhaps their supervisors in there as well.
And we did a lot of these interviews on duty, so everyone knew they were being interviewed. We selected interviewees, multiple different ways. We would go and look at some of the work processes and get their names off of those, and say we need to talk to this individual because they know this process. We would get some because they would be referred by other interviewees. And we do some just by their position and talk with them.
And then there were some who even opened up the opportunity off of the installations. And we had an office down in Merit Island, not on Kennedy Space Center, where we had people actually come off duty and come and talk to us. We opened up on different sessions with prior publicity, opened up hotel rooms so they could come and talk to us in our suite. And we actually conducted interviews there.
So, I just wanted to underscore, those are you know, four of the processes where we dealt with the humans versus the technical data that helped us get some of the basis for the report as well.
That's all, Laura. Thanks.
MS. LAURA BROWN: Okay. Thank you very much. We're gonna do about maximum five minutes availability and then Scott Hubbard is gonna do his phone briefing.
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