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Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up on Re-Entry, Part VII

Aired February 1, 2003 - 17:09   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to a lot of technicalities as we heard from Ron Dittemore and Milt Heflin, a pair of engineers who work inside the intricacies of the space shuttle program, but also a fair dose of emotion as they deal with what is truly a loss to the NASA family. And we send our condolences here at CNN to all of those at NASA directly affected by this.
I'd like to read you a quote from Gus Grissom, who died July 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 fire on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us, it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life." Gus Grissom, prophetic words, NASA, Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronaut.

We spoke to everybody on this crew before they left, and we asked them a lot of questions about their joy of their job and the risks they take, and whether they accept those risks willingly. To a person, they said yes. Let's listen to them.


WILLIE MCCOOL, SHUTTLE PILOT: We do have a lot of first time fliers. Four out of the seven are first time fliers. Three of the others out of the seven have only flown once, so combined amongst the seven we have three flights, and we joke among ourselves that Jerry Ross who just flew recently has by himself seven flights. So he's got us beat by a factor of two. And we're hoping that when we come back from our mission, we'll be beating him combined, you know, we'll have 10 flights amongst all of us, and we'll jump ahead of Jerry.

MICHAEL ANDERSON, PAYLOAD COMMANDER: I think every space mission is special, and everyone comes with his own set of challenges and exciting things to do. And I couldn't be any more excited about a space mission than I am about this one. But once this flight is over, I'll be back in line for the next flight, and whether it's a Hubble flight or going to the International Space Station, I'm sure it is going to be another exciting space mission just like this one.

KALPANA CHAWLA, MISSION SPECIALIST: I look forward to it. To me, I guess because I'm the flight engineer and my background is in aircraft systems, and that is something I have loved since I was 14, 15. You know, the engineering track, and really wanting to know the nuts and bolts, how a system works, if this happens, what's going on, and then on some of these more intense periods of our orbit, the ascent, when we do the on-orbit maneuvering system burn to basically get to the orbit that we need to, and then the de-orbit burn we do to come back home, and the entry routine, and play a role in those. It's just tremendous. I mean, I have lived my life for that in some sense.


O'BRIEN: Kalpana Chawla, a naturalized American born in India, a NASA astronaut, talking about the thrill of space life and how she lives for the event in which she perished earlier today.

Let's send it down to the Kennedy Space Center, where CNN's Lou Dobbs is reporting from. Hello, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, thank you very much. And thank you for the eloquent reporting on this tragic day. It's now been eight hours since we lost the wonderful crew of Columbia. The pall that has settled over Kennedy Space Center cannot be exaggerated. This is a place of adventure and imagination, it is a place where people take their lives, their livelihoods, their mission very, very seriously, and they take that mission seriously with great pride.

To see the mood here, to feel it is all the more remarkable, because the pad behind me from which Columbia launched 16 days ago -- a launch is the most exhilarating, the most wonderful, electric experience. The joy here is one of these shuttles rises from earth to go into orbit is -- it's just matchless in terms of the experience. To see, to feel, to hear here today the mood, the somberness is in stark contrast.

John Zarrella has covered the space program for CNN through good and terrible.


DOBBS: John, your thoughts?

ZARRELLA: Yeah, I -- I found that during that press conference that we just listened to, that they really were opening up their souls, and not just the here's the facts, ma'am, although as engineers, that's what they certainly gave us. And you know, I remember -- I look over my shoulder now back to that countdown clock there, where 17 years ago I was standing at the edge of the water watching Challenger lift off, and things are a little bit different today than they were then, from the standpoint that, you know, after Challenger, NASA put into place lots of much better ability to handle this eventuality than they had before Challenger. I found that different today.

The information was far more forthcoming today than it was initially after Challenger. The chaos that surrounded this place back then on that first day after the Challenger explosion, that everything is far more organized today than it was then.

DOBBS: Far more organized, I think you're exactly right. NASA better equipped to deal with a tragedy that we all hope never comes.

As we listened to Ron Dittemore, the head of the shuttle program, and Milt Heflin, the chief flight director, you watched two men struggling to come to terms and much too soon with a tragedy that is as -- I thought Ron spoke so eloquently -- so personal. Because the people here who work at Kennedy, at the Johnson Space Center, all the NASA centers around the country, they are a family, as Ron Dittemore said, but they're also somewhat cloistered.

They struggle for their budgets. They are not given the respect that many of us believe they deserve. They are not given the attention that many of us think they should, and to watch him struggle with trying to understand so quickly and being pressed so quickly to understand what went wrong on Columbia is in its own way heart- rendering.

ZARRELLA: And you know, we're watching again now, as we see Columbia and that liftoff, and they did spend a lot of time in that press conference discussing this bipod area, the connection area where a piece of foam had fallen.

DOBBS: And then the orbiter.

ZARRELLA: Right, the orbiter and the giant external tank, and listening to all that, and yet again, reflecting back to the experience after the Challenger accident -- and he pointed out, look, this accident happened at 207,000 feet. The Challenger accident happened literally right there. You had great video closeups, camera work that they could analyze. This one may be far more difficult in the end to figure out, don't you think, Lou, than Challenger?

DOBBS: I think without question, but I think there is another similarity here. Very quickly, we focused on the temperature on the day of launch of Challenger. Very quickly, the engineers, the scientists, the mission people have focused on that one piece of insulation, apparently the size, approximately the size of the crew hatch, from the bipod that struck the left wing in some location. They're not even clear at this point where. That is telling us a lot, because that's coming straight from them. They're struggling to deal with it. We watched Ron Dittemore. What are your thoughts, John, on that?

ZARRELLA: He also went back and said, of course, let's not speculate. It may end up to be that this has absolutely nothing to do with the catastrophic accident that we had today, but at the same time, you're absolutely right. Very quickly after Challenger, we focused on that image that showed that literally like a flame thrower burn through of the solid rocket booster into the external tank that ultimately ignited the vehicle, and again, they do seem to be focusing fairly quickly, if we can say at least this, on something that went wrong pretty clearly on the left wing. I mean, that seems to be where their focus is right now.

DOBBS: And Ron Dittemore went to great pains to point out that he initially misspoke, that he said that it had anomalies that were reflected by the eight sensors. It turns out that what they did have, and he put this correctly, they simply lost those sensors, as he put it, as if a wire were cut. We're not going to have the data that we want so quickly, especially those engineers and the mission control people who manage this flight and who are ultimately responsible. And you can see how much they feel responsible for the lives of these seven astronauts.

It's worth going back to, again, to Challenger, unfortunately on this day, to talk about how long it's going to be before we know what happened.

ZARRELLA: Yes, and they're talking about the fact that, you know, that maybe five months, that the program might be down. And I recall certainly very vividly as you do, Challenger was January 28, 1986, and we didn't fly again -- return to flight in Discovery until 1988, almost the end of '88, if my recollection is correct, in November of '88 before Discovery took off.

DOBBS: This is in all of this pain and tragedy here around the country, and indeed around the world, the engineers -- I'm so proud of Ron Dittemore, and I know lost of people are, because he is struggling with the hard, tough analysis that everyone here will be working so hard to go through to come up with a concrete result, so this never happens again.

But the process is going to expand beyond simply the engineers and simply the scientists. It's going to be a political discussion, as well, that will take -- and there will be a natural process in all of this that includes healing, because this is a tremendous loss.

ZARRELLA: Once you get past that initial healing process, then just again, after Challenger and the Rogers (ph) Commission and the report and the political implications, and in this case, the situation is far more difficult than it was after Challenger in that you have a space station up there now that you didn't have after Challenger. You could take 2.5 years on the ground, get your problems solved and work it out. You have an incredible commitment to the space station, to other international partners that didn't exist at the level they do today.


DOBBS: Which is the statement of the way in which the space program in this country and indeed the world has advanced. Tomorrow, the Russians will launch a progress vehicle to re-supply the station, and after that, it's not clear what the next steps will be. The -- and Monday, Sean O'Keefe, the NASA administrator, was to present to Congress his budget, talking about all the wonderful things under way, nuclear propulsion for travel to Mars. A new space orbiter, and obviously, all of that is now on hold.

With John Zarrella, I'm Lou Dobbs. Miles O'Brien, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very, gentlemen, appreciate your insights.

Let's do a little technical business while we kind of wrap things up here. I wanted to just tell folks what a bipod is, just briefly because we've been using that term quite a bit and bandying it about.

Take a closeup here. This is a simplified version, but this model does show what we're talking about. It's the attach point right beneath the nose of the space shuttle to that external tank; the external tank containing oxygen and hydrogen in it, super cold stuff, 400 degrees below zero for the hydrogen, 200 and some odd for the oxygen. Hydrogen is the coldest substance on earth, the liquid hydrogen.

That bipod is the place where they think a little piece of foam fell off and hit somewhere in here the leading edge of that wing. And Randy Avera, a NASA engineer, a former NASA engineer, who was involved in the shuttle program during the Challenger day -- let's help folks understand. When they say foam, this foam is pretty dense stuff. I used to have some. I can't find it, unfortunately, but the foam is pretty dense, and at the speeds we're talking about, on ascent, rising to orbit, so much as a rain drop can cause trouble and can break these tiles, can it not?

RANDY AVERA, FORMER NASA ENGINEER: Insulation of the spray-on foam, insulation that's called -- or sofi, s-o-f-i, that's a procedure that's done after the construction of the basic tank. Then the tank is transported to the Kennedy Space Center on a barge and then integrated into the shuttle stack in the vehicle assembly building, but any object that could hit it could do damage, but there's also the preparation of the surface that the insulation is applied to. Any contamination there or any procedures that are not correctly done could create either delamination, separations or defects.

O'BRIEN: OK. Let's -- I've sort of got ahead of the game here. I'd like to get your impressions from a technical mind from what you saw there. First of all, I was impressed, as Lou and John Zarrella was, with the stark contrast to 17 years ago. NASA really being forthcoming here. Impressive sense of laying the cards on the table, answering questions at length. What did you draw from that, that left wing issue, those sudden -- that sudden loss of information from those sensors?

AVERA: Well, the thing to remember, the loss of data, as NASA had indicated in the press conference, it appears in one way to be working from the trailing edge of the wing forward. For example, if you have a disturbance on the leading edge of the wing, that can actually trip the boundary layer, the aerodynamic boundary layer close to the surface of the tiles, and actually create a thermal effect much further back. So what NASA is very correct in doing...

O'BRIEN: So an unpredicted disturbance of air, which could kick up some tiles, could cause a problem and perhaps put enough force on those tiles to knock some loose?

AVERA: What I'm saying specifically is an aerodynamic disturbance that creates an aerothermal application of heat.

O'BRIEN: I see, OK.

AVERA: That could exceed the limits of the tile system. And there are also spacers between the tiles, which, if they become dislodged, could allow aerodynamic flow to get in between the tiles.

O'BRIEN: So in other words, kind of a blow torch effect on a specific spot on the shuttle and not able to withstand it, exceeding the parameters?

AVERA: Correct.

O'BRIEN: Any other general impressions you can share with us right now?

AVERA: Well, certainly the loss of that data is not what NASA would call a nominal or normal occurrence. And it certainly has evidentiary nature to its existence, and I believe in comparing the activities of the day that NASA is doing to that of 1986, I believe they're on track. The deputy administrator of NASA was one of our leaders in what we called the red team, the investigation team of NASA engineers. He's former astronaut Fred Gregory (ph), and I believe he will be working a lot of these issues to bring the lessons learned from 1986 forward and to implement them as starting today procedures that are in place and real-time decisions that are going to have to be made.

O'BRIEN: What's your gut sense of where the program is right now?

AVERA: In my book, "The Truth About Challenger," which is being printed as we speak and available in about two weeks, I've detailed this, that this is about science. This is exploration, research and development. And we have a very unlimited, bright future. Science, the kind of science we do and what we know about science is reflective of who we are as human beings.

I say in the book that we are one human race on this planet and that our endeavors to learn in school and to have good jobs and to do good work, as Gus Grissom used to say, "just do good work," in that spirit, we have a bright future ahead, and anyone that is in school right now, a young person, middle aged or older person, we have a lot of national resources in people who have done work in our country that we've just basically dismissed from jobs because of downsizing. These are national resources we need to bring back to inspire people to do the great science that is yet to be done.

O'BRIEN: Randy Avera, thank you very much for your insights. Randy is a former NASA engineer, was there in the dark days of Challenger and before and after that, as well. Thank you very much for being with us.

And at this point, we'll tell you that -- we'll just even after a long day, just getting started on this story. This is a story that we will be telling you about for many, many months to come. On the near- term horizon, tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, we'll have a special report. I'll be joined by Judy Woodruff and Wolf Blitzer and Lou Dobbs for that. "LARRY KING LIVE," 9:00 p.m. Eastern, he will have several guests related to this, and then an additional special report, 10:00 p.m. Eastern time with Anderson Cooper, Judy Woodruff, Lou Dobbs and Wolf Blitzer. That's all coming up here on CNN, so please stay with us for the latest and comprehensive information on the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia on her 28th flight, the 113th shuttle mission, 16 days, seemingly flawless, ending with a sudden and seemingly inexplicable disintegration over northeast Texas. I'm Miles O'Brien. Let's send it up to Judy Woodruff in Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Miles. It's so hard to believe that it was only about 49 miles overhead, 49 miles over the surface of the Earth. You think about the distance from one place to another on Earth, that's how far up the shuttle was when it apparently exploded and fell apart.

And I just want to chime in and say I agree with what Miles said. I was struck by the candor that we heard from the NASA officials. The shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore at one point at the end saying, "somewhere along the line, we missed something." But he said, "I guarantee you we're going to fix it."

Well, in a tragedy of this magnitude, you can imagine President Bush is involved. He was called first thing this morning as soon as the White House chief of staff got a sense of what was going on. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is with me now. Suzanne, it has been a full day and a very, very tough day for this president.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Judy. As you know, one of the most difficult jobs that the president is really to try to rally the country together to help comfort them in this times of tragedy that one of those days for this president today, a day of mourning, a day of reflection as well. The president saying to the victims' families that the entire nation grieves with you.

President Bush found out just after 9:00, when he was at Camp David, he was told by his chief of staff about the tragedy, and later today the president ordered -- he issued a proclamation that all flags at federal buildings be lowered to half-staff. That happened just after 1:00 here at the White House. When the president first found out, when he was at Camp David, we are told that he decided that it would be better to monitor this situation here at the White House. He quickly came to the White House. That is where in the Cabinet Room he made his national address to the American people.

I'm quoting, saying a couple of things here, saying that "we can pray safely that they are home, the men and women who assumed great risk in the service to all of humanity." He went on to say, "it was a cause for which they died will continue our journey into space will go on."


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In an age when space flight has come to seem almost routine, it is easy to overlook the dangers of travel by rocket, and the difficulties of navigating the fierce outer atmosphere of the earth. These astronauts knew the dangers, and they faced them willingly, knowing they had a high and noble purpose in life. Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: And Judy, we are told by senior administration officials that he made a very difficult call, a conference call to the families of the victims. They were at the Kennedy Space Center this afternoon. He called and he said, I'm going to quote here, that "we express our love and appreciation for all those who died today. I want their loved ones to know there are millions of Americans praying for you, including me and Laura." He goes on to say that, "it's an incredibly tough day for you, may God bless you all." And then he says, "I wish I was there to hug, cry and comfort you right now. God bless you all. God bless."

We're then told that those who were in the room with the president, he was standing at his desk in the Oval Office. They said that he was quite somber, that he left, he went to the residence, excused himself, went to the residence for sometime and then came back to be briefed by his advisers for more formal meetings.

We are also told as well that the president did make the condolence call to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As you know, one of the victims, one of the astronauts an Israeli citizen. He also returned some calls for those who were offering their condolences from world leaders, leaders from Mexico, France, Russia and Canada, just to name a few -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Suzanne, I know at the White House, they're monitoring this across many specters, if you will, looking at the military. There have been questions all day, in fact, as to whether terrorism might be involved. Every official we've talked to has said they don't believe that that's possible, but there clearly has to be a heightened alert about that. One of the astronauts, after all, was from Israel.

MALVEAUX: Well, I have to tell you, in the very beginning, and perhaps what makes this a sign of the times from the Challenger explosion in 1986 is that was the first thing that everybody was thinking about, whether or not this was some sort of a terrorist attack. We have been told emphatically from senior administration officials, really from the very beginning of the day that there is no indication whatsoever that this was the result of some sort of terrorist attack, but they do emphasize they continue to investigate fully.

But from the very beginning, they were told that no, there is no need to worry about that. But yes, as you can imagine, Judy, that was the first thing that a lot of people were thinking about, they were afraid that that was the case. We've been told that it is not.

WOODRUFF: And, Suzanne, I gather that -- I don't know to what extent you've been able to follow this from the White House, but it's the Department of Homeland Security that is already very much involved in making sure the debris fields are secure, in fact, just making sure that security is at the highest possible level across the country.

MALVEAUX: Well, that's right, Judy. It was just last month that the president signed an executive order that designated Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge to actually be the point person to coordinate all of those efforts in the case of an emergency, some sort of domestic situation in the United States, not just a terrorist incident. And yes, that's exactly what Tom Ridge did today. He designated FEMA as the lead agency to be involved in response, as well as recovery. We do know that NASA is involved in the investigation, but certainly a lot of agencies have their hands in this one. The president, of course, keeping a close eye on all of the developments.

WOODRUFF: OK, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

And before we go anywhere else, I want to point out, Suzanne mentioned the president did phone the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to express the deepest condolences of Americans to the Israeli people on the loss of their citizen, the astronaut who was lost in space.

At the same time, we, some hours ago, received a public statement on the part of the Palestinian Authority, wanting, I think, to make certain that they have expressed their condolences, as well. It's very brief. I'm just going to share it with you very quickly. It's from the Palestinian senior negotiator, Saeb Erakat. He says: "Palestinian President Arafat and the Palestinian Authority offer their condolences to the six American families and to the Israeli family who lost their beloved ones on the tragic breakdown of the shuttle mission."

Again, Ilan Ramon was the single Israeli citizen, astronaut, a former fighter pilot on board the shuttle Columbia. Ramon -- this was the first shuttle mission for any Israeli citizen. So clearly something of enormous interest in Israel and a source of enormous pride for the Israeli people, and at a time when that country has been through so much tragedy and is going through an incredibly difficult time right now as the U.S. gears up toward a possible war with Iraq, to have this happen only makes what is a very tough time even more difficult.

Now, we were trying to establish a connection with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara, are you available?


WOODRUFF: There you are. Well, at the Pentagon, they've had a very important aspect of the mission, some of the mission that we heard Suzanne describing at the White House. Bring us up to speed on that.

STARR: Well, Judy, what we can tell you is that defense officials tell us that now, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Strategic Command, other elements of the U.S. military infrastructure will be going back through all of their data, their satellite, their communications data, radar data, everything that they possibly can go back through to see if they can glean any clues as to what might have happened.

Of course, as part of the air defense system over the United States, there are radars and satellites up all the time, and they would have seen something about all of this. They would have seen the radar track. They would have been monitoring some of the communications, some of the sensors. So we are told they are going to go back now through all of their systems, some of the most classified, most expensive systems in the U.S. military and see if they can offer any clues.

Now, what we can also tell you is that earlier today, really within a very short period of time after this incident began to unfold, the U.S. military moved very quickly to see what it could do to offer to help, even before there was a formal request. We'll run you through some of the things that the military has been doing throughout the day.

In Louisiana, for example, the Louisiana National Guard began flying two F-15s over western Louisiana, over south central Louisiana, and they found debris from the shuttle near Lafayette, Louisiana, that's about 100 miles from the Texas border. They found it in pine and scrub brush, we are told. So some of the debris falling very, very far from Texas.

Back in Texas, at Ft. Hood, where they had been getting ready for possible deployment to Iraq, they began flying four helicopters around eastern Texas, again, looking for some of the debris that we have seen during the day. They were also ready earlier in the day to deploy military police units if there had been a formal request, if local law enforcement had become overwhelmed. They did not. We are told many of the search efforts are still under way tonight, but they are going to wait and see if FEMA now makes a formal request for additional military assistance -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

And yes, one would think that there must be data, as you described, radar data that the military collects that just might offer some assistance as NASA begins to try to piece this terrible tragedy together.

I'm joined now in Atlanta by our colleague, Anderson Cooper, who's typically on duty on Saturdays, but Anderson, this is a particularly tough one.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It certainly is not a typical Saturday at all. Some eight hours, 40 minutes since we first learned of this terrible, terrible tragedy. Miles O'Brien has been covering this really from the beginning. He's taking a short break. He'll be joining us back here at 8:00 tonight on CNN, has a special report with Wolf Blitzer, Lou Dobbs, Judy Woodruff, Miles O'Brien, among many others. Join us for that.

We're going to check in right now with Carol Lin for just an update on the latest look at what's happening around the nation regarding this disaster -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson. We want to catch people up in case they've had a busy weekend or are just learning about this tragedy. Obviously, the nation is mourning the deaths of the seven members of the space shuttle Columbia. Here is a quick recap of exactly what we know about this tragedy. NASA officials this morning notified President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that Columbia did not make its scheduled landing. At around 9:00 Eastern, mission control lost contact with the shuttle. Witnesses in Texas and Louisiana watched the spacecraft break up some 200,000 feet above the ground.


SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: This is indeed a tragic day for the NASA family. For the families of the astronauts who flew on STS-107, and likewise tragic for the nation.


LIN: Now officials say terrorism was not the cause. Search and recovery teams have been deployed from Ft. Hood, Texas to secure many of the wreckage sites. Debris has been reported across a wide area of Texas and all the way into Louisiana. Officials warn people to stay away from anything that might look like a piece of the potentially hazardous wreckage.

Now, among the seven Columbia crew members, Commander Rick Husband was at the helm, along with pilot William McCool. Colonel Ilan Ramon, Israel's first man in space, also payload commander Michael Anderson, mission specialist David Brown, Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark.

President Bush cut short his stay at Camp David to return to Washington and addressed the nation.


BUSH: This day has brought terrible news and great sadness to our country. At 9:00 this morning, mission control in Houston lost contact with our space shuttle Columbia. A short time later, debris was seen falling from the skies above Texas. The Columbia's lost. There are no survivors.


LIN: And once again, please stay tuned to CNN throughout the evening for live coverage of the shuttle Columbia tragedy. Back to you, Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much, Carol. We're going to go now to Nacagdoches, Texas, where Ed Lavandera is standing by, has been throughout most of the day. As Barbara Starr reported just a little bit, debris, some debris has been found in Louisiana. People have been looking for debris all over in regions in eastern Texas. Ed Lavandera in Nacagdoches. Ed, what's the scene there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, if you'll allow me, we're here in downtown Nacagdoches, and the parking lot you see behind me just in the distance over there you see what really amounts to a three by three foot piece of the space shuttle. And this is essentially turned into has been a gathering point for the citizens of Nacagdoches and many of the residents around here who have many, many stories of their own to share today. Many of the witnesses we've talked to describe how they heard a thundering sound that lasted, one woman told me that it felt like it lasted two minutes.

So they heard all this sound, this chaotic sound, which many people have described in so many different ways, but here people have come here throughout the day and have been sharing their stories, really, and the only thing to look at is that small piece of debris in the middle of this parking lot, and this is very significant of what we have seen throughout the area in east Texas. We drove down this morning from Dallas to Nacagdoches, about a three and a half hour drive, and you've seen scenes like this all day long, where there have been small pieces of wreckage, where either military officials, local police or state police, even private landowners, this is a very rural area, in some parts of east Texas, and so a lot of private landowners taking it upon themselves to cordon off the smallest piece of wreckage to make sure that nobody touches it.

So I've gotten a sense of a lot of people have really been paying attention to the warnings that authorities have put out to the folks here. But this is very different from the other scenes, because this is kind of it's taking place in the heart of the city here, and you see just a lot of people getting together, sharing their stories that they've gone through today and enlightening each other about what exactly they saw when all this transpired this morning. We've seen several people come out here this morning, this afternoon, to leave flowers.

The flags that fly around here at this bank, for example, this is a parking lot that's just behind a bank, the flags here have been flying at half-staff throughout the day. So a very quiet scene for the most part as people kind of reflect on their own stories and where they were this morning -- Anderson.

COOPER: And just a bizarre scene, the idea of debris raining down from the sky early on a quiet morning in a small Texas town. Ed, thanks very much for that report. Luckily, no people injured there that we know about at this point.

We're going to go back now to Washington. Judy Woodruff is standing by -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Anderson. You know, it's not just debris on the ground that apparently now is an issue. There is also debris in the air, which is creating a problem for some air flights in the United States. Joining us again, Patty Davis, our correspondent who covers aviation. Patty, this is something I think it's hard for some people to imagine, that not all the shuttle fell all the way to earth. Some of it is still up there.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Huge debris field. FAA is saying about two hours ago putting out a notice to airmen saying that, in fact, this debris field is something like 95 miles long, 13 to 22 miles wide, and it's warning pilots to watch out for it. It's calling it a visibility issue. About two hours ago, it was around Lake Charles, Louisiana, and it was headed south, southeast towards the Gulf.

Also, the FAA today established a no-fly zone about 60 mile radius. That is around Ft. Polk, Louisiana. No one could file -- could fly within that 60-mile radius there, and coming below 3,000 feet. FAA putting out that notice, that alert that temporary flight restrictions is what they call it, so that airplanes would not get in the way of rescue crews or crews working to find debris.

WOODRUFF: So they're really working at two different angles of this, Patty. On the one hand, they want people to stay away, literally to stay away from the area where they believe a lot of debris is on the ground, but in addition now, they have this issue of much finer debris up in the air, in the atmosphere.

DAVIS: Absolutely. FAA concerned about both angles.

WOODRUFF: OK. Patty Davis, who's been reporting for us all afternoon. Anderson, it's back to you.

COOPER: Judy, thanks very much. In a little bit, Judy, we're going to be going to Israel to talk to a documentary filmmaker who has been making a film about Ilan Ramon, the colonel, Israeli colonel, who, of course, died earlier today.

But first, before we do that, we're going to go to the Kennedy Space Center and Lou Dobbs who is standing by -- Lou.

DOBBS: Anderson, thank you very much. Here at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA executives and employees here are obviously trying desperately to come to grips with the tragedy that has befallen the nation, all of us, but most particularly this group of people, the men and women of NASA, some 15,000 strong, who are at the forefront of our space exploration program.

The shuttle Columbia, 28 missions, this the 113th flight of a shuttle. Columbia first flew in 1981. And for this tragedy to befall the seven crewmen and crewwomen of Columbia, to befall NASA now, just as so much was beginning to be right about NASA, so much focus on the future of space exploration. New discussions about propulsion systems and new types of space vehicles, new ideas about where next to extend the reach of mankind is compounding, frankly, the tragedy, and the people here at Kennedy, I think, one has to say first and foremost, they are doing remarkable work, because for them, it is a personal pain. It is a personal loss. Certainly a loss and a pain shared by all of us, but without question for these fine men and women, these are the most difficult hours.

Unfortunately, many of them have gone through these hours before with the loss of Challenger in 1986, and of course, with Apollo I, the launch pad fire.

There is also a remarkable thing about NASA, and that is this family of professionals who take great pride in leading America in in exploration of space, they have the ability to deal with tragedy, to start analyzing, to trying to come up with the solutions to the problems that manifested themselves at about 9:00 Eastern time in -- aboard Columbia.

The memorial services begin tonight. The struggle to understand what went wrong has already begun. And let's go now to Gary Tuchman at the Kennedy Space Visitors Center.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we're at the Visitors Center here at the Kennedy Space Center; 1.8 million tourists come here every year to take a look at museums that are on the grounds and they go on buses to see the launch pad areas.

Behind me, a granite black wall. This is the astronaut memorial wall. Seventeen names of astronauts who died, 10 of them died on airplanes, in crashes before they got to go into space, but you recognize some of the names. On the bottom there, you see Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chafee, who died in that launch pad fire January 27, 1967. To the left, you see seven names you're familiar with, those are the seven astronauts, Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, who died January 28, 1986 when the Challenger exploded one minute and 13 seconds after taking off.

And we soon -- assume, and we know because officials here tell us that the people you see on the bottom there, the picture on the very bottom under the bouquet that was up there shortly after this accident happened, these are the seven people whose names will soon be on this black granite wall also, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, the commander of the mission, Rick Husband, William McCool and Ilan Ramon. Those are the seven astronauts who perished whose names will soon be on this black granite memorial that was put here in 1991; 17 names now, 24 names soon to be on the wall.

Tourists have been coming here all day. We are told there were 1,000 tourists here earlier. Many of them came to see the shuttle land. You have a vantage point here of the shuttle sweeping over this area to land on the runway, which is just to my right. They found out about the accident. Many have stuck around, paying homage to those who died.

Three people who came here today -- this family right here. This is Mary, Corinne (ph) right here, she is 12 years old, and Sonny Ellison (ph). They are from this area. They came here when they heard what happened.

Mary, let me ask you. You were here in 1986 when the Challenger exploded, you're living through this again. It's a local story, because you know a lot of people who work here. Tell me how you're feeling right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sadness, true sadness for the families and sadness for America. And sadness for Israel too. They lost someone too.

TUCHMAN: Sonny, you were telling me, you are a teacher, you teach social studies to seventh graders here. What are you going to tell your children when you go back to school on Monday? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to have them all repeat the names of the astronauts and talk about their families. And just Thursday or Friday, we just talked about the Challenger, so we had their picture out. I've got a nice mural of that, and we're going to talk about peace in the world, and like I said to you earlier, I would like to see America offer Iraq a chance to send an astronaut up.

TUCHMAN: What does that mean?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To send an Iraqi astronaut up.

TUCHMAN: You're talking about as a goodwill gesture?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a goodwill gesture. Yes, sir.

TUCHMAN: We can talk about that another time, but what I want to know is, as you stand next to this wall right here, how does it make you feel?


TUCHMAN: I want to talk to your daughter too.


TUCHMAN: You're 12 years old in sixth grade. And when you heard about this from your mom and dad this morning, how did you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was really, really sad that people died just for trying to help mankind.

TUCHMAN: And that's a good way to sum it up, they did indeed tried to help mankind and they perished doing it. Thank you for talking to me. We appreciate it, Ellison (ph) family.

Behind me, you can probably see in the background there a tail. That is a replica of the space shuttle. It is the most exact replica known to man built here at the Visitors Center at the Kennedy Space Center, and this is where tourists go. They actually can board and go inside, and they're doing it today with a great deal of sadness.

Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: Gary, thank you very much. Gary Tuchman from the Kennedy Visitors Center here at Kennedy Space Center.

I was talking earlier about the number of people here, the NASA employees who are working at this very hour trying to come to grips with what has happened, trying already to try to understand what went wrong. Even the NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, is here. He has been comforting the families of the astronauts who perished today aboard Columbia. He is now briefing other government officials and indeed briefing government executives who will be helping NASA as it reaches out to recover debris and to bring together the evidence that hopefully will provide a basis to avoid future tragedy. He's also working with congressional leaders to explain and brief them as best he can in these early hours about this tragedy.

The answers, of course, will be long in coming. The analysis will be rigorous, and it will take many hours, many days, and one suspects many months. And the process has already begun, and obviously, the process of grieving is well under way. Back to you, Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: Lou, thanks very much. In all the talk of the investigations that will no doubt be coming in the weeks and months to follow, it is very easy to lose sight of the people whose lives were lost. I want to show a picture right now of the seven astronauts who perished earlier today aboard the space shuttle Columbia. When you look at that photograph, you see the diversity that is America, the diversity that is the space program, black and white, men and women, naturalized American citizen, a woman born in India, became an American citizen, became an astronaut in 1994, and an Israeli citizen, colonel in the Israeli air force, Ilan Ramon, all perished today.

We are going to go now to Jerusalem, where a man by the name of Nil Weisbrod is standing by. He began a documentary and is still in the process of shooting a documentary about Ilan Ramon and about this mission of the space shuttle Columbia, and we are very pleased that he joins us here today. Are you there, Mr. Weisbrod?


COOPER: What are your thoughts at this moment?

WEISBROD: It is a very sad day. Well, I've been working on this film for four and a half years, and I had the great privilege and now the tragic privilege of having met and worked with Ilan for so many years and having met the entire crew of STS-107. And I did get to know them quite well and worked with them, and you'll see a picture here of them taking samples of blood, which later on they would check with samples they were to take in space. It was a great privilege having known them, and I feel a great personal loss as well as a loss for all of America and Israel.

COOPER: This is a story that is obviously receiving a great deal of attention in Israel right now. Tell us what Ilan Ramon meant to many Israelis.

WEISBROD: Well, Ilan was a symbol, first of all, of being part of the great space adventure, being part of this great adventure in space which Israel could not possibly do alone without the help and participating in the United States' space program.

Right now, in the pictures that you see from the film, it's ironic, you see the crew in a simulation, working in the simulator of getting ready for a landing simulation, which is where they all met their unhappy end. But you see the commander, Rick Husband, invited us to participate with him during the simulation of a landing. And you could see here Ilan is saying he's putting his thumbs up and saying, he's all ready for landing, and then Rick Husband, the commander, resets the simulator for landing, and they go through the whole process, and they did this over and over and over to make sure just that no such tragedy would happen.

COOPER: Tell us a little bit...

WEISBROD: Me having sat there...

COOPER: Sorry, tell us a little bit about Colonel Ramon's background. I mean, this is a man who had been on many combat missions for the state of Israel, had been in danger many times. But he accepted danger, did he not?

WEISBROD: Yes, I think he accepted danger and he said on many occasions that it was more dangerous to ride on the roads in Israel than it was to get into the space shuttle. But his wife Rona (ph), on the other hand, I think always was aware of the danger of getting into such a tremendous machine with such amazing amount of fuel and energy, and the danger I think she was aware of it from the beginning, and said that she would wait -- he wanted her to be on the launch and during the two weeks up in space, and she wanted to see him on the ground, which of course, never happened.

COOPER: And Mr. Ramon has a family, I believe he has four children, a wife in Tel Aviv. Have you heard anything from them today, anything from his family?

WEISBROD: Well, they were all, of course, in Florida, Cape Canaveral, waiting to watch the landing. When I saw on television that the families were taken off the stands where they came to watch, I knew that something must be wrong, and now, you're looking at pictures. It was very important for Ilan, whose parents were both Holocaust survivors, to do something meaningful for him and to show that somehow he survived to get into space, even though it was the desire to have his family wiped out. And this was a picture that was drawn in the concentration camp (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by a young 14-year- old boy that was later murdered, and the picture survived and Ilan took it to space with him. And it was very meaningful for him to do that.

COOPER: And no doubt he -- no doubt...

WEISBROD: I have to say that...

COOPER: I'm sorry, go on.

WEISBROD: I just have to say that Rick Husband said and he also says in the film, he was a believing Christian, and he, because of this, he was very open to letting Ilan do things that were symbolic for him as well and for the entire nation of Israel. And I think that Rick Husband and all of the crew, it's a terrible tragedy that these wonderful people were to meet such an end.

COOPER: It certainly is. Nil Weisbrod, we appreciate you coming in, sharing your thoughts and your pictures with us today. Thank you very much on this difficult day.

We're going to go to Kathleen Koch, who's standing by in Virginia. I understand she has talked to some relatives of some of the astronauts -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, there are seven families around the nation grieving tonight, and most of them grieving privately, as is understandable, but one very special couple, an elderly couple, Paul and Dorothy Brown, the parents of 46-year-old mission specialist David Brown, decided to share their son's story with us. They were at their home in Rapahanok (ph), Virginia, watching when the shuttle went down early this morning. They said that he had not dwelt on issue of danger that was presented by these missions, but he had discussed them with his older brother.


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