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Space Shuttle Columbia Breaks Up on Re-Entry, Part VIII

Aired February 1, 2003 - 18:00   ET


DOROTHY BROWN, MOTHER OF DAVID BROWN: Well, his brother, Doug, who is two years older, asked David, Dave, what if you were to die? And Dave just said, this program will go on. It has to go on. And that's the most we've ever ...

PAUL BROWN, FATHER OF DAVID BROWN: That's what the president said, in his remarks, the gist of it.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Were his words comforting to you? I mean, he said -- he was speaking to you, the family members.

D. BROWN: Yes, he was.

KOCH: He really said you are not alone. He said that this entire nation grieves with you. And he expressed that hope, as well.

D. BROWN: Yes.

KOCH: That this program go on.

D. BROWN: Yes, I think it must. We are a nation of explorers. We have always -- that's why this great nation has come to what it is. And the space program will go on, too, for that reason.


KOCH: Now, David was very extraordinary. He was a Navy captain, a flight surgeon, a pilot. This was his very first mission. He had been chosen by NASA back in 1996. His parents said he was chomping at the bit to have his first opportunity to go.

And now they say that their final wish is that they get something from the wreckage. That some remains might be found so that they will have something of David to bury here at their home in Rappahannock, Virginia.

Back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Kathleen, I'm sure you've come across this as well, as we read over the biographies of these seven individuals. They are ordinary people, and yet extraordinary backgrounds. I mean, the things that they have done, at the age that they are, that they were, is remarkable. I mean, as you say this man was a doctor. He was a pilot. It's pretty remarkable, these people.

KOCH: They truly are. I mean, this young man had, when he was in college, he was a champion gymnast at the College of William & Mary, in Virginia. He also was apparently the only astronaut who had ever been in a circus. He apparently performed at a number of amusement parks doing juggling and all sorts of things, before he began his career as a doctor, as a flight surgeon.

And as a pilot, flying things as complicated A6-Es (ph), F-18 Hornets. So this was an extraordinary young man, top of his class in Navy flight school, and just a very tragic, abrupt end.

COOPER: It certainly is. Actually, Kathleen, I have a quote. David Brown apparently said once, when asked about the risks of flying.

He said this: I made a decision that as part of my job I would incur some real risk as a routine part of my job when I joined the Navy and started flying. Airplanes off ships, particularly airplanes off ships at night. And I think that was a decision I made some years ago and the decision to go fly in space is just an extension of that.

David Brown, one of the men and women we mourn today.

Kathleen Koch, thank you very much reporting from Virginia.

We hear stories like this from all around the country today, from relatives who are mourning. Not just here at home, but abroad, as we said before, in Israel and India.

We're going to go to Judy Woodruff who is standing by in Washington -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson.

And what we want to do at this point is bring -- show everyone -- and we know not everybody has been able to sit around their television set all day long -- show you what President Bush had to say to Americans this afternoon. It was a little after 2:00 Eastern Time, when the president at the White House, in the Cabinet room, made a very short address to the American people. And we have that for you now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My fellow Americans, 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 is lost. There are no survivors.

On board was a crew of seven. Colonel Rick Husband, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Anderson, Commander Laurel Clark, Captain David Brown, Commander William McCool, Doctor Kalpana Chawla, Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli air force.

These men and women assumed great risk in the service to all of humanity. 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. All Americans today are thinking as well of the families of these men and women who have been given this sudden shock and grief.

You're not alone. Our entire nation grieves with you. And those you love will always have the respect and gratitude of this country.

The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness, beyond our world, by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.

In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy, yet farther we can see there is comfort and hope. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens, who created all these, he who brings out the starry hosts, one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength not one of them is missing."

The same Creator who names the stars, also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the Shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth. Yet we can pray that all are safely home.

May God bless the grieving families. And may God bless continue to bless America.


WOODRUFF: Those words from President Bush spoke just about four hours ago, from the White House, the Cabinet room at the White House. The president had been planning to spend the weekend at Camp David, Maryland, the presidential retreat.

But this morning, a little after 9:00 shortly after the shuttle disaster took place, the president was called by his chief of staff, Andrew Card, who was there at Camp David with him. Andy Card had happened to be watching the NASA television channel and saw when communications went down. At that point he called NASA. Then he called the president. So, President Bush was notified very quickly that something terribly wrong had apparently happened.

All day long we've been reporting on the aftermath of this horrific tragedy over the state of Texas. One of the things, people have been calling in about, have been calling authorities about are those people who live in the area of Eastern Texas on into Louisiana. Anderson Cooper, my colleague in Atlanta, is with us.

And, Anderson, I believe you are speaking with someone who has actually seen some of this debris? COOPER: That's right, Judy. We're going to speak to a woman by the name of Dorothy Langford. She is an eyewitness. Apparently she lives near Lake Nacagdoches and some debris is said to have fallen into her yard. I believe we have her on the phone, right now.

Ms. Langford, are you there?


COOPER: What did you see? What happened?

LANGFORD: Well, first we heard the explosion about 8 o'clock our time this morning. A very loud roar and it continued rumbling. And went outside into the driveway and could see the vapor trail. And the piece wasn't there at that time.

We came in and a few minutes later looked out and saw a piece in the driveway. It is about a foot long, a long narrow piece. And from there we called the local authorities who came out and marked it off.

COOPER: Did you immediately know that the piece was from the space shuttle? I mean, when you saw it?

LANGFORD: Well, after we heard the terrible noise and knew something happened, I put the television on, thinking something exploded. I was thinking a pipeline or a gas well, or something. And I saw the news on TV that it was the space shuttle. So, when we saw this piece, it kind of snapped. You know, it must be a piece from that.

COOPER: Ms. Langford, just so you know, we're showing viewers, while you've been talking we've been showing viewers a picture of some debris lying in the town of Nacagdoches, it is not the piece of debris that you are talking about in particular. It is a similar looking piece of debris and probably relatively close to where you are.

How far are you from the town of Nacagdoches itself?

LANGFORD: We're about 12, 15 miles outside of town.

COOPER: Now, were you even aware that the space shuttle was coming your way early this morning?

LANGFORD: No, sir, we weren't.

COOPER: So, when you heard that, the explosion, you really had no sense of what it might be?

LANGFORD: No. I knew something, you know -- something bad was exploding, but we didn't really have an idea what it was.

COOPER: Well, you were obviously wise not to go to close to it and not to touch it or get involved with it. Authorities, all day long, have been saying people should simply call the authorities, call their local authorities and let them know. If they spot something do not approach it. Obviously, there are some toxic -- possibility of some toxic chemicals involved in some of this debris.

LANGFORD: Well, while the sheriff was here, a car stopped by, with a young boy that lives in our area, and told the sheriff that he had a piece in his car. He had picked it up and put it in his car - with his hand, bare hands. Of course, the sheriff put on a couple of pair of gloves and took it from his car and has put that in our driveway also, in the roped off area with the other piece, and sent the boy to hospital.

COOPER: So, is the piece still in your driveway?

LANGFORD: Yes, sir. We still have the two pieces in our driveway.

COOPER: And what have authorities told you about what's going to happen to it?

LANGFORD: Nothing. The sheriff sat here about three hours this morning and then he left. And we haven't heard anything since.

COOPER: So, there's no one watching after it, except it is roped off now, I assume?

LANGFORD: Yes. And the sheriff asked my husband if he had to leave, just to be sure we didn't move it and to keep everybody away from it.

COOPER: Remarkable. Well, Ms. Langford, I appreciate you talking to us today. I'm glad nothing happened with this debris. I mean, it's remarkable really, when you think about it all this debris falling over such a large area, no reports of casualties, which we are all obviously very, very thankful for.

LANGFORD: Yes, it is a miracle. One of our neighbors did see some floating in the lake, as well. So, when there are so many woods around here, I'm sure there are a lot of pieces.

COOPER: No doubt.

LANGFORD: My never be found.

COOPER: Yes. Well, Ms. Langford, appreciate it. Thanks very much.

LANGFORD: OK. Thank you.

COOPER: All right, we're going to go back to Judy Woodruff in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: You know, Anderson, that was just what I was thinking. There must be so many people who live out there in that broad area from Eastern Texas, I guess, just south of Dallas, all the way into Louisiana, where this debris is being picked up.

We even, earlier today, saw on the news wires, people living in Arkansas who said they saw an explosion in the sky. We don't have any specific reports of debris coming down in the state of Arkansas. But it is a huge field across which this debris has fallen and we can only begin to imagine what it is going to be like for the authorities to pull all this together, make sure that each piece stays where it is, isn't touched, and so forth. That's quite an undertaking.

COOPER: It certainly is actually. And earlier in the day we had heard that Tom Ridge, the Office of Homeland Security, had called security officials in various states, Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico, even into the Mexico interior, just warning them to be on the lookout.

Obviously, we have not heard subsequent reports about any debris that far a field, but it is a distinct possibility, I suppose -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Yes, and they are probably just being safe, because we know the shuttle was coming on a west to east trajectory. It came across, from the Pacific Ocean crossing California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and then into Louisiana.

Well, we've been reporting, Anderson, the shuttle was something like 200,000 -- more than 200,00 feet up in the air. It was something like -- somebody did a calculation, it was about 39 miles above Earth when it broke apart. It was about, though, just 16 minutes away from landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

And that is where we find our CNN colleague, Lou Dobbs, we normally see Lou as the anchor of "MONEYLINE WITH LOU DOBBS" on weekdays here on CNN.

But, Lou, you have taken a special interest for sometime in space and space flight. So, it is very appropriate that you're with us today.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Judy, thank you very much.

Here at the Kennedy Space Center, as you say, I've had the privilege of watching shuttles launch; the great pleasure of watching America's space program advance.

And as we talk about the seven astronauts who today lost their lives, and for whom we all grieve, Anderson was talking about their remarkable resumes, their remarkable lives. And it is, for me at least, very easy to pick the most remarkable American heroes of our generation and they are the astronauts.

And it just -- if anything can compound tragedy it is that men and women who, with such talents, such skill, such ideals, such commitment, would lose their lives.

And I'm now joined by the House majority leader, Congressman Tom DeLay, in whose district many of the people who work for America's space program live and work.

And Congressman, good to have you with us.


DOBBS: Your thoughts?

DELAY: Well, it's a tough time for those of us that know these people. It is a little more personal to us, that you've worked with them and grown to know them. I mean, just a few weeks before, Rick Husband came here to Kennedy to lift off ...

DOBBS: The commander of the shuttle Columbia.

DELAY: Exactly. I met him at the Michael W. Smith concert, a Christian concert, and he introduced me to his wife and two children. And gave me a patch and asked my wife and I to pray for him. So, it's -- it's a little more personal.

DOBBS: It's personal; it's tragic. Watching today, as a number of men and women of NASA are trying to come to grips with this. What are your thoughts about what the next few days will bring?

DELAY: Well, first and foremost, it is very important, and Sean O'Keefe understands this, that the NASA family needs to come together and grieve together, and that is happening.

And at the same time, their love for space and their professionalism also needs to be brought together, and that is happening.

And on the one side, the family is gearing itself for the future and understanding that this sacrifice will not go in vain. And they're going to find out what happened, and they're going to fix it, and we're going to be flying again.

DOBBS: Is there in this, in your judgment, a coming together at NASA? Is there the basis for advancing the space program? Do you see that as a possibility?

DELAY: Oh, definitely. This is tragic and it's horrible, but you know man and the machines that he builds are not perfect. And so things are going to happen, unfortunately, and we wish they never would.

But the good that comes out of this is that we can be comforted in knowing that this crew of STS-107, is a crew that loved what they were doing, knew it was important, sacrificed their lives for it. And so, we're going to be more committed than ever to make sure that the space program continues and pushes forward. Because the best tribute we could pay them is to do the things that they loved doing and that is exploring space.

DOBBS: Talking with a number of the employees here, one man, in particular, saying to me, that he was still in shock. He hadn't even had the opportunity, having lived through to previous tragedies, that is the launch pad fire of Apollo 1, and Challenge in 1986, he hadn't even been able to come to terms with the loss at this point.

DELAY: Well, I think Evelyn Husband, the wife of Rick Husband, understands how to deal with the loss. And through her faith, she has pulled the families together. You have to realize that this family has been together much longer than most crews, because this shuttle has been put off and put off. So, they've been together well over 20 months. They've gotten to know each other and love each other.

And Evelyn has shown the strength of her faith to understand what is going on here and understand that the God that she believes in is a loving God and will comfort them and get them through this.

DOBBS: Congressman Tom DeLay, thank you very much.

DELAY: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: We're going to turn to my colleague, Rusty Dornin, in Houston -- Rusty.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think some of the best evidence, Lou, about how hard hit folks were here at Johnson Space Center, is that while President Bush was addressing the nation folks at Mission Control were being seen by a grief counselor.

Everyone here just always describes it as this incredibly tight- knit community, like a family, that the folks when they think about sending humans into space that it is not a job, it's a passion. And that they are devastated by the loss of these seven families and they feel that something -- it could have been anything they could have done to have stopped it. That it has really hit them hard.

Now, just outside Johnson Space Center, there has been a makeshift memorial set up. And there are hundreds of people there, they are putting flags from all over, putting flowers. Also, all of the businesses here in Houston, most of them have already put their flags at half-mast. They've got signs up, you know, the merchants have their signs up saying, how much sympathy they want to give to the families.

Now, as you know that the flights are on future hold here, but they say they're job will go on. That the training here will go on, the training of astronauts will go on. But right now, they are grief stricken -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, Rusty -- Rusty Dornin in Houston, thank you very much.

The fact of the matter is that, as Congressman Tom DeLay was saying, the NASA space centers all over the country, today, began the process of analyzing what went wrong. They are trying to come to grips with it. And this space center, Kennedy Space Center, which is, if you will, along with Johnson, the primary, the epicenter of America's space exploration efforts.

The fact of the matter is, I can recall vividly, Dan Goldin, the former NASA administrator, talking with great pride about how the risks of the shuttle program, in particular, had been diminished. But he was forever reminding all of us, the risks remained and they were still substantial.

Let's go to Gary Tuchman, at the Kennedy Space Center, Visitor's Center -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, this morning, we are told, there were hundreds of people who were here, around 9 a.m., hoping to get a glimpse of the space shuttle landing here at the Kennedy Space Center.

We are at the visitor information area and what usually happens is the space shuttle passes right over here and lands on the runway right across the road from us. Well, those hundreds of people were devastated, shocked and greatly saddened when they heard the news. Many of the people have stuck around much of the day to pay tribute to the seven astronauts who died.

Right next to us is this granite wall. This has the names of all 17 astronauts who died in service to their country. Ten of those astronauts died in airplane crashes before they ever went into space; seven of the astronauts died in 1967, and the Shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986.

Two of the people who have been here all day are standing right next to this fence right now. This is Carolyn (ph) and Theresa (ph). They came here to put out a candle, to put out flowers.

First of all, I want to ask you, Theresa (ph), what made you decide to come here? I know you are from the area, but what made you decide to come here to this wall and spend most of the day here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, to pay my respects and show support. You know, it's like, we lost them today, but I still want to come down, because I'm sure they would have liked to have seen or known that people were still here recognizing the fact that were doing this, but didn't make it.

TUCHMAN: And, Carolyn (ph), let me ask you the same question, how it felt for you standing here, knowing what's happened, standing next to this memorial wall?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've sat here before, today is a little different, I have to admit. I have a lot more pain and sorrow. I was here the last time we lost seven people going up. And now I'm here again for the seven people that we lost today.

TUCHMAN: Has it helped you cope with it, being here, today, and not being in front of your TV?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that it's helped me, yes, not being in front of my TV and coming down here and actually taking the time out to come down here and show that we still support the program. And like the saying goes, I've been around here a long time, find out what's wrong and move on.

TUCHMAN: One of the most poignant things here, I'm going to go in between both of you ladies right now, to show our viewers what's in between you, that picture. That was put there just two hours after this accident happened. Those are the seven astronauts who were aboard the Columbia, the first space shuttle built. The seven people who died, whose names will be added to this black granite wall, very soon, to make a total of 24 astronauts who have died in service of the United States of America.

Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: Gary, thank you very much. Gary Tuchman at the Visitor's Center, here at the Kennedy Space Center.

I'm joined now by John Zarrella who has been covering the space program, and NASA, for many years.

I had just mentioned the former administrator, Dan Goldin, had once said to me that, with great pride and justifiable pride, in the men and women of NASA. That they had reduced the risk of space travel, particularly in terms of the shuttle, but that it is still substantial.

How often has it been, in your experience, that the astronauts really talk about the risks that they are undertaking?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I don't think, you know, they never really talked about it unless they were asked about it.

DOBBS: Right.

ZARRELLA: But they all knew clearly that the risks were very, very high. The number of criticality one items, as they used to call it on the space shuttle. Particularly, though, I think the most - probably what has caught everybody off guard and by surprised today is the fact that it happened on re-entry and coming back.

The issue was always out here.

DOBBS: Right.

ZARRELLA: Those first two minutes after liftoff, while you're on those solid rocket boosters and there is nothing you can do to get away from it if there is a problem. And those engines are revving and you've got all this incredible thrust lifting you up into the heavens. And that's where everybody expect it.

And the people I talked with, during the past 20 years, would always say, it will probably be here again, at Kennedy Space Center, where we'll have the next accident -- some sort of an accident. Would it be catastrophic? Who knew, but nobody expected this, I don't think.

DOBBS: Yes, the astronauts deal with that risk with all sorts of terms of art in their language, light a candle, talking about millions of pounds of thrust hurtling them into space into orbit, a remarkable expression.

The risk itself, Goldin said, was one in 200, that was his best estimate. We don't know what it is, but we know that three times the risks were too great. What is your sense of what happens now? ZARRELLA: I think the process will be very methodical. It will be examining all of that data initially, that they have. The telemetry, every piece, they will go over it. They will go over it again. They will eyeball it, not just one pair of eyes, numerous pairs of eyes. They will lay all that out.

They are going to have to try and recover as much data as possible. And they're going to have to start piecing it together almost in an aircraft accident, the debris. What can they learn from the debris? That's going to be a real challenge, Lou.

DOBBS: John Zarrella, thank you.

Let's turn now to my colleague in Washington, Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you, Lou.

And I just keep reflecting, as we all do on the incredible contrast today. The contrast between, you know, on the one hand, these extraordinarily capable people who went up in space, mission after mission, and yet they were human beings, with families.

And we saw that so vividly today at the NASA briefing, when the two people who run the shuttle program bared their feelings for all to see. It was quite, quite something. And actually quite emotional to watch.

We've been telling you all day long that there were six Americans on board the Shuttle Columbia but there was also, for the first time ever, an Israeli citizen. He was Colonel Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli air force.

He was serving on this flight as a payload specialist, 48 years old. Back in his home country Ramon is being honored as the best that Israel had to offer. Our own Kelly Wallace, who is our Jerusalem correspondent, is with us, from Jerusalem with more on Ramon and what he has meant and means to the Israeli people.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, tremendous sadness throughout Israel on this night.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement issued by his office, saying the Israeli nation is in mourning in light of this heavy tragedy.

Earlier in the evening Prime Minister Sharon spoke with U.S. President Bush. And the prime minister, we are told, said that the hearts of the American people and the Israeli people are bonded together.

Now, Colonel Ramon really became a hometown hero. The first Israeli astronaut to soar into outer space, his lift off was given tremendous coverage. He was viewed by many Israelis as a ray of hope after months of months of violence. Colonel Ramon's extended family is now on it's way to the Johnson Space Center in Texas to console Colonel Ramon's wife and his four children.

Before leaving, Ramon's brother remembered Colonel Ramon, saying that this 16-day mission was his proudest accomplishment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There was euphoria and great joy, because it was the realization of Ilan's greatest dream. He was overjoyed. He corresponded from the shuttle. He wrote that he felt he was above the clouds in every sense.


WALLACE: And Colonel Ramon had a distinguished military career. He fought in two Israeli wars. He also took part in a bombing of a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981. He is the son of Holocaust survivors and so throughout Israel today many people said he was a symbol for Jewish people all around the world.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was the first astronaut to observe Sabbath in space, he took kosher food -- it was a really beautiful experience for the Jewish people. It was something that the Jewish people could be very proud of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were all so proud of Ili Ramon -- and the whole team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was shocked, you know? And I'm sorry about everybody, not only about Ilan, about everybody. It's a shame, you know, really.


WALLACE: And condolences coming in from the Palestinian community as well. Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erakat telling me that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are extending their condolences to the six Americans families and to the one Israeli family who lost their loved ones.

And Judy, we are also told that Yasser Arafat has sent a letter to President Bush, expressing his condolences to the American people -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: And Kelly, I was going to ask you about this, because you and I have been communicating today by sort of internal e-mail here at CNN. And it is interesting to me that the Palestinian officials wanted to make sure that their message did get out there before the public.

WALLACE: Absolutely. Saeb Erakat, in fact, was watching out coverage and called our bureau here to express his condolences and the condolences of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He said he was shocked to see the news and again wanted to express his condolences to the American people and to the Israeli people. And then he called us back a little bit later, Judy, because he was concerned. He didn't feel like that message getting out. Obviously, a very sensitive issue. You have 28 months of violence. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict continuing, but the Palestinians saying they are expressing their condolences tonight.

Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right. Kelly Wallace who has been reporting for us all day long from Jerusalem.

Thank you, Kelly.

It is clearly that at a time like this when you say we're all in this together, whatever nationality. We know that one of the other astronauts was born in India, and so this was an international flight, in many ways.

My colleague, Anderson Cooper, in Atlanta -- Anderson.

COOPER: Well, Judy, as I was listening to that report about Colonel Ramon, I'm reminded of something Ronald Reagan -- President Ronald Reagan -- once said in the wake of the Challenger disaster in 1986. He said, The future doesn't belong to the faint-hearted, it belongs to the brave. And the seven people who died aboard the Columbia shuttle today were certainly very brave.

Let's take a look and remember and celebrate their lives.

One of those astronauts who perished today, Laurel Clark, was 41 years old. She was a medical officer aboard a submarine, a flight surgeon before that. And earlier, we were talking about the remarkable resume of each of these individuals. She is certainly one of them.

And a sad footnote to her story. Her aunt and uncle lost a child in the 9/11 disaster, the World Trade Center. Obviously, yet another tragedy has befallen the family today.

We're going to check in just for the latest update right now with Carol Lin, who's in the CNN Center -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Anderson. We do want to give a quick summary of today's fiery reentry of the space shuttle Columbia and the deaths of all seven astronauts on board.

President Bush says even as the nation grieves, quote, "our journey into space will go on."

The first signs of the catastrophe were evident even from the ground, separate streaks fanning out from the man plume of the shuttle. The mission was on its final leg, racing across the Texas sky en route to its landing at Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

Now, at the time of the breakup, the shuttle was at an altitude of more than 200,000 feet above north central Texas. That's some 40 miles above the ground. It was traveling at 18 times the speed of sound.

NASA officials held a news conference this afternoon, saying the investigation into the cause is already underway. And there is nothing to suggest terrorism.

Also, varying sizes of debris have been reported across a wide swath of north and east Texas and into Louisiana. Warnings have been issued, though, to not touch the material because of the danger from toxic substances. Experts say the debris could potentially be found in Arizona and New Mexico, as well.

And CNN is going to bring you live coverage of the space shuttle Columbia tragedy throughout the evening, so please stay tuned.

In the meantime, the FAA also has a warning. Anderson, I think that you've got that for us. Thank you very much.

COOPER: Oh, yes. Thanks very much, Carol. The FAA is warning airline pilots to be alert to a debris cloud from the shuttle disaster that's hovering over Lake Charles, Louisiana. Officials say there's no danger to planes that fly through the cloud, which could take several hours to dissipate.

We're going to go now to Barbara Star, who is standing by at the Pentagon, where she has been reporting all day long for us.

Barbara, what's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, what we can tell you is that defense officials are now saying that they will go back through some of their most classified equipment systems -- radars, telemetry communications at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and at the U.S. Strategic Command in Omaha -- and they will try and see if they can gain any clues as to what might have happened.

Now, of course, as part of the air defense system over the United States, routinely all of the data on any airborne objects, radar trajectories, all of that is routinely gathered. They will go back now and see if they can get any clues as to what might have happened.

We asked about whether or not there was any evidence that the shuttle, upon this incident happening, had been struck by something in the air when this event occurred, officials telling us tonight they have no specific evidence from what they know so far that the shuttle might have struck something. They say they can't rule anything in, can't rule anything out, and they will be part of a complete investigation as they look at some of this radar communications and telemetry.

And of course, we want to tell you also, remind people, the U.S. military was very involved earlier today in some of the search patterns over Texas and Louisiana. Fort Hood, Texas, which was getting ready for a deployment to Iraq, indeed, launched helicopters over eastern Texas, looking for debris. And in western Louisiana, two F-15s from the Louisiana National Guard -- they began flying search patterns, and they found large debris as far east as Lafayette, Louisiana. That's about 100 miles from the Texas border. They found it in pine and scrub brush, we're told. So this debris pattern is going to prove to be very, very large -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Barbara, all day long, we have been talking about terrorism. Early on, people -- a lot of people, especially on the Internet, sort of saying, Oh, this -- this perhaps is an act of terrorism. That has been basically ruled out by -- by most responsible authorities. Just want to make sure. At the Pentagon, what are they saying on that front?

STARR: Let me give you one indicator, something I was watching quite closely earlier today. It's a Saturday here at the Pentagon, and routinely, top senior officials, military and civilian officials, are here at the Pentagon on Saturdays. They've been doing that since the 9/11 attacks, and they've been in every Saturday for their routine planning for any contingency in the Persian Gulf.

Well, we found out a number of meetings about planning for Iraq were scheduled, and I can tell you, as far as we can determine, all of those meetings went forward. There were no changes in anybody's schedule. The routine planning meetings for Iraq went on. And one has to think if there had been anything otherwise untoward in the shuttle incident, those meetings would have been called off. People would have been very busy on this other event. That did not happen.

COOPER: You mention NORAD being involved in this. If you could, just give briefly the scope of U.S. military involvement in the recovery efforts, in the investigation.

STARR: Well, there were about half a dozen helicopters flying earlier today, six F-16s out of Texas, to F-15s out of Louisiana. A number of transport planes were also moved around the country. They began shuttling NASA personnel back and forth to several sites.

Now, a lot of that is on stand-by now for tonight, and what will remain to be seen is tomorrow, at first light -- although they have night vision equipment, at first light tomorrow, will we see some of these aircraft back in the air? What the military is waiting for tonight is whether FEMA makes any formal request for military assistance, for ongoing military assistance. We're told that has not happened yet, and we'll just have to see how all of that unfolds tomorrow -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, as you have been all day, thanks very much.

As we continue to cover this -- this breaking event, we are going to go now back to Judy Woodruff, who is in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: OK, Anderson. We know that a big part of what the military's doing is helping to secure any debris that is on the ground that they haven't -- officials have not had a chance to get to, to retrieve and to make safe, so that it can make its way back to NASA. One of the places where we know debris has come down is in east Texas, and we make our way to the town of St. Augustine, Texas, where our colleague, Maria Hinojosa, is at the home of a family that has found some debris on its property.

Maria, are you with us?

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Judy. I am about 150 miles northeast of Houston, in the county of St. Augustine. We're on the farm of Ronnie Joe Everett (ph), who has about 500 acres. I got here about half an hour ago, and Mr. Everett has been kind enough to take me around his property, where he has already spotted four pieces of debris, four very clear, distinct and different-looking pieces of debris.

The first piece we saw, Judy, was really laid out in the middle of his -- where his cattle grazes. It was about five feet long and about a foot wide. And it looked as if it had been charred and simply twisted off. It's very hard for me to tell you what it would have been part of, but clearly, a large, five-foot-long piece that was in the shape of a "U," an upside-down "U" on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) And if you got close to it, it actually did smell a little burned -- very porous gray.

Then we drove another little bit to another part, across from the cattle field, and we saw something that was pretty incredible. It was perhaps a one-foot-long, very thin piece of steel that seemed to have been plunged right into the earth, was standing straight up into the earth like a stake. Then we drove another mile away, to another part of his property, and again found another piece plunged -- really looking like a bracket with bolts. You could see the bolts. You could see the nuts on it. In fact, one of the people that's accompanying us as we're looking for these pieces said it actually looked like the form of a cross.

And the final piece we saw was about -- about an inch, a square inch. It was a small square inch. You could see three screws, and actually, a little area where it seemed to have some computer pins sticking out.

So this is just on one farm in St. Augustine, Texas, where many of the farmers are going out and surveying their land, and they are, in fact, finding quite a bit of debris in this very large area of St. Augustine County, Texas.

WOODRUFF: And Maria, so remarkable that no one has been hurt, when you think of all the debris that has come down from that enormous machine, that shuttle up in the air. Maria, just to clarify again, where is this farm in relation to Houston?

HINOJOSA: It's about 150 miles northeast of Houston where we are, Judy. And in fact, as I was walking around and looking at these -- these pieces -- as I said, some of them looked like stakes really planted straight into the ground, it is a miracle that no one was hurt. These pieces are -- we don't know how deep they go into the ground because no one wants to touch them. But they are pointy. They are sharp. It's just very lucky that no one was hurt in this area. But people are continuing to survey and finding them, bits and pieces. There have been no officials who have come to this area, on Ronnie Joe Everett's far, yet to look at these pieces. There have been some media, but no one yet officially to come and look at them or take them away. And he himself has looked at them but not touched them, as he has been advised by the authorities.

WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Maria, did Mr. Everett see or hear anything overhead when the shuttle exploded?

HINOJOSA: Well, he was feeling it. He, in fact, was feeling that the earth was moving underneath him, trembling. And he had heard before shuttles coming over the area. And he immediately called his daughter and said, By the way, is there, in fact, a shuttle coming in? Daughter said, Yes, there is. And three minutes later, the daughter called back and said, The shuttle has -- has disappeared now. So it was a very quick moment from the time that he felt the rumblings...

Anywhere you go in this area, you talk to people and they'll tell you what they felt. They felt that there was -- as if there was an earthquake, a rumbling sound, as if there was a train, the earth shaking, cows running, if the cows were out to pasture. I heard some people talking about seeing their cows running at the time when they heard this -- heard and felt this sound and this movement.

So here in this part of St. Augustine, there are many people who are, in fact, spending their day, who are looking. They've come from other parts of Texas, nearby, to spend their day trying to find out where this debris is. So there are people who are not officials but who are out, in fact, looking for parts of this debris. And right now, actually, Mr. Everett is pointing out to me that there is a plane circling above. He said that there have been several planes and helicopters, orange helicopters over his area of about 500 acres, that there's clearly a presence of authorities who are trying to zero in on this area. So right now passing above us is a plane that he believes -- and I can see it -- he believes is a kind of surveillance plane.

WOODRUFF: All right, Maria Hinojosa reporting, as you just heard her say, from a farm in Texas, over 100 miles outside of Houston. So interesting that the farmer described the earth shaking, so -- when shuttles have gone overhead, and he experienced the same thing today.

Anderson, back to you in Atlanta.

COOPER: Well, Judy, we are going to be joined on the phone now with -- by a man by the name of Robert Arnold. He's a local reporter with W -- KPRC. I'm told he's in Hemphill, Texas.

Mr. Arnold, what are you seeing where you are?

ROBERT ARNOLD, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: Right. Now, this is just one of the areas where they have cordoned off, where they have found debris. You can see the yellow crime scene tape forming a triangle from some of the areas. The investigators have just finished a very meticulous investigation of this area, taking pictures, detailed measurements before moving on.

Part of the problem that we've been seeing in the three counties -- St. Augustine and Sabine (ph) County, specifically -- is there is so much debris scattered over such a wide area, all they have time for right now is to just mark it, leave a volunteer firefighter, a deputy sheriff in the area to make sure nobody comes by and disturbs it. But they have to mark it until federal investigators get a chance to get into that area, and that is a monumental task, at this point.

One of the more eerie things we found was about 15 to 20 miles to the west of where we were. As we were traveling through St. Augustine County, along highway 103 on the side of the road was a perfect mission patch. It was intact. It was singed just a little bit, but it was a perfectly intact mission patch, and it bore the names of all the seven astronauts. So in addition to debris, there are some very eerie, very tragic findings out here in this area, and the people who live in this area are on edge, at best, because they're not sure what they're going to come across as they walk through these wooded areas and on their expansive properties.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Robert, we are -- we are looking at some very disturbing pictures, obviously, right now. How widespread is this debris in the region you're in? I mean, we see the shot that you're showing us right now, but as you drive through this area, I mean, is this every couple of yards? I mean, how -- how often do you come across debris?

ARNOLD: It seems to go -- it seems to go in spurts. You'll go for about a mile, and you really won't see anything. But all of a sudden, you'll hit a patch where you'll see little yellow markers just about every couple of feet. And some of the pieces they're finding -- they'll find pieces anywhere from as long as 12 feet down to as small as a quarter. We were on one farm with one gentleman, Willard Knight (ph), who found a piece that was really no bigger than, I would say, a bathroom tile.

So that's the problem. You'll go in through different areas, and there won't be much, but then you'll hit other areas, and there'll be a tremendous amount of debris -- Anderson.

COOPER: You had mentioned this patch that you had found. Were authorities on the scene? Had the area been cordoned off?

ARNOLD: Yes, actually, they had a volunteer firefighter by the name of Stacy Rouse (ph) who was on that area. They had marked it with a small evidence marker flag right now, and they're waiting, again, until investigators can get to the area. That's the problem. They're just having to mark these areas off and just stay on guard and make sure nobody disturbs it until federal investigators, obviously, and NASA officials, have a chance to actually get to the scene and process that debris themselves.

COOPER: Robert, the picture we are seeing from, I assume, behind you is of a hearse with local law enforcement authorities sort of gathered around. Am I to assume that those are human remains?

ARNOLD: Yes, that is. That was found by the family living in this area here in Hemphill, and they do believe it was a leg. And that's what they spent so much time doing so much investigation out here, to make sure that they document everything thoroughly, taking pictures, taking very detailed measurements of the area. And they finally finished that, bowed their heads before they took that -- that remain, placed it in the back of that hearse. And they have finally left this area -- Anderson.

COOPER: I don't really want to go into too many details on this, Robert, but is there a sense of whether that is someone who was on the ground at the time, debris hit, or is it believed to be a member of the Columbia crew?

ARNOLD: At this time, they believe it may be a member of the Columbia crew, given all the attention that the investigators put into this area. And they roped it off, spent quite of time, like I said, you know, taking measurements, taking photographs. So right now, they are treating it as a possibility of being a member of the shuttle Columbia. But then again, that official determination has not been made, as of yet.

COOPER: OK, Robert Arnold, appreciate you joining us from Hemphill, Texas. Obviously, very, very disturbing pictures.

We're going to be going now to Rusty Dornin, who's at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Rusty, what is the scene there?

DORNIN: Anderson, you know, Houston may be a big city, but it's really a small town when it comes to the space center. Nearly everybody here knows somebody who works for the space program, and it's really hit this town hard. Now, even outside the space center here, there's already been a makeshift memorial put up, people bringing flowers and flags. The businesses in town have put up signs expressing their grief and their sympathy for the families.

Of course, here at the space center, I think anyone who watched that press conference could see how difficult it was for them to even get through it. They talked about how this is just not a job, it's a passion. Sending people into space is a passion, and they feel very close to the families involved. Usually, when the astronauts are going through training, folks here, you know, have barbecues with them. They become part of the big family here. And to lose them is a very painful experience.

Now, as we know, the future flights are on hold, but the astronaut training will continue, and they're talking about that the job will go on. However, they did talk about the fact that -- when asked what would come out of this tragedy, they said they didn't even want to think about it, that they didn't want to allow themselves to think about what they might have missed. They only want to think about these seven families.

Of course, there already is a very tremendous program in place here at NASA, with grief counselors and that sort of thing, that is ongoing all the time. Even as President Bush was addressing the nation, grief counselors were coming in to talk to Mission Control and really trying to address the folks here and how they're feeling about what's happened. So all around, continuously they did say this has just been a very bad day here at NASA -- Anderson.

COOPER: Rusty Dornin in Houston. Rusty, can you hear me? Are you on IC? All right, we'll go back to Rusty Dornin a little bit later on.

We are going to go now to Judy Woodruff, who is standing by in Washington -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thanks, Anderson. Somebody else we've been talking to, hearing from all day, is our colleague Ed Lavandera, who is in Nacogdoches -- I hope I'm pronouncing it correctly, Ed -- in east...


COOPER: ... east Texas. This is, I gather, one community where a considerable amount of debris, and presumably, human remains may have come down.

LAVANDERA: We have seen -- heard reports from many of the people we've talked to throughout this part of east Texas that -- almost everyone you talk to did say they heard this thundering -- thundering sound, and what really stands out is just the length of time that they heard that thundering sound for. One woman I talked to said it seemed like it lasted two minutes long, this sound that -- and then they started hearing debris -- debris falling all over.

We've got CNN crews that have been throughout the region here today, and we understand that there are officials who have gone around in certain areas and started picking up some parts of debris. We are here in downtown Nacogdoches, which is essentially almost kind of become like a gathering spot here for many people, and it's all because in this little parking lot over here, there's a small fragment of the space shuttle Columbia. And what we have seen here is almost kind of a bizarre scene, many people here coming together, just sharing stories, their recollections of what exactly happened this morning. And what we've seen as you walk around this area and this part of downtown Nacogdoches, you do hear a lot of people just sharing with each other, reflecting on the different stories.

And throughout the region, what you've also seen is just everyone armed with their video cameras and still cameras and going around the area, taking pictures. In fact, at one point, we saw a small piece of a -- a fragment that was on a sidewalk just near downtown here, and it was no bigger than three inches by three inches. But there was a crowd of about 20 people around it, taking pictures of it. And this is exactly what you've seen.

I spoke with one mother who was taking her children around, and she said, you know, in a weird sort of way, this is unfortunately a historic day, and one that one of those days where people always remember where they were. And this was -- that was the way that mother described it to me. So she wanted to be able to spend that with her children and explain to them what exactly has happened. We've seen crews around this area we do understand that will continue the process of pinpointing the different type of debris and wreckage that needs to be picked up. And for the most part, we do understand that a lot of people have been heeding the warnings that officials here have been giving folks that they need to stay away. What we've seen is a lot of stuff like this, where they have cordoned off these parking lots, whether it be military personnel or state or local police. We've also seen private residents who have had debris land on their property, and they'll cordon off their own driveways or back yards, whatever it takes to make sure that nobody hampers or touches the debris that is in the area.

So we've seen a lot of private citizens take it upon themselves to do that, as well -- Judy.

COOPER: Ed, I want to try to give our audience a better sense of the geographic spread of where this debris and possibly human remains have come down. You are in Nacogdoches. Tell us -- help -- I don't know if we have a map available to show our viewers, but you know Texas very well. Talk about where you are in relation to Houston, the Houston space center, in relation to -- to maybe to Hemphill County, where we -- we were just -- where Anderson was just talking with a reporter there. And before that, we heard from Maria Hinojosa, who was in St. Augustine County. I mean, how big an area are we dealing with here?

LAVANDERA: We're talking about a massive area, east Texas -- and east Texas, you have to remember, is also very different from what I think a lot of people's image of Texas is. East Texas is -- is hilly. It's known for having -- known as the piney woods. So this -- this debris and this land, this terrain around here is very different from what I think most people's image of what Texas is, is supposed to be. So you're dealing about an area that has a lot of -- just a maze of rural roads that cross through it.

Nacogdoches is north of -- north of Houston, and about a three- and-a-half-hour drive southeast of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. So this is an area that is -- you really have to know the roads to kind of navigate through here. There's one major highway that kind of connects you up into the northern part of -- into the northern part of Texas. But this is a massive area. And a lot of the -- where the debris has fallen, quite frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if you've seen it fall in wooded areas that might take several days to reach, or on large farms or ranch land that could -- you know, I think I've heard reports of a lot of people just combing through their -- through their land to see if they might come across anything.

In fact, there -- we saw a couple of guys riding around, as we were driving into here, cutting across their own land to see if they could find anything. So a lot of people paying attention to this. This is going to take very -- a lot of time just to be able to gather all the different pieces that are scattered all over the place. You're talking about a huge area.

WOODRUFF: And Ed, once again, what kinds of pieces are they describing to you? You just -- we've just talked about what they -- what was in that parking lot, but what else are they describing?

LAVANDERA: Well, what they do describe is -- a lot of people -- and I think it's -- they're -- it's based on what a lot of people have heard us reporting throughout the day, for example, the talk of the tiles and the foam fragments that Miles O'Brien had been talking about throughout the day, as well. So you know, some of the fragments that I've seen kind of resemble that. In some places, it's been harder to see than in others, but a lot of the stuff that you do come across, as well...

We haven't seen anything bigger than about five or six feet in diameter, and a lot of the stuff is -- is -- you could tell was burned pretty well. So it's hard to tell exactly what the different fragments might be, but as soon as the NASA officials are able to get to some of these locations, I think they'll be able to instantly recognize perhaps what some of the pieces might be.

WOODRUFF: Well, one would assume they're going to have to use some local authorities to help them do that, police and other -- perhaps fire and other officials. All right, Ed Lavandera, with us from Nacogdoches in east Texas, a place where a good amount of debris, and we assume, human remains, have come down from the shuttle Columbia.

Let's go back to Atlanta now and Anderson Cooper -- Anderson.

COOPER: Judy, thanks very much. As we've been talking about the recovery and the -- the recovery effort so far, I want to go back a little bit and go over the actual event itself. It occurred around 9:00 AM Eastern time this morning, as the space shuttle Columbia was around 200,000 feet or so, at an altitude of about 200,000 feet. We know they were traveling about 12,500 miles an hour, undertaking a series of banking turns which help slow the space shuttle down as it approaches the landing pad in Florida.

We're going to play you now the actual voice communication, the last known voice communication between the Columbia crew and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Columbia, Houston. We see your tire pressure messages, and we did not copy your last.



COOPER: That was obviously the silence that occurred after that last message from Commander Rick Husband, who was at the controls just about 16 minutes before the space shuttle was supposed to land at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

We -- there was a press conference earlier today. Milt Heflin, chief flight director, and Ron Dittemore, the shuttle program manager, held a press conference at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Both said, obviously, an investigation will be underway shortly. They have already begun to impound the hardware, they said, preserve the evidence, impounding the data for investigators to search over. Obviously, that will be combed over very carefully in the coming days and weeks and months. There's no telling how long this investigation might occur, no telling if and when the next space shuttle will launch.

We're going to check in right now with Carol Lin for an update on what's been going on around the country -- Carol.

LIN: Anderson, we want to recap now the shocking events of today, the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia and its crew. Columbia was on its way back from its 28th mission to land at Florida's Kennedy Space Center, but over central Texas, a trail of destruction. The shuttle began breaking into fiery pieces at more than 200,000 feet. The nation is mourning the loss of the seven Columbia crew members. They were coming home from a 16-day scientific mission. The mission was also historic. Crew member Ilan Ramon was the first ever Israeli astronaut.

President Bush fondly lauded the astronauts for their bravery earlier from the White House.


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