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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Special Coverage: Columbia -- The Shuttle Tragedy, Part II

Aired February 2, 2003 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Today, Sunday, is a poignant Sunday all across this country as people go to church and people mourn the loss of the crew of the space shuttle Columbia. And in some home towns, seven of them, to be exact, it is even more a sad day. CNN's Brian Cabell is in the hometown of Laurel Clark, the mission specialist on Columbia, on her first flight. Brian joins us now with reaction from there -- Brian.
BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, Laurel Clark once laughingly described herself as a boring straight A student. But we were told at one point she did actually got a B in high school in typing. And she was anything but boring. She was a swimmer, she was a diver, she was a surgeon, she was an astronaut, she was a skier, she was a wife, and she was a mother. Back in 1996 when she first became an astronaut, her son Ian was only about one or two years old. But at that point she didn't see any conflict between her being an astronaut and a mother.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN SALTON, LAUREL CLARK'S BROTHER: She always felt that it was the right thing to do. And Ian would understand. And that's what we have to be there for now, for Ian, to help him understand and get to through this. An 8-year-old who loved his mother very, very much is going to have to eventually understand that -- just how great she was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CABELL: Ian, her son, incidentally, was writing an article for scholastic magazine. It was entitled, "My Mommy is an Astronaut." To give you a further indication of how she combined her two roles, one of the things she brought up in to the shuttle was a project from her son's class that included photographs of all his classmates and handprints from them as well. She also brought another item into space with her, and that was kind of a block letter, a pendant from her high school that she graduated from in Racine here back in 1979. She was a hometown girl. She went to a Unitarian church here in Racine.

In fact, there was a service here today. Her brother, who lives nearby, attended, along with his wife. And greeting him on the sidewalk was bagpipers. Inside a lot of people talked about who she was, what she meant to them. They shared their memories of Laurel Clark, who was here up until about four or five years ago. In fact, the minister here married them. That's the minister hugging her brother and sister-in-law earlier today. The reverend was one the one who got up and spoke of her and said that one thing that amazed him about her was that she was extremely talented.

She came across as extremely talented and extremely intelligent. But what you noticed about her was that she was a nice person, unpretentious about all of her accomplishments. There will be a memorial service for her here at the church tomorrow night. And then on Wednesday night, the whole town will turn out for a memorial service downtown -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Brian Cabell, Racine, Wisconsin. Thank you very much. Terribly, terribly sad story. We are waiting any moment now to hear from the governor of Texas who is going to fill in some blanks for us on the search for wreckage all across the Lone Star State. That should be happening any minute now. It's slated to begin at 4:00 p.m. Eastern, now five after. We will bring that to you as soon as it happens. For now though, let's check in with Anderson Cooper at CNN Center, Atlanta, for an update on the latest developments on the investigation into the loss of the shuttle Columbia -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Miles. I am Anderson Cooper in Atlanta. Dozens of sites in eastern Texas and western Louisiana, crews face the grim task of recovering debris from the destroyed shuttle Columbia. Pieces range from postage stamp size to the size of a compact car. Hard to believe. Searchers have also found human remains. NASA has named retired Navy Admiral Harold Gehman to head the investigation. NASA Chief Sean O'Keefe says the Gehman commission will look at every possible angle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Having an independent objective board led by someone of the stature and standing of a four- star retired admiral, Admiral Hal Gehman, to conduct this with members who are external NASA experts, looking at safety mission assurance and flight certification is our goal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Of course, in Houston, home base of the Astronaut Corps, and literally around the world, people mourn the loss of the seven astronauts, praised by President Bush for their courage and idealism. In about an hour, NASA will hold a news conference -- to update today's developments. We, of course, will bring that to you live. Now we continue with CNN special coverage "Columbia, The Shuttle Tragedy." Here's Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Anderson Cooper, at CNN Center in Atlanta. Let's continue our coverage of the search for wreckage. And some of the unfortunate tales of people who, against the cautions otherwise, have been picking those pieces up, finding themselves in the hospital with burns, because there's toxic chemicals that are associated with rocketry and rocket science and flying space shuttles. And we encourage you not to do that. Let's check in with Whitney Casey, who joins us now from Louisiana where the search for that wreckage continues -- Whitney.

WHITNEY CASEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, heard you yesterday talking about those small tiles. And Anderson just talked about actually people looking for things that are about the size of a post-it. And could you imagine, finding something in dense bush like this the size of a post-it? Well, that's what NASA, FEMA, local sheriff's departments, Department of Forestry, that's what they're up against.

I'm just going to take you a little bit around some of the areas that they searched yesterday in looking for debris. This is the dense forest of Louisiana. We of about three hours south of Shreveport, Louisiana, in Leesville. It's a small town, but it's got a lot of this forest that sort of juxtapose amidst houses where they did find debris. They found a cylinder about this big in front of someone's house. And they also say that in the reservoir, and in the lake here, that they have found debris.

Now, talking about that reservoir, it is a massive body of water that separates Louisiana from Texas. In addition to that, there is also a 250- to 300-acre huge national park that looks like this. This kind of dense bush. Now, something that reminded me something of this is sort of a collaborative effort that took place around the crash of Flight 587. I covered that in New York. It was not so much like this. They didn't have the harrowing task.

But they did have to look for parts of that American Airlines Flight 587 in Bell Harbor, which was dispersed amidst quite a few houses there. And what they did was they asked the community members to get out and start looking around. And in that case, they asked them to call just like they're doing here, not to pick anything up, not to disturb anything, and to call the hotline because of the toxins. And that's what we have here for you right now. Apparently, I think we're losing some of our sound, Miles, so I'm going to toss it back to you and maybe we'll come back later.

O'BRIEN: Whitney Casey in Leesville, Louisiana. Thanks very much. We're still awaiting that news conference. Actually, we're waiting for a couple of news conferences now.

It is now about 10 minutes past the hour, 4:00 p.m. on the East Coast, and we're expecting to hear from the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, very shortly. We'll bring that to you live. Also, the main event as it relates to press conferences today, we expect to hear from representatives of NASA, the team doing the investigation at 4:30 eastern time. That is when we will, of course, bring you live and bring it to you uppermost. So stay with us for that. We'll be with more in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: I'm Miles O'Brien, live at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, on this day after the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. We're anticipating a pair of news conferences, one from the governor of Texas any minute now, Rick Perry, to talk about the hunt for debris across his state.

And then about 20 minutes from now, representatives of the NASA investigative team are due to brief reporters on their progress thus far on this day, after -- still very early of course, to be drawing any sorts of conclusions. But it's an opportunity to for us to learn about shuttle systems, which is what we are doing step by step. Shuttle 101, if you will. To do that, we have been calling upon a former lead engineer for NASA and the shuttle program, Randy Avera.

And Randy, there were a couple of questions yesterday which maybe you can help us out with. That was the sense that if there was a communication loss with the orbiter, could it fly autonomously? In other words, did it have enough data loaded up in its computer system onboard, those general-purpose computers which are backed up about five times, I think. Was there enough data onboard for it to fly even if it lost communication with the ground?

RANDY AVERA, FORMER NASA ENGINEER: Yes, it does have that capability. The software that's loaded in the general purpose computers, which are located in the crew module in that mid deck, right below the flight deck where the pilot sits.

That software is developed by NASA in an avionics laboratory. The software code is written and tested and developed uniquely for this particular mission, like the STS mission that we saw Columbia fly. That software is used to do the de-orbit burn to slow the orbiter down so it can drop out of earth orbit and glide through the atmosphere as shown in the animation. And all the pitch-around maneuvers, where the nose pitches over the tail, and the banking maneuvers as you see, the left bank, turning back to the right, and those of terminal approach energy management maneuvers, all of that, the computer is driving the orbiter, the crew is monitoring the displays and controls as necessary.

O'BRIEN: And it is true that I don't believe it's ever been tried. Maybe on one of the earlier missions they tried it once, but I believe that descent into the atmosphere, which, to give you a good analogy, it's kind of like trying to skip a stone on the surface of the water. If you go, you know, at a too sharp an angle, it splashes down, straight down. If you skip it a little too high, it skips, skips, skips and never goes in. You have to hit the angle just so perfectly. It's like threading a needle, if you will. But all of that is sort of loaded up in the computers and is done automatically and the crew just watches, right?

AVERA: The crew just watches. There are some manual inputs on the input-output panel. You may have seen the commander just literally finger punching numbers in the IAO panel to talk to the computer. The commander updating the computer inputs. And, of course, the software is loaded for that de-orbit burn and re-entry. And it's a unique set of software.

O'BRIEN: And that software can be modified in the midst of a mission and can be sent up via radio signals to the shuttle. And they have a confirmation that they actually have that data stream onboard inside those computers, correct?

AVERA: I don't know the specific details about that. But over the years, there have been enhancements to how the software is handled. NASA will be looking into the software, how it was written, the lines of code were written, how it was tested.

O'BRIEN: Randy, I am going to have to -- Randy, I'm sorry, we're going to have to reboot this conversation a little bit later, about those general-purpose computers, and turn our attention to Austin, Texas, where we find Governor Rick Perry.

(INTERRUPTED FOR COVERAGE OF CNN LIVE EVENT)

O'BRIEN: We're going to turn our attention now to the White House. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has an update on -- a lot of talk here today about when and where there might be a memorial service, something happening possibly on Tuesday. Suzanne Malveaux has details on that.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Miles. The administration sources are confirming that the president and the first lady will be attending a memorial service for the victims of that crash of the shuttle and their families. That will be on Tuesday. It is going to be in Houston at the Johnson Space Center. We're told that they will be attending that ceremony.

As you may recall, the president just yesterday speaking with a lot of those family members through a conference call really expressing his condolences, really his heart-felt feelings about this tragedy. We saw that the president and first lady attended church services this morning. Their service was actually dedicated to those victims.

And we understand as well that the president, of course, is going to be addressing a number of issues, very much heart-broken by the whole thing. The president, as you know, is going to be introducing his proposed budget tomorrow, the 2004 budget. That, of course, Miles, also still at this point really a spirited debate over it, if you will, just what kind of funding is going to go to NASA. This is something that the budget has been in 2003 some $15 billion, from $13 billion to $15 billion, but already people inside of NASA as well as outside making some complaints today on their morning talk shows, saying that this is not enough, and that there have been some cutbacks, that this has not been enough, and perhaps even affecting safety in terms of the shuttle missions.

So it will be very interesting to see what those numbers are tomorrow -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Thank you very much. We appreciate that. We're still awaiting that news conference here at the Johnson Space Center. Reporters are kind of moving in and taking their seats and getting ready. We expect it to start in about ten minutes' time. We will bring that to you live, of course, when it happens. We're gong to take a break and back with more in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. I'm Miles O'Brien, live at the Johnson Space Center. Within five minutes' time we expect to hear from some officials of NASA, some of the engineers who are at the absolute leading edge of this investigation to give us a sense of where things might be headed. Very early on, of course, but many questions, and so far NASA has been very forthcoming, offering us as many details as they know them at this point. And it's going to take quite some time to piece this all together. To allow me opportunity to go sit in and ask a few questions, we turn it over to Anderson Cooper in Atlanta -- Anderson.

COOPER: Miles, thanks very much. Miles will be attending that press conference. Obviously CNN will be carrying the press conference to you at home live, as Miles noted that should be in about four or five minutes from now. At the same time that that press conference will be going on, hundreds of investigators, police, military officials, really anyone working in local law enforcement throughout Texas are undertaking some very gruesome, some very detailed work right now, combing large swaths of land, looking for the debris from the space shuttle Columbia that has been found in places large and small over the past 24 hours or so. Another place we're going to go right now before the press conference is to Gary Tuchman who is standing by at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Gary, a lot of very sad people around the country, no doubt a lot of sad people there this morning, as well.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Anderson. For many of the tourists that come to the Kennedy Space Center, the enormity of what has happened did not hit home until they got here, until they got to this black granite memorial behind me with the names of all the U.S. astronauts who died over the years in service of their country. And what they're allowing the tourists to do here is sign condolence books. This made a lot of people feel a lot better. It's starting to get slightly dark out here, so the crowd isn't as large as it was before. But at times there were as many as 100 people in line. And we can give you an idea of what some people are writing. I'm going to move this replica of the space shuttle to read a couple of these letters to you, which are very poignant and interesting.

We thank you for your sacrifice for the good of us all. The name of the family here. This from three children, we will always remember them. Miranda Gwineth (ph). And Gwineth (ph), you can see, signed her name with her 4-year-old handwriting. And I know it's 4-year-old handwriting, because I watched Gwineth (ph) do it.

It makes a lot of the people here feel better to sign this. And these books will go to the family members of the astronauts who perished aboard the space shuttle. You can see here all the flowers that people have put here the last two days. This has become a makeshift memorial. No surprise since the huge black granite memorial is here. But we have candles, we have flags and flowers from all over the world. I've talked to people from every continent except Antarctic who have come here today. And with us, people from the North American continent, Texarkana, Texas, to be exact. This is Merle (ph), this is Doris. Doris, let me ask you first, what made you decide to come here today?

DORIS: We watched the launch, and we really wanted to see the landing. And we -- our plans were changed yesterday, so we decided to come over today to pay our tribute.

TUCHMAN: When you heard the news, what happened to the space shuttle, what went through your mind?

DORIS: Terrible. A terrible accident.

TUCHMAN: And when you see this memorial with the names of the astronauts who perished over the years, and knowing these seven astronauts who perished yesterday will soon be on this wall, how does that make you feel?

DORIS: Very sad.

TUCHMAN: Merle (ph), let me ask you, when you heard the news, how did you feel?

MERLE: Yes I have.

TUCHMAN: How did it make you feel when you heard the news?

MERLE: Well, with all the activity that's going on in the world, a lot of things flashes through your mind. I have a lot of empathy for the president on having to deal with all the problems that he has. But it was an absolute tragedy. We saw the liftoff when we left Texarkana, and we're hopeful to be out here. But like Doris said, our plans were changed. But ironically, the remains of the spacecraft dropped in our area. In Texarkana.

TUCHMAN: That's one of the reasons that I wanted to talk to you. Knowing that, have you talked to anyone back home who was anywhere near any of the wreckage?

MERLE: Yes, as a matter of fact, we were notified on cell phone by our son who lives in Texarkana. He owns a business in Texarkana. And he -- that's where we heard it from was on the cell phone, because we were at Disney World. And he indicated, of course, he heard the sonic booms, and everybody was, you know, very sad.

TUCHMAN: The kind of question I want to ask you. How does it make you feel being here? Does it make you feel better, does it make you feel sadder? How does it make you feel?

MERLE: Yes, it does. It reflects -- this is a, you know, a great country. And we've had these losses before, and we've always come through, but it is very, very, you know, sad. It was the people aboard, you know, they aircraft, that -- it's a very sad feeling.

I spent 22 years in the air force, and I have a feeling -- we've has our accidents, while we were in the air force, and we've lost, you know, loved ones that we've worked with, so it's -- it's a special feeling.

And everybody is so attached, you know, to the program, and feel a part of it, you know what I mean. It's...

TUCHMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thank you for talking with me. I appreciate it.

I want to show our viewers one more note that was left here just a short time ago, right over here. And this is just an example of what we've been seeing for much of the day.

"You never made it to Earth, but you made it home in heaven. You are our heroes. We love you. Keep up the good work."

Talking about when it hit home, when people realized this. When this hit home for us is when we arrived here, about two hours after the disaster.

I saw a family coming in here, to the visitors center here at Kennedy Space Center, and they said to me, "Are we late? Are we too late to watch the landing of the Space Shuttle Columbia?" This was two hours after the crash.

And I said to them, yes, you are too late. And there were two children in the car, so I didn't want to be that specific.

And the woman said, "What time did it land?"

And then I quietly came up to her and I said, I have some bad news for you. The space shuttle crashed, and it appears all the astronauts died. And with that, she burst into tears.

And that's when it hit home for us.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Yes, Gary, I think all of us have moments when we sort of think -- when it -- the reality of it really struck.

I want to ask you, you've been there really all day you, and you mention the children in that car.

You know, when you read the biographies of so many of these astronauts, just about all of them, you know, talk about wanting to be an astronaut from the time they were very young.

Commander Husband, who commanded the Space Shuttle Columbia, I believe, said he knew from the time he was 4 years old he wanted to be an astronaut. His dream finally came true.

The children you run across, does it -- do they still have those same dreams of being an astronaut? Or is there a sense of fear about going to space or -- the ones you see today, what sort of reaction have they been having?

TUCHMAN: Anderson, it's funny that you ask me that question, because that's something we've been asking some of the children yesterday and today, since we've been here.

We've been talking about how a lot of these astronauts, that was their dream, from when they were children, to become astronauts. Do you want to be an astronaut? And sadly, I haven't had one child say to he, I want to be an astronaut. They instead say, no, this is scary, what happened yesterday. I wouldn't want to be an astronaut.

And that's disappointing, and in a way quite distressing to hear children talk like that.

COOPER: All right, Gary Tuchman, thank very much. Great reports all day long.

We're going to go to Carol Lin now, whose standing by at the CNN Center with an update of the latest news around the world -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Anderson, it's been a day of mourning.

For example, in the Indian hometown of astronaut Kalpana Chawla, and at churches and makeshift shrines around the world, people mourn the loss of the seven person crew who died onboard the Shuttle Columbia yesterday.

Israel also lost an astronaut in the disaster, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon found some comfort in shared grief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MIN.: Times such as these strengthen the bonds of our common faith, values and vision, all of which were realized in the Space Shuttle Columbia's journey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LIN: Now while the grieving did continue, a Russian car go rocket headed for the International Space Station today, as scheduled, carrying fuel and today for the crew.

With the shuttle fleet grounded because of yesterday's disaster, Russia's rockets are the only vehicles that can take supplies to the station.

And in Texas and Louisiana search crews collected debris from the destroyed shuttle. They've reported finding pieces as big as compact cars. They have also found human remains.

And, of course, we're going to bring you live coverage of a NASA briefing on today's developments. We're expecting that NASA ASA briefing you to start at 4:45 Eastern, in just about 10 minutes. But in the meantime, we are going to continue with our special coverage, right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. I'm Anderson Cooper, at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

We are expecting a press conference to take place at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in just about seven or eight minutes or so. We expect to here from NASA officials about the latest on the investigation, what they know at this stage.

It is very early hours, early days, in the investigation, and we'll obviously be taking quite a long time, weeks if not months.

You remember back to the Challenger disaster, back in 1986, it took a full nearly five months before a full report of exactly what went wrong was issued. So five months would not be an unexpectedly long period of time.

There was an interesting article in the "New York Times" today. Rick Bragg (ph) wrote about the reaction of many people in Houston to this tragedy. I want to read you one quote that really stuck with me.

Rick Bragg (ph) wrote, "NASA is far more than an employer in this area of Houston. It's a place where the laundry is called Space Cleaners and people drive down Saturn Lane and Gemini Street."

We just heard from Gary Tuchman, at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, about the impact it's had on that neighborhood.

The entrance to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas has been turned into a shrine today. It's been a place for tears and remembrances. Mourners have left flowers, candles, teddy bears, and of course notes.

CNN's Jeff Flock takes a look.

JEFF FLOCK, CNN CHICAGO BUREAU CHIEF: You are looking at the seen at the main gate outside the Johnson Space Center. The question is, at a time like this, where does everyone come. Well, maybe you see, this is in fact where everyone has come, and it's almost amazing how quickly this has all grown up.

The balloons, the flowers, freshly written poems and messages. I see an Israeli flag and a tribute to the Israeli astronaut, and all sorts of other written messages sent along.

Off to the side here is a fence, and that on beyond leads into the Johnson Space Center, and on that fence you see other messages that have been posted. "God bless the NASA families. Our prayers with you," says one. "You will not be forgotten, Columbia," another.

To the people of Israel, India, America, nations that all had people aboard the shuttle, messages to them as well.

This is in fact where the people of Houston are coming to pay their tributes. No other place for it this evening.

We talked to a family who told us that when they heard the news this morning, the first thing they did was bring their children to the television to watch history unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I vividly remember the Challenger. It happened on my 15th birthday and I've never forgotten it. And hearing something like this again, I mean, this is kind of one of those events where you're always going to remember where you were at when you heard the news. And this is history, a tragic history in the making, and I think this is something that my children needed to know and to see and witness first hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FLOCK: They have been coming all day, and so they continue to come into the night. The pictures at night perhaps even more poignant, with the flickering of the candles, one person saying I didn't know where else to go. Another person saying that at a time like this, I feel so helpless, I don't know what to do.

For now, this may be all.

I'm Jeff Flock, CNN, at the Johnson Space Center.

COOPER: I think all of us have become so used to seeing those, what so many people -- it's almost a cliche at this point, those makeshift memorials, that term which has become so common in our lexicon, at Ground Zero, at Oklahoma City, Kensington Palace, when Princess Diana died. One more makeshift memorial, so much sadness.

We'll be right back after a short break with a press conference from NASA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, it was an awful day, and it's one that we'll never forget, but one of the things about the nation is that we don't shrink from challenged like this, and I don't think we'll shrink from this one. We're going to go flying again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper, at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

It's just 4:45 here on the East coast. We had expected a press conference to be taking place just now at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. We are now told that that press conference has been pushed back to 5:00 p.m. Eastern time. So, in about 15 minutes. I know a lot of viewers are probably tuning in to see that press conference.

We, of course, will bring it to you live as soon as we have it. A lot of attention. People want to know what is going on, what stage the investigation is at. NASA officials, no doubt -- we heard early yesterday that right away they had impounded a lot of the equipment, sort of frozen all the data, because, as they say, mission control is in itself a black box of information, and perhaps the answer to what happened onboard that shuttle flight yesterday, perhaps it is locked away in that data, somewhere in all the equipment, all the information. That will be studied very aggressively over the coming days, weeks, and months. As we said earlier, though, back in 1986, after the Space Shuttle Challenger met its untimely end, it took a full five months before we actually had answers as to what had caused that incident, back in 1986. No knowing at this point how long this investigation will go on, but we will be bringing you that press conference in what we believe will be 15 minutes, from the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

We're going to go though to David Mattingly, whose also in Texas, in the town of Nacogdoches, a name we have hard an awful lot of in last 24 hours or so.

David, what's the seen there right now?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the debris that they continue to find in this county ranges in size from about a pebble, from about that big, to about 7 to 8 feet long.

But the real story today is how big the debris area is. It's grown exponentially in size the last 24 hours.

The sheriff showed us a map that is basically a diagonal swath across the county map, and that's the debris field. He says it is 15 miles wide, 35 miles long.

So if you do the math, that's 525 square miles of debris in this county alone. That is a tremendous area for the authorities here to have to try and go searching, and it's getting bigger all the time. They're getting 25 calls on hours with people finding new debris. They already have 1,200 sites that they have to keep tabs on.

Among those sites on that list are some area schools that have debris on the school grounds, and we had people out on the school ground said cataloging that today, but not removing it. So right now they're trying to wonder if they're going to have to make a decision a little bit later today as to whether or not to have school at all at those schools tomorrow.

Also today there was one number that they revised downward today. Earlier today they told us that there had be four sites identified with human remains in this county. At last they talked to us, they said they were revising that back down to three, those sites being handled by the FBI.

And about those remains, about the astronauts, that is the only time we saw any emotion today, is when people here started talking about the astronauts. People getting choked up, Anderson.

But at the time here, they have so much work to do, they have so much to focus on, they really haven't had time to stop and pay there own tribute to the astronauts, so their tribute is the work that they're doing here, and they have a lot of it still to do -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, David, at this point, who is doing the work? We know there are obviously federal officials, local officials, but as you said, this area is so large, are they looking for volunteers? Are they getting volunteers? And can anyone just come and volunteer for this?

MATTINGLY: They are discouraging volunteers. The only thing they want from the public right now is for them to remain vigilant and to call in any pieces that they might see.

But they are explicitly saying, if you see it, don't move it, and police do touch it, for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it would be a federal crime. Second of all, there could be some contamination involved.

But no volunteers are being asked for in this operation. It's all being handled mostly by the county authorities here. The county sheriff's department is spread incredibly thin. They're trying to keep tabs on as many sites as they possibly can. Of course, they just don't have the manpower to watch all 1,200 sites 24 hours a day right now.

COOPER: Well, how are they handling that? Actually, David, I'm being told we're going to go away to a press conference. I'll come back to you later, David Mattingly. Thank you very much.

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