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NASA Officials Hold Press Briefing

Aired February 3, 2003 - 11:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're expecting to hear from a couple of people at this briefing coming up. Bill Readdy, who is the associate administrator for human space flight. He is the chief astronaut, if you will. He is an astronaut, a veteran astronaut at that, and the person responsible for human space flight.
He will be joined by Michael Greenfield (ph), who is with the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance, and they will be addressing some of the various issues that have been coming up as this -- these teams upon teams of engineers begin the process of kind of dividing up what is an incredibly large, complex problem, dividing up into little compartments so that this can be solved in a very systemic way.

They are also going to address a couple of reports that are out this morning. One that came in the "New York Times" on the aerosafe (ph) -- Aerospace Safety and Advisory panel, which was harshly critical.

Let's listen in to NASA. Here's Glenn Mahone, public affairs administrator.

GLENN MAHONE, PUBLIC AFFAIRS ADMINISTRATOR, NASA: ... briefing on the shuttle -- space shuttle Columbia accident. I'm Glenn Mahone, assistant administrator for public affairs.

Before we began, I want to take a moment to go over the guidelines of today's press conference. When you get the mike, please state your name and affiliation. We'll take questions from here at headquarters first, and then we'll go around to the NASA centers and hear from reporters there.

And with that, I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce Bill Readdy, administrator of space flight, and Michael Kostelnik, deputy associate administrator for the space shuttle and International Space Station programs. Because we're a little busy today, after they do their opening comments and after we start here at headquarters, Doc Merlson (ph), the NASA news chief, will stand here and will actually take your questions for Mr. Readdy and Mr. Costelnik, and then he will go around to the centers.

And with that, Mr. Readdy?

BILL READDY, ADMINISTRATOR OF SPACE FLIGHT: Good morning. It's been a little over 48 hours since Columbia did not land at the Kennedy Space Center. We all grieve along with the families for their loss and for the loss of the valiant crew of the space shuttle Columbia.

Details are sketchy at this point, as you know, but we're rapidly starting to fill in some of the elements in the time line. We're leaving no stone unturned, following every single lead that we possibly can find in order to get to the bottom of this, identify the root cause, fix it and return to flying safely again.

To this end, we have a mishap investigation team that's already on site and headquartered at Barksdale Ari Force Base, Louisiana; and external independent Columbia accident investigation board, chaired by Admiral Hal Gehman, on site also at Barksdale Air Force Base.

We urge anyone -- NASA, contractor, member of the pubic -- anyone who has any information, any documentation, to turn it over to either the mishap investigation team, the Columbia accident investigation board, which is independent and external to us, the NASA safety reporting system, which is confidential, or the inspector general.

I want to emphasize the point that we want to get every last shred of evidence, whether it be documentation, whether it be witness statements, whether it be physical evidence that may have fallen to the ground, and put that into the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that we will start to assemble so that we can identify the root cause.

I would also urge members of the public, as they find debris, to alert the first responder, members of the law enforcement community, or to call the various hotlines around, so that we can go collect the evidence and make that a part of our investigation.

Please, please do not disturb it, touch it. Some of those materials may be sharp, some of them are made out of exotic metals, some of the materials might actually still be toxic. Some of the propellants that we use are.

But at this point, we have no evidence at all that materials that fell would be hazardous from a radioactivity standpoint.

General Mike Kostelnik, to my left, is the deputy associate administrator for International Space Station and space shuttle, and has just concluded his daily headquarters contingency action team briefing.

As you may know, we are constantly updating the body of knowledge that we have. And as we acquire new knowledge, we will brief that to you. This is our first attempt to do that here from headquarters, and we intend to do this daily at 11:30 Eastern time. And we will have another briefing emanating from the Johnson Space Center at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time, so that we can continue to keep you updated on the status.

And as I said, General Mike Kostelnik will get into the details of what we've learned from this morning's teleconference, which includes all the field teams that are deployed, as well as our other field centers.

I started with the families, and that Saturday morning when I had a chance to visit with them and be with them when the president of the United States called to share his thoughts and prayers with them. They have issued a statement which we will make available to you, but with your indulgence I'd like to read that now.

A statement from the families of Columbia: "On January 16 we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God and a willingness to accept the risks in pursuit of knowledge, knowledge that might improve the quality of life for all mankind.

"Columbia's 16-day mission of scientific discovery, which was a great success, was cut short by mere minutes. Yet, it will live on forever in our memories.

"We want to thank the NASA family and people from around the world for their incredible outpouring of love and support. And although we grieve deeply, as do the families of Apollo 1 and Challenger before us, the bold exploration of space must go on.

"Once the root cause of this tragedy is found and corrected, the legacy of Columbia must carry on for the benefit of our children and yours."

At this point I'd like to turn the briefing over to General Mike Kostelnik, who will bring you up to date.


And good morning, everyone.

There's been a lot of activity behind the scene, much of which you have seen and much of which you have not. I'd like to kind of bring you up to speed on some of the behind the scenes activity that's been ongoing, and then lay out for you a process by how we will be forthcoming in providing you as much data and as much factual information as we know when we know it.

And as Mr. Readdy mentioned, we're planning on two briefings. One centered here in Washington covering an agency perspective and a longer range view on the issues of how they will relate to the overall programs.

Because recall, in this, not only do we have a shuttle effort, but this year having combined the shuttle with the International Space Station, we also have astronauts on orbit that are part of our operation and part of our mission concern as well. So it's a very complex operation in human space flight area.

I would like to start by saying, our focus is painfully clear. NASA is not really about the things you think it is, it really isn't about the vehicles or the rocket ships or a lot of the ground infrastructures. It's all about the people who fly and fix and maintain and design these operating vehicles. And I can tell you, being fairly new to NASA, that I see throughout this infrastructure a total dedication to the people and to the mission of this agency.

So in this I will ask you to recall and to realize that our primary focus right now is on the families, much of which has been talked about. We are certainly supporting them at the Johnson Space Center as we speak. And one of our primary responsibilities out in the field -- and I know there's been many questions and some reporting (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- we are trying to recover the remains of these national heroes and get them back to their families as soon as possible. So much of our activity in the field as we speak is oriented towards this effect, and I will give you some more information on that briefly.

But I'd like to start back to the entry of our current administrator into NASA. Having come from a DOD background, having worked a lot around high-risk, high-tech, stressful mission, Mr. O'Keefe had many concerns about the safety and the activities associated with human space flight. One of the first activities he did was to ask to see the contingency plans, obviously being familiar with the Challenger history and the early days of the space program, wanted to see precisely where the agency was in terms of contingency planning.

Not only was there a contingency plan based on our experience with Challenger and how we handled that, either successfully or unsuccessfully, he took that contingency action plan and vetted it with the armed forces in the area of nuclear safety and nuclear contingency, which is one of the most stressful side in the Department of Defense, to benchmark our own contingency action plans against the naval nuclear action plans for contingencies in that regard.

The best of those benchmarking products were then incorporated into the current contingency action plan that we have and are operating on today. And I will lay out for you some of that infrastructure and how you will see shortly the benefits of that planning.

The most recent copy of that was signed on the 10th of January of this year. That was the complete addition of incorporating the International Space Station into our consideration, into our planning. So not only did we capitalize on our experience with the Challenger program, we incorporated the lessons learned from Challenger into potential contingencies that we could have on the International Space Station.

So what I'm offering to you is, one, NASA has a people focus; two, it is very concerned with the safety not only for those that go in space, but those that launch and work around the vehicles that orient to that. And I've been very impressed from the individuals in the approach and the products that I have seen to date.

Now, to point of the contingency plan. There is in this headquarters a Headquarters Contingency Action Team. It is a coordinating body working throughout the infrastructure to handle just such emergencies as we are experiencing now. It is normally not in place, but assembled quickly when a disaster happens. This is a unique disaster that is not comparable. And it really would have few case studies that one could benefit, given the long flight path we have, the large amount of material, the issue of hazardous materials with fuels and propellants that we carry on -- the wide dispersion. There are few things to compare with.

I am proud to say, as an American, that there is extremely close cooperation with a wide variety of federal, state and local officials, all who are pulling together as one team to accomplish this tough job.

Part of the HCAT, if you'll accept this acronym for the Headquarters Contingency Action Team, part of our responsibility here in Washington behind the scenes is very close cooperation. Obviously, you'll see -- and you've seen that Mr. O'Keefe is over talking to the president, as we speak -- very close cooperation with the White House and the supporting staff, very close cooperation with the Hill, very close cooperation with national federal agencies that can help in this regard, and are helping -- FEMA, the FBI.

In fact, recently you saw yesterday the National Guard has been called out, thanks to the generous support of the governors of both of the states of Texas and Louisiana have been forthcoming with whatever needs are available. So there has been a lot of cooperation that is required.

That activity is ongoing here. And is working very closely with Mr. Dittemore and his team down at the Johnson Space Center. And you've been getting the reports from the Mission Response Team headed by Ms. Linda Hamm (ph), who works for Ron Dittemore. And Ron Dittemore will continue in the afternoons giving you the latest factual information as we have it of where we are in the actual investigation.

There are other teams I know that have been introduced. And I want to be very specific about this concept of how this accident is going to be investigated, explored and presented not only within the agency, but with out.

As Mr. Readdy pointed out, from the lessons of Challenger, we determine (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we would need a standing, independent team to take an independent look at this accident investigation.

That team has been assembled. Admiral Gehman, who has very unique experiences in the military, but other members of the team are very senior officials representing the Department of Defense and others, trained in accident investigation at some point in their past. And this team will have responsibility, unencumbered but fully supported by NASA, to explore the cause and ultimately help us find a fix for this problem.

That team, as pointed out, was in place yesterday at Barksdale Air Force Base. And in the area across Texas and Louisiana we are being supported by both of the states completely, by state and local law enforcement. We have a headquarters with our initial NASA team. This is a team that is chaired by Dave Whittle (ph). It includes emergency response teams from across NASA dealing with the materials, dealing with recovery, securing the site. It provides us our first on-the-ground capability to deal with what is a very complex problem. That team is headquartered out of Barksdale and in the process of deployment.

We are increasing augmenting these teams. Yesterday we had about 100 NASA people, NASA support people on the ground on the site. Today we're augmenting with another 55 or 60. We'll continue to augment with those resources, both people and IT support, to provide the on- scene capability necessary to augment the existing federal and state support that we're already getting.

I think you know a lot of this activity is centered around the area of Lufkin, Texas, and Nacogdoches. That is a significant part of the debris field, but it is scattered across the states, covering a wide range and depth of area. We're still trying to control, identify, find and beginning now to collect these products. We're focusing on trying early on to recover the human remains. That's been a big part of our operations. We have a second group centered in the area of Lufkin.

Our senior NASA management official on site in charge of coordinating with all the activities and all the agencies is the deputy director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, is Mr. Dave King (ph). He is running a small operation augmented by representatives from Johnson, from the astronaut corps.

Recall what I said about this being about people. Our first concern is to take care of this responsibility. And obviously the astronauts are a lead part of this activity. Jim Weathersby (ph) is there augmenting Mr. King (ph) and participating with the FBI groups that are activity trying to take care of this responsibility as we speak.

It turns out that the debris field is quite large and still really being determined. Today we find there's more things further west than we anticipated. We're establishing a second NASA command post in the area of Carswell Air Force Base to facilitate those things nearer the Fort Worth area.

Ultimately, the pieces that we recover from the field, the parts of the orbiter, will ultimately go to either our collection site at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana or a second collection site now at Carswell Air Force Base in Texas, in Forth Worth.

We will then over time, as the material is collected, we will make a decision in the near term.

We're discussing these options now as to where the material will be taken for reassembly as determined necessary by the Accident Board or the engineers. And those will be announced at a later time. Those are in discussion as we speak, and no decision where that material will ultimately go.

To the specific teams down at Johnson, under the program office, the Mission Response Team, these are the engineers, this is the shuttle program proper. They are busily working behind the scene conducting the engineering analysis, preserving the data as called for from the contingency action plan. Those activities are undergoing as we speak.

And each day at our 16:30 or 14;30 Eastern time from the Johnson Space Center, Mr. Dittemore will give you the facts as we know them each day. And that will be our primary focus for our output on the technical issues.

Shortly we'll open up for questions and we will deal with some of those as we know the facts here. But the questions that need to be answered, we will relay those and mostly the technical updates on the actual accident will come to you from the 16:30 session.

The mission response team has the program office, all of the experts they're working at Johnson, and those experts will augment the two teams that we have out in the field. First the internal team, this is the initial mission investigation team handled by Mr. Whittle. They headquartered out of Barksdale. Those teams are rapidly deploying to the field sites in Lufkin, and further west supported by the other agencies that are supporting us in the area with FEMA, with EPA, with the FBI, the local and state law enforcements and now augmented by the National Guard.

This team will be responsible for locating, preserving, and ultimately tagging the physical evidence from the crash site. And these will be the responsibilities of the external investigation activity, now the Columbia Accident Investigation Team under Admiral Gammon (ph) to determine the ultimate disposition and the analysis that they want to conduct the operation.

So the MIT, the mission -- the mishap investigation team is a NASA team with NASA personnel and contract support as necessary. They will be responding and working directly to the guidance and direction from the external team. And ultimately, the ultimate analysis will be determined through NASA experts for the team at their request, and the independent team will provide their assessment and their conclusion at the end of the activity.

We have a lot of activity ongoing today. There is, again, the focus on recovery of the human remains mostly in the Lufkin area, mostly with the FBI and EPA teams in concert with the NASA representatives.

These will be augmented in terms of protecting the physical sites for material as located by the Texas National Guard. We expect that number could be as high ultimately as about 500 individuals over the next day, and the NASA footprint today and tomorrow will ultimately grow to about 150 or so individuals.

It'll be our plan then, as Mr. Readdy pointed out, to have two press conference with you, one here every morning. The HKAD (ph) team that I chair upstairs will be getting the latest information we have overnight from the ongoing analysis. We will update you with any significant changes that have happened from the night before.

We're receptive to your questions or needs for information in the local area, for physical products or explanations on the shuttle or the impacts to the International Space Station.

Here in the morning session we will try to focus on the bigger scheme, the activities that are happening out in the field, as best we can tell, the coordination with the agencies that are facilitating us downstream.

And also this would be a good forum, if there are questions around the long-term impacts -- what does this mean for the rest of the shuttle fleet, what does this mean for the future of human space flight, what are the impacts to the International Space Station -- as the program executive officer for both of those programs, we feel very comfortable that we would be the right ones to address those issues with you.

And although we're still now in the very early stages of thinking about how to react and how to deal with this situation, the good news is, as has already been reported, for the crew we have on orbit and the International Space Station as an engineering assembly, we are OK for the near term. We have sufficient propellant. We have sufficient supplies. We have sufficient life support capability to support the International Space Station without the help of the space shuttle for several months; in fact, up until the May or June time period.

And recall that it is the International Space Station. We have partners, 16 partners around the world with assets that could be brought to bear if we need help.

So although the International Space Station is not a near-term issue, in the same way NASA plans for long-term contingencies, certainly you can trust that we are behind the scenes looking very hard, both within our shuttle work force and also in the International Space Station work force, to start thinking about if and when we find the fix and when we decide what the correction will be and when we get things ready to go, we will go back to try in a timely fashion to support the International Space Station. All those things will happen. This will be the primary focal point for this longer-term view.

So as I've laid this out, we will be coordinating with the field activities. We will try to have the best and the latest on information as to where we are. You can get that through our local public affairs contacts here at headquarters, NASA.

We will cover the broad and offer perspectives as we know them on what we see our future and where we're trying to go on both the shuttle fleet that remains and the International Space Station. And then, each day in the afternoon we will cover as much as we know, the factual information that we understand as to how this accident happened.

Recall that Mr. Dittemore has asked for patience. I would do the same. The shuttle infrastructure is a very complex one. There are a lot of hints. There are a lot of ideas as to what has really happened. It would be speculative to make a judgment now, but there are a lot of clues. And we are working with the best and brightest minds in this country to ferret that out. And you will be able to watch this process live play out over the next weeks and months as necessary to get to the decision. This will be probably the most open accident investigation on a magnitude of this scale that people have experienced in this time.

With that, I will set the stage that we are behind the scenes doing the things that are necessary. We are trying to meet our administrator's focus taking care of people first. The human space flight program is about people. We have some responsibilities to do that.

I think you know there will be a memorial at Johnson Space Center tomorrow. We may shift some of our briefings down there, some of our information to you around that.

I think you have noticed the emotion and the people that are close to this operation. This is a family thing. And this is a tragedy of epic proportions for the people that will make up the NASA community, and that is a very large, widespread community. And trust me, the experts behind the scene have done the right things to get this mission done in a very tough and challenging situation.

We are doing the right things now to find and we will fix the problem ultimately. And we're going to be incredibly open so you can see exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it.

With that, I'll leave it to Mr. Readdy or to any questions.

READDY: Well, thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate one more time, if you would wait for the microphone, I'll call on you. Please state your name and your affiliation and then ask the question. I'll take questions from headquarters first. I think we'll pretty much cover the first round in the group, and then move out to the Johnson Space Center.

Let me say one thing, follow-up what General Kostelnik said. The memorial ceremony will probably be a presidential tomorrow at approximately 1:00 p.m. at the Johnson Space Center, so we will not have our 11:30 press conference tomorrow. There will be a 4:30 press conference at Johnson tomorrow.

So let me start with this gentleman back here, I believe had his hand up here. Please go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: A question for both of you. Could you elaborate on the data processing aspects of the investigation analysis such as the geographic information system analysis of the debris and drilling down into the so called ratty data, and if you're going to build a database to help you analyze the evidence you're collecting?

KOSTELNIK: OK. Well, first of all, we have a database already in process. We're collecting all evidence that we can. Some of it's photographic, some of it's data from the computers in Mission Control.

As you know, as soon as we executed our contingency plan at 29 minutes after 9 on Saturday morning, we locked down all the data in the Mission Control center in Houston and at the other facilities, at Kennedy and the contractors as well.

So we'll be going through that. All the information that we have will be going into databases so that we can have rapid access to that and then correlate it.

Much of the information that we have comes from telemetry from the vehicle itself that is derived from relays through satellites, and also straight to the ground, and then it goes in this process to the Mission Control center.

What you may have heard in yesterday's briefing is apparently we may have some 30 or more seconds of data that was corrupted perhaps -- not clean data, as they would call it, but corrupted. Similar to any accident investigation, we may be able to, after the fact, resynchronize the data and get something from it. So we'll certainly be doing that.

We're correlating that with photography that we have from the ground, with debris analyses based on the trajectory of the vehicle at the time and the likely mass and size of the pieces that were observed. And that's how we're focusing our ground search.

QUESTION: General, as a program manager and Mr. Readdy is an astronaut, give us your long-term perspective -- I know you may not have benefit of time, General -- but your overall perspective of the support for NASA budgetarily either from the administration or from Congress. Where have you found over time the pressure points and have you felt yourselves wanting more money but not being able to get it from the appropriators?

READDY: Well, let me start out with the NASA budget. I think it's going to be released today publicly on the web. That's the fiscal year '04 budget.

I'd like to back up, though, to decision made back through the summer as we were formulating our budget request. The administrator, with director of OMB Mr. Daniels, actually put forth a plan to amend our fiscal year '03 budget. That was signed by the president himself on November 13th. And what that did was adjust the NASA budget to include more money for upgrading the space shuttle, with the recognition that it would have to continue flying for longer, as part of our integrated space transportation plan, with a focus on reaping the scientific and research harvest of International Space Station.

So with that, we reprioritized within the NASA budget that was endorsed by the president and the administration back in November and sent to the Congress.

KOSTELNIK: I guess I would echo Bill's comments. In fact, you know, I joined NASA in May, right when we were in the process of restructuring the International Space Station and with this new administrator laying in the budgetary plans for what that would be.

And as Mr. Readdy pointed out, the budget amendment is a very comfortable margin that now includes sufficient funds to get the program down to meet his new vision of this integrated space transportation plan, but sufficient reserves to deal with the king of unknowns and contingencies that you end up getting in this program.

In fact, we briefed the NASA Advisory Committee in November, right about the same time that the budget amendment was released, and their view was similarly stated that they thought they were quite comfortable now with the budgetary resources that had been embedded to the program. This budgetary resources not only go to completing the assembly of the International Space Station, which still has some work to be done, but funding it throughout its life cycle.

Also, in my job title, notice that the shuttle and the International Space Station in this new transportation plan and in the administrator's approach to dealing with how we're going to manage these program were tied coherently together. So the space shuttle becomes the primary assembly support, because it's the only heavy lift vehicle that can take these large structures up to space and it's the only vehicle we have to bring things down from space, both of which, upmass and downmass, are required to do this. So fundamentally, I have been looking not only at the International Space Station and the programmatic issues associated with that, but the program issues associated with the space shuttle program, as well.

And I can tell you, I am quite comfortable with the posture that we found ourselves in for this vehicle and quite comfortable with the posture of our other vehicles despite what you may be reading about or hearing about from people in the press.

There are clearly some important investments that have been made in the area, not only of upgrades but service life extensions, as we're talking about the program now. There are ongoing upgrades to all the vehicles as we speak, and there have been throughout the time period that we've been flying. In fact, if you looked at the cockpit photos today and look at the early ones, they're not very similar to what we have done. So we have a long track record of making upgrades.

In fact, last year, after the ASAF (ph) report, we conducted a study called 20/20, which is looking at all the kind of things conceivably one could in some way to prioritize those. And this was before we had a true vision as to what the needs for the shuttle would be. Because to understand what type of things you should be doing, you have to have a sense for what's the mission, how long you're going to fly it, or some business decisions ultimately on paybacks and things. This is a very complex environment. And we were still working our way through these things, through the budget process. But with the administrator's introduction of the FY amendment to the president's budget, we offered a clear and unambiguous vision for the space transportation plan.

It called for continuing to fly the space shuttle for the long term to support the International Space Station. It called for development of a new transportation vehicle with a slightly different mission for (UNINTELLIGIBLE) return for the International Space Station, and later transport in the out-years when perhaps we might determine that the shuttle might become unsafe to fly. Within that, and once that plan was laid out, we started this year a new initiative which was funded in and proposed in the FY' 03 amended budget, and when our '04 presentation is presented, is contained in there, a coherent plan to move ahead and to do those things that ultimately that would be required, not only to improve or to maintain safety, as the mission might be, but to improve, maintain ability to improve sustainability for the longer term, in some cases to improve performance as dictated by the oncoming mission.

But I can tell you as a matter of fact that the issue of safety in NASA has always been number one. It is the top goal in the shuttle program: fly safe, meet the mission, improve the orbiter. And I can guarantee you, and you'll get the same sense from Mr. Dittemore, that is precisely what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) team has been doing for more than 20 years. And in our posture today, if there was something that anybody in this effort -- and this effort, you know, contains almost all of NASA -- if there was one person internal to NASA that thought we were doing something unsafe, we would certainly not do that.

In the area of the capabilities and the performance for this aircraft, we launched this aircraft into space thinking it was fully safe and counting on that, and that's the things that we always do.

But, for the long term, it's clear this fleet is going to take some investment. We understand that. It's embedded into the plan. It's embedded into the budget. And as you will see, investments were put in, and in fact we were supposed to check off a new concept called the service life extension summit, which would deal proactively with not only the privatization of which of those important things to do, but the time period in when those should be laid in.

So we were in the process of creating the long-term visions starting with a baseline from 20/20, taking that complete list of all the kind of things one could do, but not necessarily of the things one should do, and incorporate the most important things in the near term.

Safety has always been a separate carve-out. Safety in this system has not been driven by investments or funds, trust me.

READDY: Thank you. Let me make two notes on budget before I come down to Kathy (ph) down here. The budget documents will be available right outside the auditorium at 3 p.m., and the press conference we had scheduled at 3 p.m. about the budget has been postponed, and it will be probably rescheduled sometime after the memorial ceremonies. So the budget documents will be available at 3 p.m., right outside the front door.

Kathy (ph)?

QUESTION: General, there's a memo that surfaced this morning that goes to your statements about concern about the astronauts and the people.

It suggests that somebody in your operation knew about extensive tile damage, wrote a memo two days before the accident. And my question is, can you give us a chronology of how that memo was handled and how high in the organization did it reach?

KOSTELNIK: That's actually the first I have heard of that memo.

Throughout the process leading up, once the launch occurs, the team looks at every piece of data every day that the vehicle is on orbit. And this is the mission evaluation team there in mission evaluation room. And every day, every single thing, every scrap of evidence, every piece of information is analyzed by the best and brightest technical engineers around this system.

And has been previously reported, there was debris that was noticed from a long-range camera and that analysis was complete. And throughout the system, there were products that were produced -- these are a matter of record and have been provided. If you don't already have some, we can provide those to you from the Johnson Space Center. And it shows you clearly and unambiguously what the engineers were thinking.

They noticed on the day after launch there was some debris coming off the external tank. We had seen this in past launches. This is not a new phenomena as been previously reported.

In the case, although there has been some evidence of minor tile damage, there has not been any other case what we would call out of family of a major incident resulting from this material. The best and brightest engineers we have who helped design and build this system looked carefully at all the analysis and the information we had at this time and made a determination this was not a safety-of-flight issue. They did feel there could have been some damage to the heat protection system, you know, the RCC or the tiles, but they did not consider this was a safety of flight.

Those words were the only words that anybody in the program management chain ever saw. This new report is a new one to me. If we can get the details on it, we'll run it to ground and I will have the program this afternoon present what we know.

But as far as I am aware, throughout the senior leadership chain and the program management chain, the factual reports from this mission evaluation room, those are the definitive documents that show what we were thinking and what we knew at the time.

And the bottom line from the program is, we saw an anomaly on flight. We thought it was in-family in terms of the damage that it would produce. We thought we could get some minor structural, perhaps, damage from that. We did not feel it would be sufficient to be a safety-of-flight issue.

QUESTION: Along the same lines, do you know how many tiles it would take before the shuttle would suffer a catastrophic loss? And is NASA modeling exactly that: lose two, three, four, five, six tiles under certain dynamic conditions, then you get a catastrophic loss?

READDY: As you know, the shuttle flies in an extremely demanding environment returning from orbit, with temperatures in some places that get 2,500 to 3,000 degrees during reentry. Before the shuttle Columbia flew the first time in 1981, tremendous work was done over the previous decade in the design and development of the thermal protection system, the tiles, if you will. NASA's done extensive analysis on loss of tile, and, in fact, over time improved the tiles so it would be more damage-tolerant.

Thus far in our history, every single time the shuttle returns, we do an analysis of tile damage right there on the runway, as soon as we stop. Then we go into tile replacement or tile repair to prep for the next mission, which typically takes three to four months.

Regarding the debris hit, we did see that on the film. We saw it at about 80 seconds. We did photometric analysis of the trajectory, and on the 12th day of the mission the mission evaluation was that, "these thermal analyses indicate possible localized structural damage, but no burn-through and no safety-of-flight issue," and I quote.

We have extensive thermal modeling, structural modeling of the vehicle, and in some places it may be a small number of tile, in other places we actually replace tile with quartz blankets because the thermal environment was so benign; some places like the reinforced carbon carbon. That gray material that you see in the nose and the leading edges of the orbiter, that has to take much higher temperatures.

But we have analyzed all of those as part of the accident investigation. We will go back and we'll review those data and we'll make sure that we understand the situation.

But during the flight, we did assess it and came to the conclusion that, whereas there may be localized structural damage or a turnaround issue for the next flight, that it was no safety-of-flight issue.

QUESTION: During Columbia's first flight in 1981, I believe that NASA requested that the DOD use its reconnaissance satellites to take a look at possible tile damage.

Has that request been repeated since then, and was there ever a thought of maybe having a program to have that regularly done when the shuttle was flying?

READDY: Yes. In fact, during STS-1, we did ask for ground cameras, telescopes, if you will, and also other support to look at the Columbia.

That is available to us, and, in fact, I think Ron Dittemore mentioned yesterday, during STS-95 there was evidence during launch of the door to the drag chute came dislodged and fell off and we saw that in our film review, we requested support from the Department of Defense, and they provided us with images.

We did assess whether we should request assistance in this particular instance, as well. Based on our previous experience, and the engineering analyses, we didn't feel that the results would be conclusive one way or another, and so we elected not to request them. QUESTION: For General Kostelnik, could you give us a little bit more detail on what you have done to date and what you're doing in the weeks ahead to support the space station, what milestones you may have identified?

KOSTELNIK: Well, actually, the International Space Station is pretty solid right now. Obviously, it's going be some demands on the crew because we're going to have to extend their time on orbit.

I think you know Progress was launched successfully. It should dock, I believe, tomorrow, and that will provide the resupply that they need. So in terms of food and consumables and life support, sufficient on the station.

Obviously, the engineering assembly will quit since we're not going to be taking up things for a while. But the operation and the architecture that we have on orbit now is sustainable. It's not really an issue.

The other issue that gets to be a consideration is reboosting. I think you all know that at the altitude of roughly 250 miles that the station is there are sufficient air molecules and a large structure does have drag and it's slowly decaying, so we do have the responsibilities to reboost the station at various periods. This can be done with Progress or Soyuz-type vehicles or the space shuttle.

It turns out we're in good shape with our altitude and with the decay rate. We should not require a reboost during this calendar year.

So actually the station is in good shape. We have a Soyuz vehicle on board. There is already a planned Soyuz launch from Baikonur in April, will be the normal exchange. So we'll have a good crew-return vehicle on orbit, so should we have to take people off the station for some reason, that crew, we do have that opportunity.

So for the next month, until at least the late-May/early-June time frame, there really aren't issues on sustainability or supportability of the International Space Station.

The real issues around the station are when will we find the problem, when we will we get it fixed, when will we return to flight, what will be the manifest capability with the vehicles that we have. What would be the prudent assembly to First U.S. Core complete and then accommodate the other international modules.

I think you all know that on the original manifest plan we had envisioned seven launches of the space station fleet between now and 19 of February, when we had hoped to complete the U.S. Core configuration.

That flight manifest required three flights of the 105 vehicle, three flights of the 104 vehicle, and one flight of the Columbia, which was taking some resupply on a small part, I believe the S-5 part, on orbit in January of next year.

So clearly without Columbia that is a loss in terms of the manifest capability that will need to be dealt with.

Of course, I think you know we typically have one vehicle down in the OMM being refurbished and repaired. And it's a very, I think, important point to make on this subject because I know there's a lot of issues now about aging and what these kind of things mean in service life. And it's an important part, but it's not always intuitive to real-life examples the ordinary citizen might think about.

You know, an orbiter that's 20 years old that has just been through this 18 months program to refurbish, repair, refix, upgrade and modernize is not the same vehicle that went in and is clearly not something that's 20 years old. And I know it has been previously reported, 102 just recently came out of this process and was in that sense a very new vehicle. In fact, this was only the second flight since it had completed that refurbishment.

So in this regard, there is a lot of capability in these vehicles, irrespective of their age and that is precisely why the new proposed integration space transportation plan proposes, you know, capitalizing on the capabilities of this fleet.

So there will be many issues to be concerned with. And although our primary focus is just what I said, we're taking care of the people, responsibilities associated with this incident, we're trying to understand and be prudent and be good community leaders and neighbors with the environmental considerations impacting Central and Eastern Louisiana, we're trying to understand what this problem is, but at the same time, there are different parts of my program and different parts of NASA that are already looking at the long term for the International Space Station and how we will cope with this tragedy and what will be our plan ahead and also looking very aggressively at the remaining shuttle fleet, what we will need to do in light of this recent event.

READDY: Let me just piggyback on what General Kostelnik said, in terms of focusing back on the crew.

Immediately after we found out about Columbia, we did send some word up to the crew, communicated with them, let them know what the situation was. And, of course, they were obviously concerned for the families and sent their condolences. And, obviously, they also mourn the loss of the crew, friends and colleagues.

Yesterday afternoon, the administrator and I talked to the Expedition 6 crew, Captain Bowersox and Dr. Don Pettit and Nikolai Budarin, and their emphasis was on finding what the cause was, fixing it and getting back to flying. They committed themselves to stay up there for however long we needed in order to get the job done.

We assured them that that was job one, is to get back to flying safely and to support them. And as General Kostelnik said, we have sufficient logistics to go through the early summer at this point.

QUESTION: I understand that Columbia was uniquely configured in certain ways, including the ability to support the Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission. What modifications would be necessary to other orbiters so that it could perform that mission?

READDY: Columbia, in fact, did the most recent servicing mission. But the Hubble Space Telescope was actually launched by the Discovery and has been serviced by other orbiters. So we have the capability to do servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope with the rest of the fleet. That's not an issue.

Of course, we just recently got back from servicing the telescope and we don't think that the future servicing mission is really time sensitive.

QUESTION: When the Challenger accident happened, it was three years of delays for the shuttle launch. Do you anticipate this investigation will go on for that long?

READDY: Well, let me assure you we're going to take however long it takes to get to the bottom of it, identify the root cause and fix it, and then get back to flying.

So, whether it takes three months or three years so be it. You know, our primary objective is to get back to flying safely.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) on the day 12, I believe, and then also the FRR material from the previous -- after the previous incident of the foam insulation, which I believe was back in autumn of winter of last year. That would help us immensely.

My question is, after Challenger, the president, President Reagan, and then the Congress got on board with the idea of a replacement vehicle for Challenger, which came pretty quickly. Has the agency approached the president and/or Congress this time around to replace Columbia?

READDY: Well, first of all I assure you we'll work with Public Affairs to release whatever we can as soon as we can. So thank you for that.

With respect to the orbiter fleet, we have three high-performance vehicles remaining in the inventory, and with the existing flight rate, when the Discovery comes out of its major maintenance and we return to flight, we have sufficient orbiters to assemble, operate, maintain and conduct research on International Space Station.

So to my knowledge none of us have approached the administration with a request for a replacement for the Columbia.

QUESTION: Yes. I'm wondering were either of you gentlemen directly involved in any of the real-time analyses or discussions about the launch debris incident?

I'm just wondering whether this issue reached headquarters level and who was the top person that signed-off on not only the conclusion that the damage was believed to be minor but there was no need for a telescope of satellite imagery?

READDY: Well, I'll answer first and then turn it over to Mike for his comment.

Yes, in fact, we do see the mission evaluation room summaries every single day. We're involved in the mission management team telecons, and so all those issues, as they're known, are bubbled up to the headquarters. We typically try and get technical resolution at the lowest possible level, at the most knowledgeable person, and if it means that we have to expand that to a broader community to get the best expert we can on the planet we'll do that.

KOSTELNIK: That's exactly right. I see the same products and our staff is routinely participating in those mission evaluation room results, providing headquarters analysis in terms of perspectives on top.

And throughout this kind of thing, as I've laid out, we're very aware of the anomaly observed and the data and the analysis that was ongoing. We trust implicitly Ralph Roe (ph), the chief engineer for the orbiter, and Ron Dittemore's program peoples to make these calls.

But certainly this information was presented and reviewed by the headquarters. And we were in complete concurrence with not only their assessment, but their plan ahead.

QUESTION: First, if I could piggyback on the request for data, if you could add the in-flight anomaly list going back to STS-1 for us, too. I believe that's electronic. If we can get that as part of your openness.

And that leads to the question, as part of your openness, are you prepared to announce full whistleblower status for anyone in the agency or in the contracting world who has issues and problems going to the decision-making process involving the clearing of the foam issue and the hit? And are you looking into the decision-making process as an issue, sort of like Challenger looked into overall management problems of decision-making?

READDY: Well, first of all, let me assure you that we will make every attempt to gather every scrap of evidence that we can.

I'm really not qualified to comment on the whistle-blower act or any of that...

HARRIS: We want to advise you that we are going stick with the coverage here of the NASA press briefing...



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