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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Space Explorers Past, Present Converging on Johnson Space Center

Aired February 4, 2003 - 12:00   ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get the latest now on the recovery effort.
CNN's Maria Hinojosa is joining us now live from Hemphill, Texas. That's right near the Louisiana border -- Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf, well, I have to say that the people here of Hemphill, Texas are really feeling that their town is contributing quite a bit to the recovery efforts. A lot of that has to do with the fact that there have been several important discoveries just in the past 24 hours.

Yesterday, the nose cone was found three miles from downtown Hemphill in very, very good shape, as well as many human remains.

Now we have heard that that nose cone is about 20 feet deep, about six feet wide. They are not allowing any reporters or photographers anywhere near that. Earlier, we had an exclusive interview with Nathan Emer, who is the man who found the nose cone about 100 yards from his home. He said it was in very, very good shape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NATHAN EMER, FOUND NOSE CONE: Looked like a big trash pile at first, just about 20 yards in a circle, insulation, tile, brick, everything.

SHERIFF TOMMY MADDOX, SABINE CO. TEXAS: We will be removing this section of the nose cone, which has been relayed there that it's approximately four or five foot long. You know, some of it there is buried down in the dirt. At there discretion is when that will be moved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HINOJOSA: Now, they have about 600 people who are doing ground searches. They are fanning outside into the Sabine National Forest. I have to search about 250 square miles around here and going through very deep forest. They also have 25-30 people, who are out in the Toledo Bend reservoir. They have the Coast Guard and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Also, we hear divers going to go perhaps as deep as 100 feet in frigid waters.

They have heard reports that witnesses say they saw launch pieces of debris falling into the lake. But as one official said, it's like a penny when you drop it in, you know where you drop it in, but you don't quite know where it falls. Finally good news for the family members, their words, that they found tremendous amounts of human remains in the past this hours overnight and even early this morning. They have brought in now extra dogs to help with that recovery.

Everyone who you speak to here, Wolf, says that their main concern is being able to give something back to the family members. That's what keeps them motivated here in Hemphill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's good motivation. Maria Hinojosa, thanks very much for that report.

As we mentioned earlier, space explorers past and present, along with legions of other VIPs, are converging on the Johnson Space Center in Texas right now.

CNN's Miles O'Brien is there, as well as the former astronaut and CNN space analyst Norm Thaggard.

Thanks to both of you.

Miles, first of all, set the scene for us what our viewers here in the United States and around the world can expect.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're right in the center of the Johnson Space Center. It's almost like a college campus. In fact, this property was originally owned by Rice University, back when NASA acquired it in the early '60s. It opened up in 1961 and it's been the scene and the heart and soul of the astronaut core and mission control, the people who run these space missions, the scene of many triumphs over its 42-year history.

It's also been the scene of a few dark moments, and there's a haunting parallel to 17 years ago, almost exactly this time, when at this same place, on this same ground. The nation paused to remember the Challenger Seven. Norm Thaggard was there. And as a matter of fact, he was tasked with helping out the Scobie (ph) family. Dick Scobie (ph), the commander of Challenger.

Norm, what goes through your mind today when you think of that parallel?

NORM THAGGARD, CNN SPACE ANALYST: Unfortunately, it brings back a lot of sad memories, and I thought we were past having to do this sort of thing, so it's not a happy day.

O'BRIEN: It's a moment for the NASA family to pause, and reflect and remember loves ones, but it's also an important time for the nation, isn't it?

THAGGARD: It is. And you feel like even in this case, when I didn't know these people personally, as I did the Challenger crew, you still feel like you lost someone that you know and love.

O'BRIEN: As you look back on those days, trying to help the Scobies (ph) through this, you would offer -- probably have insights as to what is going on for the families. What do they need right now? What words can help them?

THAGGARD: All the outpourings of sympathy help, but of course, no words are going to replace their family member, they're just not.

They were deluged. I remember, I shielded all the phone calls. They can't get away from it, and that's a bit different than most people who lose someone, they don't get faced with it constantly.

O'BRIEN: As Jim Scobie (ph) has often told me, everybody shared in the death of our loved ones, they didn't know much about their life, and that was important to her to explain that to the world.

THAGGARD: It is, and now of course everyone knows about them, as is learning about this crew and we'll miss them.

O'BRIEN: What kind of words do you expect to hear from President Bush, and as you hearken back to President Reagan who in these moments seemed to really resonate with the American people and with the NASA family here. It's a hard job, isn't it?

THAGGARD: It's a hard job but what the president says, means a loot, because, after all, that is the president of the United States, and whatever he says, and I hope it will be looking to the future and they did not die in vain, but whatever he says will she comforting.

O'BRIEN: Norm Thaggard, he will be with us here all throughout the afternoon as the nation, the Johnson Space Center pauses to remember the Columbia seven.

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