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Search Efforts Continue

Aired February 4, 2003 - 14:45   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: While we have been remembering, a very grim task continues in a piece of the country the size of West Virginia. More than 12,000 pieces of the space shuttle Columbia have already been identified. It will be a long time before everything gets assembled and put together in some way that investigators can use it as a useful tool.
I'm told by folks here that it is very likely they will try to reassemble -- although that's probably not the best term -- piece together Columbia ultimately at the Kennedy Space Center.

But in the meantime, a center of that operation is the Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana, and that's where we find CNN's Mike Brooks -- Mike.

MIKE BROOKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Miles. Earlier today before the memorial service, the eight person Columbia Accident Investigation Board took a field trip of sorts to two sites near Nacogdoches, Texas. The board is headed up by retired Navy admiral Harold Gehman.

Now, while they were at the sites -- one of the sites they looked at some electronic components that they said were part of the shuttle. The other site, they stopped for a moment of silence in memory of the seven lost astronauts.

Now, Admiral Gehman the reason they went out was to get out of the office to take a look at the debris to give them a better feel for some of the debris fields and some of the sites where the debris has fallen over the state of Texas.

He said it makes it more personal to them while they are doing their investigation. He said that there are still two imperatives for the board. First one is to find out what happened for the safety of the astronauts who will continue in the shuttle program, and the second one, he said, was to find out quickly -- and again, he stressed quickly, what caused the tragedy for the sake of the astronauts still in orbit in the international space station who are relying on the board's findings -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes. That changes -- that's a significant difference from the Challenger era, isn't it, Mike, that you have the imperative of supporting a space station. If you're going to keep people up there, you need a vehicle to do it, and that probably changes the time frame a little bit. One quick question for you, Mike, on the electronics. Do we have any idea if there is anything salvageable that's been recovered? BROOKS: No -- Miles, they didn't say exactly what the electronic components were, and if there was any salvageable material on those, but we'll attempt to find out, and hopefully they will be of some use to NASA investigators -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Wouldn't that be something if those computers could tell part of the story for us? Mike Brooks, Barksdale Air Force Base -- Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Miles, we've been talking a lot this morning, this afternoon, about what a tough job President Bush had today. He looked strained, at some point even looked stricken, as he sat amidst those families.

CNN's White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux was with a small group of reporters who traveled with the president to Texas today. Suzanne, everyone around the president affected by this.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Judy. This is, again, one of those times when the president has that very somber task of trying to bring the nation together in time of tragedy. This for the president not only a chance to mourn, to reflect and offer prayers, but also to really boost the morale of the NASA family as well as reassure Americans the dedication for the space program.

As you mentioned before, I had an opportunity to travel with the president on Air Force One this morning, and to demonstrate, really, the kind of reverence, the respect that they have for the space program. There were some American icons on board, astronauts Neil Armstrong as well as former Senator John Glenn, their spouses as well.

President Bush talking with them in the guest cabin of Air Force One for about an hour or so. Also on board was the head of FEMA, as you know, the lead agency in the recovery effort, as well as the administrator of NASA, Sean O'Keefe. The president today expressing that this was really an act of courage of seven individuals, but also really reflecting the spirit of the country.

After the memorial service, the president, as he typically does, met privately with the family members of the victims. He likes to do that, as he did after September 11, and these times always a very emotional situation for the president, where he shares his own thoughts, his own prayers. This is something that he did just hours after the shuttle catastrophe, and this is something the president just wrapped up moments ago before he returns home -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Suzanne, I think the words I remember the most from the president, "Their mission was almost complete, and we lost them so close to home." They were 39 miles above this state of Texas when -- when the shuttle came apart.


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