May 2003 Archives

May 2003

29 May 2003: Space Shuttle Leading Edge Foam Impact Test Update, CAIB

"The Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) reported the initial foam impact test on the Enterprise's fiberglass leading edge panel showed significant effects."

29 May 2003: Test supports theory foam doomed shuttle, USA Today

"A test to simulate the blow from a piece of foam insulation smashing into the left wing of the space shuttle Columbia has provided investigators with the first solid evidence that the debris could have led to the destruction of the spacecraft."

30 May 2003: The Missing Link? Wing Test Could Offer Breakthrough in Columbia Inquiry, ABC News

29 May 2003: Use of Contractors By NASA Examined, Washington Post

"If you have a contract which you can pay bonuses for on-time launch, well, that instills a certain kind of performance in the contractors," Gehman said during a media briefing in Houston. "If you're going to get paid bonuses for launching on time, then how many bonuses do you get for slowing the launch down" by raising safety concerns?

28 May 2003: Inspections Were Lacking, Shuttle Panel Member Says, NY Times

"Admiral Gehman said the panel's report should be ready by July 25, when Congress starts a recess, but added that was not a firm deadline. "We'd rather get it right than get it in a hurry," he said.
It will be "a very, very thick report," he said, and will be presented in narrative form, from the start of the shuttle program."

28 May 2003: Demonstration flight not likely for space shuttle, Spaceflight Now

"The chairman of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said today he has no plans to require NASA to recertify shuttle systems before flights resume or to mount a test flight of some sort to validate recommended design changes or to collect more data."

28 May 2003: Board sees pattern of deficiencies at NASA, USA Today

"Members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said NASA's safety inspection system overworks its inspectors, doesn't inspect crucial shuttle components and frequently delays small repairs until after a shuttle has flown a mission."

27 May 2003: New Vehicle Needed to Propel Human Space Exploration, Planetary Society

"The Congress, Administration and NASA now must make important decisions about the future of space exploration," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of the Planetary Society. "They will either choose an optimistic and positive direction for the human species -- outward -- or they will commit us to another 30 years bogged down in low Earth orbit."

26 May 2003: Aging of Shuttle Fleet Prompts Concerns, AP

"The accumulation of problems suggest "that we shouldn't be flying it anymore, at least not with people on it," said Alex Roland, a NASA historian at Duke University. "If they're going to fly again, they have to find the time and money to fix them or else they should fly them unmanned."

Editor's note: I'm not sure what value a historian's comments have with regard to the fitness of a space launch system. Moreover, Alex Roland's sole claim to fame is to be an anti-human spaceflight pundit. Of course he is going to suggest that the Shuttle be grounded. DUH.

25 May 2003: Former NASA Administrator Goldin to Testify Before Columbia Investigation Board, SpaceRef

"Former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin will be questioned by representatives of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) behind closed doors - possibly as soon as this coming week as the CAIB wraps up its efforts in Texas."

30 May 2003: Update

Editor's note: Dan Goldin and half a dozen other individuals will be interviewed in the Washington DC area instead of Texas. Interviews will occur in the next week or so.

24 May 2003: Shuttle science: Does it pay off? Space-based research brings modest results, Houston Chronicle

"Still, [Alex] Roland and other critics conceded the results weren't terrible. And other observers said that given the poor reputation of shuttle science among researchers, they were pleasantly surprised by the showing and hopeful for science that might be done on the international space station."

24 May 2003: NASA budget cuts, delays endanger space experiments, Houston Chronicle

"A 2002 NASA-sponsored study put an even finer point on the problem: If the space agency doesn't restore some of the space station science facilities that it cut, "NASA should cease to characterize the (station) as a science-driven program."

25 May 2003: NASA Cites Rescue Bid Possibility - Columbia Board Is Told Of Risky Shuttle Option, Washington Post

"Asked to assess the feasibility of the rescue schemes, Gehman said in a telephone conference call with reporters that "it's technically possible, very, very risky, and a whole bunch of 'ifs' had to line up in the yes column."

22 May 2003: Panel to Monitor NASA's Return to Space, AP

"Glenn Mahone, chief spokesman for the space agency, said that NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe is selecting a panel of outside experts who will evaluate NASA's efforts to safely return the space shuttle fleet to orbit."

22 May 2003: Problem of foam persists, Houston Chronicle

"As NASA struggles to recover from Columbia's fatal breakup, experts are wrestling with the prospect they will be unable to completely prevent foam insulation from peeling off the spacecraft's external fuel tank, a top agency engineer said Thursday."

22 May 2003: NASA had tested Columbia T-seal, Houston Chronicle

"The shuttle Columbia flew its final mission with a crucial wing panel seal that had been removed a dozen years ago for a series of unusual stress tests and then reinstalled, a source familiar with the finding said Wednesday. "

22 May 2003: Crucial T-seal stress-tested, then reinstalled, Orlando Sentinel

"There is no evidence the testing harmed the seal or played a role in Columbia's Feb. 1 breakup over central Texas. However, the board investigating the accident contends the decision to reinstall the seal and fly it again raises troubling questions about the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's approach to safety and managing risk."

21 May 2003: Foam hit shuttles 7 times, panel says, AP

"Columbia accident investigators said yesterday that chunks of foam insulation broke off space shuttle fuel tanks more frequently than NASA realized and that everything points to the debris as the cause of the disaster. For two decades, NASA never considered the shedding foam a safety concern, even after a 2 1/2-pound section slammed into the edge of Columbia's left wing shortly after liftoff in January."

19 May 2003: Safety and the shuttle, Op Ed, Washington Times

"Several months ago, we called for Mr. Bush to give the space program a tangible target in his next State of the Union address. Now that the fighting in Iraq has finished and the tax cut has passed, Mr. Bush must make the direction of the manned space program a priority."

19 May 2003: NASA Rethinks Paths For Shuttle Descents, Washington Post

"If Columbia had broken up just a moment earlier, "that debris would have fallen on downtown Dallas and Fort Worth," said former astronaut William F. Readdy, NASA's top space flight official."

16 May 2003: Reduce the risks, but let our shuttles fly, Op Ed, Walter Cunningham, Houston Chronicle

"It's time we acknowledge that space is the most dangerous environment into which humans have ever ventured. There will always be risk associated with manned space flight. There are also gains to be made from the exploration of space. We should reduce the risk to the point where gain to be made exceeds the perceived risk and then get on with the job."

18 May 2003: Charting A New Course For Space, Op Ed by By David Acheson, Washington Post

"It is time to take a mature, unemotional look at where manned spaceflight came from and where it is going, and with what technology and at what cost. Then either set it on a new path, with technology we can trust, or turn toward unmanned space science."

16 May 2003: Spacecraft designer calls for retirement of shuttle, LA Times

"The bottom line is that the shuttle is too old," [Max] Faget said this week. "It would be very difficult to make sure it is in good shape. We ought to just stop going into space until we get a good vehicle. If we aren't willing to spend the money to do that, then we should be ashamed of ourselves."

Editor's note: Gee Max, this "give up and stop flying" tone certainly wouldn't have been heard back in the Apollo days. Indeed, had this attitude prevailed NASA wouldn't have done a redesign after the Apollo 1 fire or the Apollo 13 accident. Instead, NASA identified the problems, fixed them, and flew again.

Replace the Shuttle? Of course. The sooner the better. But to stop flying humans in space until we do? That would be signaling defeat - and a retreat from a human - and an American presence in space. Besides, if we did decide to retreat back to Earth I am sure many people would soon find ways to extend that hiatus indefintely.

16 May 2003: Orbiters need changes before fleet flies again, study finds, Orlando Sentinel

"An April 24 internal study obtained by the Orlando Sentinel details 10 changes proposed by a 23-member team of NASA and contract shuttle workers. The goal is to "develop the effort required for safe return to flight . . . should results of the investigation prove inconclusive."

16 May 2003: When Astronauts Were in Peril, OP Ed, NY Times

"... the investigations board seems determined to keep the testimony given by some 200 NASA employees and contractors secret despite efforts in Congress to pry the material loose. The interviewees were assured that their remarks would be kept confidential on the theory they would be more candid. It would be unfair at this point to renege and publish transcripts of what they said. But surely some means can be found to make all or most of this material public, either by deleting the names of those speaking or by summarizing their comments."

15 May 2003: Same problems haunt NASA 17 years after Challenger loss, Opinion, USA Today

"That's why an independent safety group is needed to serve as a watchdog over NASA, much as the National Transportation Safety Board monitors airlines and other modes of mass transportation."

NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel: "The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel was chartered by Congress in 1967, after the tragic Apollo 1 fire, to act as an independent body advising NASA on the safety of operations, facilities, and personnel ... The Panel reports to the NASA Administrator and to Congress."

Editor's note: This past week, I spent more than an hour on the phone with the woman [Sandra Torey (sp)] who did the background checking and wrote this opinion piece. Boy was that a waste of time. I specifically recall mentioning the ASAP (several times), what it does, its charter, and its lineage. Yet she chose to either ignore or forget this. She also told me that she was not really familiar with the topic of space and that she was in a hurry to get this piece finished in the next day or so. Millions of people read USA Today on a daily basis. As such, the staff of this newspaper owes it to their readers to take the time to get things right. If it takes a week or two for its staff to do the appropriate research so as to understand the facts, then that is how long it takes. To do otherwise - and cut corners - is to misinform their readers - which is exactly what has happened here.

Note to USA Today Editorial Board: you have some rather sharp reporters: Use them! - and don't think of wasting my time again.

15 May 2003: NASA's committed to safety (opposing viewpoint) Fred Gregory, NASA, USA Today

"After Challenger, I initiated an independently run safety-reporting system, which enables anyone at NASA to raise anonymously any safety concerns directly with upper management."

14 May 2003: Testimony of NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation

14 May 2003: Testimony of Admiral Harold Gehman Chairman, Columbia Accident Investigation Board

14 May 2003: Brownback Participates in Space Shuttle Columbia Investigation Hearing, press release

15 May 2003: Prober Faults NASA Shuttle Judgments, Washington Post

15 May 2003: Shuttle probers look to prevention, Washington Times

15 May 2003: NASA scores low on safety, Orlando Sentinel

"At a meeting later Wednesday with reporters, O'Keefe said he does not expect to make any personnel changes until after the board's report is issued."

15 May 2003: Harsh words for NASA are no surprise, USA Today

"We're not completely satisfied that underneath the box that says 'Safety,' that there's a big, robust organization," Gehman said. "Under the box that says 'Engineering Directorate,' there's not enough good old engineering-think that NASA used to be known for."

15 May 2003: Shuttle Investigator Chides NASA on Safety, NY Times

"The two men have maintained a collegial relationship, at least in public. But today Admiral Gehman, whose testimony had been scheduled for mid-March but was delayed because of the war in Iraq, contradicted Mr. O'Keefe on four points, and Mr. O'Keefe promptly backed off on three of them."

14 May 2003: NASA 'Bureaucratic Fumbling' Seen in Shuttle Probe, Reuters

"NASA's "bureaucratic fumbling" kept the U.S. space agency from getting satellite images of shuttle Columbia in orbit before its fatal breakup, the head of the board investigating the accident said on Wednesday."

14 May 2003: Investigator rips NASA managers for rejecting shuttle images, Government Executive

"Gehman blamed NASA's system, not any individuals, and said there was "not one person responsible."
That assertion drew a rebuke from Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who said it was "equally infuriating that no one is responsible." He added: "Those decisions aren't made by machines. Someone is responsible."

14 May 2003: Probe finds safety oversights mar NASA, UPI

"Senate committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., icily pointed out that last year $167 million was diverted from NASA's budget to fund pet projects by his fellow Congressmen. He asked Gehman to include in his report how budget issues factored into the accident. "We will," he promised. "One-hundred million dollars will buy a whole lot of safety engineers."

14 May 2003: H. Res. 222 Commending those individuals who contributed to the debris collection effort following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident

14 May 2003: House Approves Resolution Commending 20,000 Space Shuttle Columbia Debris Search Volunteers

"The House of Representatives sent a collective "thank you" to the 20,000 volunteers who helped search for debris following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. The House passed H. Res. 222, introduced by Science Committee Ranking Member Ralph M. Hall (D-TX) as a tribute to the volunteers, by a vote of 411-0."

13 May 2003: Public pays tab for NASA, then is told to get lost, Op Ed, Orlando Sentinel

"We should have names and versions of events, not necessarily in the context of assigning blame but to understand what happened and create a historical record. The idea that secrecy is the only way to guarantee NASA managers will talk openly is nonsense."

Editor's note: Mike Thomas does not seem to be at all interested in whether such wide open access is the best way to get at the truth of what happened to Columbia and its crew - which is the actual intent of this investigation after all. Which is more important, Mike? - providing the most conducive environment wherein people reveal what they know without fear of recrimination at work such that what went wrong can be identified and then fixed - or to stage a public circus to satisfy your curiosity and providing fodder for political stunts?

The people interviewed in this investigation watched their coworkers die. Don't you think that they are as interested - perhaps more so - in finding out what happened than you are? Whether or not this investigation should have been done with the absolute guarantee of privacy is now a moot point. Adm. Gehman made a pact with all of the people he interviewed, should he just go back on his word now? What kind of precedent does THAT set?

Using the same logic you put forth (i.e. that all things done with taxpayer's money should be totally accessible without exception) we should have access to all national security activities, all government procurement (including proposals and all proprietary materials); all the medical records for people getting government assistance - and we should do all of this after we told the people involved that we would not release this information. Did you attend a public school Mike? If so I'd like to see your grades.

"You put people under oath and you ask them questions. If they don't answer the questions, you remove them from their jobs and, if need be, you prosecute them."

Editor's note: Attaboy Mike. Let's have a full blown witch hunt and a show trial. Are you suggesting that everyone be sworn in? To put people in such a confrontational setting is to presume that they may have something to hide. What a wonderful legacy for the crew of Columbia.

NPG 8621.1 : NASA Procedures and Guidelines for Mishap Reporting, Investigating, and Recordkeeping

Editor's note: According to the CAIB public affairs office, the CAIB is following NPG 8621.1, specifically "Appendix E. Guidelines for Witness Interviewing" as it interviews NASA and contractor personnel in connection with its investigation of the Columbia Accident. Included is the following phrase, part of a larger statement provided to each witness: "Your testimony will be documented and retained as part of the mishap investigation report background files but will not be released as part of the investigation board report. NASA will make every effort to keep your testimony confidential and privileged to the greatest extent permitted by law. However, the ultimate decision as to whether your testimony may be released may reside with a court or administrative body outside NASA."

12 May 2003: NASA's Eroding Safety, Aviation Week & Space Technology

"The Columbia Accident Investigation Board will cite serious deficiencies in NASA's overall safety program as a root cause or significant contributing factor to the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and her crew."

13 May 2003: Space officials can't dismiss shuttle caution signs, Op Ed, USA Today

"Little more than three months ago, seven astronauts paid with their lives to remind space officials that spaceflight is unforgiving. Tolerance of any level of malfunction is a recipe for eventual disaster. Now it appears that this lesson still hasn't soaked into the consciousness of some top officials."

12 May 2003: Shuttle Panel Neutrality a Concern, Washington Post

"Gehman and NASA officials arranged to make the five civilians temporary appointees of NASA after the board decided to take advantage of a provision of the law that allows boards and commissions composed exclusively of federal employees to conduct their business in secret."

11 May 2003: Board paid to ensure secrecy, Orlando Sentinel

"Civilian members of the board investigating the shuttle Columbia disaster -- outsiders who were added to reassure Congress and the public that the board would be fully independent of the space agency -- are actually being paid executive-level salaries by NASA."

9 May 2003: Rep. Bart Gordon Wants Access To Investigation Board's Testimony

"The original mistake of having NASA appoint the Board that is investigating its activities should not be compounded by actions which would only feed perceptions that something is being hidden from Congress."

Editor's note: There is a little bit of hypocrisy circulating here. Members of Congress pounded on NASA and the CAIB to have an "independent" investigation - i.e. one that was free to conduct its efforts without outside influence. I certainly understand the criticism being levied for putting these panel members on the payroll of the very agency they are supposed to be investigating - apparently with the specific intent of circumventing some of the requirements of FACA. Nonetheless, the CAIB seems to have maintained their independence from the agency none the less - and this arrangement for reimbursement was done at the direction of its chairman, Hal Gehman, not NASA.

Now Congress (or at least some of its members, notably Rep. Bart Gordon) want to change the rules again such that they have insight into the investigation. That is, of course, a natural inclination on the part of Congress. However, looking at testimony minus only the name of individuals offers very little anonymity since it is rather easy to tell who the people are by virtue of where they place themselves in the overall system and what they talk about. Such protection is often offered for 'whistleblowers' so as to lessen the chance of retribution when they return to work at their home agency.

I suppose I could post a link to information as to which large aerospace corporations contributed money to the members of Congress making these complaints and then ask whether this makes the actions of both the companies and members of Congress suspect.

As the editor of NASA Watch, someone who has had to offer anonymity for many years to those who are critical of their agency, let me say that even under the most relaxed and cordial work environment, you simply cannot expect all people to speak openly and honestly about facts and events if they know that their name will be associated with their comments. That's a fact. It is human nature.

Congress allows witnesses to testify behind screens with their voice altered and also within closed sessions when they deem their anonymity to be required. One would think they'd extend the courtesy to other investigations of national importance if they want the truth to come out.

You can argue whether or not this anonymous mode of getting testimony up front should have been the case, but the fact remains that the CAIB told all of these witnesses - and the public - before the witnesses opened their mouths that their testimony and identity would be held in confidence. To change this after the fact is to invite everyone to question the honesty of their government, and a class action lawsuit.

There is a middle ground that all involved need to find. Not to do so invites lawsuits from one party or another risking the chance that everything everyone says will become public knowledge,. Perhaps if we did this out in the open in the first place, and accepted the fact that there would be some holding back, instead of cloistering everything, we would not find ourselves in this situation right now. Stay tuned.

9 May 2003: Lawmakers Seek Access to NASA Testimony, Washington Post

"Gehman said in Houston this week that the transcripts of closed-door interviews "are never going to see the light of day," and that his "offer [to Congress] does not include looking at privileged witness statements."

9 May 2003: NASA Request for Information (RFI) to Identify Interest in Studies/Analyses of Space Shuttle Columbia Debris

"A substantial amount of the Space Shuttle Columbia has been recovered. In establishing an enduring legacy for Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew, NASA seeks to enhance spacecraft design and flight safety by analysis of Shuttle debris through qualified and approved research."

6 May 2003: Columbia Accident Investigation Board Releases Working Scenario, CAIB

"After three months of intense investigation including thorough reviews of hardware forensic analysis, orbiter telemetry, Modular Auxiliary Data System (MADS) recorder measurements, general public still and video photography, hypersonic wind tunnel testing, and aerodynamic and thermal analysis, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, with the assistance of the NASA Accident Investigation Team (NAIT), has reached the following preliminary conclusions:"

6 May 2003: E-mails alerted NASA manager to possible shuttle damage, Orlando Sentinel

"The NASA official in charge of the team that oversaw Columbia in orbit was warned in e-mails 10 days before the shuttle disintegrated that foam debris from the fuel tank could cause serious damage, according to e-mails released Monday."

4 May 2003: What Would NASA Do If A Soyuz Landed In America?, SpaceRef

"The location of the Soyuz TMA spacecraft was unknown for a few hours - but an experienced recovery team soon found it. But what would happen if a Soyuz landed outside of the traditional recovery zone in Kazakhstan - such as on a large flat plain in America?"

Editor's note: This story contains links to the text of a number of previously unreleased NASA Soyuz contingency planning documents.

1 May 2003: NASA JSC/MOD Entry Options Tiger Team Presentation, NASA

"Best case combination of trajectory variables was not proven to be achievable."

1 May 2003: Statement of Sean O'Keefe before the Senate Subcommittee on VA-HUD-Independent Agencies

"The Columbia accident has reminded me that we cannot stop dreaming. We cannot stop pursuing our ambitious goals. We cannot disappoint future generations when we stand at the threshold of great advances. Mr. Chairman, I believe that NASA's FY 2004 budget request is well conceived and worthy of the favorable consideration by the Subcommittee."

1 May 2003: Senators say NASA's $15.5 billion budget request too low, Houston Chronicle

1 May 2003: Columbia Tragedy Raises Questions Over NASA Budget, Reuters

2 May 2003: NASA backed for more funding, Washington Times

2 May 2003: Columbia accident snarls NASA budget, Orlando Sentinel

"Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the subcommittee's chairman, said programs such as the orbital space plane -- a small, new spacecraft that should be ready by 2012 but has no total price tag yet -- are going to be tough to pay for on NASA's budget. O'Keefe pointed out that the agency's five-year plan calls for spending nearly $18 billion by fiscal 2008. But senators remained concerned."



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