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March 2003

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
March 31, 2003

31 March 2003: Gehman calls recorder data a ‘treasure trove’, Spaceflight Now

“Ongoing analysis of a “treasure trove” of data from a recorder recovered in the wreckage of the shuttle Columbia shows a deadly plume of super-heated air first began eating its way into the ship’s left wing just five minutes after the orbiter fell into the discernible atmosphere.”

30 March 2003: Data Recorder Provides Useful Data on Shuttle’s Last Moments, CAIB

“The Columbia Accident Investigation Board announced today that there is significant data on the Orbiter Experiment Support System (OEX).”

30 March 2003: Shuttles’ Future May Hinge on Key Evidence, Washington Post

“The future of NASA’s three remaining space shuttles may now hang in part on deciphering an artifact from the past, a 1970s vintage reel-to-reel magnetic tape.”

27 March 2003: Review of Columbia’s Data Recorder Will Begin This Weekend, CAIB

A preliminary review of Columbia’s data recorder, known as the Orbiter Experiments Supports System (OEX,) indicates that potential data may exist as late as 14:00:18 GMT on February 1, 2003.

30 March 2003: NASA’s chief aims to hook young minds on space, The Observer-Dispatch

“There won’t be a dramatic scene like (with the 1986 Challenger explosion) where a Dr. (Richard) Feynman drops an O-ring into a glass of cold water and it breaks,” O’Keefe said. That demonstration settled a debate among experts about whether cold would make O-rings brittle. “There’s not going to be a screaming ‘ah-ha’ moment,” he said.

30 March 2003: Space shuttle families’ grace inspires NASA, O’Keefe says, The Post-Standard

“The depth of tragedy was on the faces of all the families” of the shuttle astronauts, O’Keefe said, “and they were the first ones I talked to that morning.”

30 March 2003: Temperature rose in wing earlier than known, Spaceflight Now

“A data recorder recovered in the wreckage of the shuttle Columbia shows hot gas entered the leading edge of the spacecraft’s left wing within 16 seconds of the point when the orbiter entered the region of maximum aerodynamic heating during re-entry Feb. 1.”

29 March 2003: Space Agency Culture Comes Under Scrutiny, NY Times

“Reticence within NASA on safety issues may have been reinforced by broad administrative changes that centralized authority for missions in Washington, said George W. S. Abbey, former director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Last year, NASA transferred control of the shuttle and space station from the Johnson center director to the NASA deputy associate administrator for space flights in Washington.”

Editor’s note: Gee George, why is it that things were transferred from JSC to HQ last year?

“That changes the decision process, the way you approach things,” said Mr. Abbey, who was seen as an extraordinarily powerful director of the Johnson center but was dismissed two years ago because of cost overruns in the International Space Station program.

Editor’s note: Ah, now I remember.

28 March 2003: Letter from NASA Adminstrator Sean O’Keefe to NIMA Director Clapper

“As agreed during that session, we deeply appreciate your intention to make available the products of NIMA assets on a routine basis, without specific tasking from NASA. This will be very helpful as we continually asses the condition of the Shuttle during on-orbit operations. Significantly, your willingness to employ NIMA assets during targets of opportunity without specific tasking will be another useful source of information to help us assess the potential of on-orbit anomalies.”

29 March 2003: Spy Agency Agrees With NASA to Take Shuttle Photos, NY Times

28 March 2003: Military Spy Satellites to Take Photos of Shuttle on Missions, Newsday

29 March 2003: NASA to acquire shuttle images from agency using spy satellites, Houston Chronicle

28 March 2003: Satellites will snap shuttle pictures, Orlando Sentinel

28 March 2003: U.S. Satellites to Regularly Photograph NASA Shuttles, AP

28 March 2003: Helicopter searches for debris halted, MSNBC

“The helicopter crash dealt a blow to the search effort just as morale had been boosted by the find on March 19 of Columbia s flight data recorder, likely to play a crucial role in determining the cause of the disaster. On Thursday, sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News that the breadbox-sized recorder contains readings that continue 14 seconds later than any previously studied data.”

28 March 2003: NASA Expresses Concern and Condolences for Helicopter Crew

“NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe expressed condolences and concern for the crew of the helicopter searching for Space Shuttle Columbia debris, which crashed yesterday in Texas.”

27 March 2003: Two Killed, Three Injured In Helicopter Crash

“A helicopter crashed this evening near Hemphill, Texas while conducting Columbia debris recovery operations. The helicopter belonged to the U.S. Forest Service. According to initial reports, a Texas Forest Service ranger and the helicopter’s pilot were killed. Two NASA employees and a Forest Service ranger are being treated at a Lufkin hospital.”

27 March 2003: Helicopter Crashes in Shuttle Search, AP

27 March 2003: Data tape recorded Columbia’s last seconds, Houston Chronicle

27 March 2003: NASA: Shuttle tape could provide info, CNN

27 March 2003: Missing Pieces of Columbia’s Left Wing May Provide Clues, NY Times

27 March 2003: Tape could shed light on last seconds of Columbia, AP

26 March 2003: S.628 Columbia Orbiter Memorial Act

26 March 2003: House Science Committee Approves Construction of Memorial to Columbia at Arlington National Cemetary

“The House Science Committee today unanimously approved H.R. 1297, legislation authorizing the construction of a memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia at Arlington National Cemetery. There is already a memorial at Arlington to the seven-member crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, who died in 1986. The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee must also approve H.R. 1297 before it is considered on the House floor. The Senate approved the companion measure, S. 628, sponsored by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK), on March 18.”

26 March 2003: Safety Panel to NASA: Build a “Full Envelope” Shuttle Escape System, SpaceRef

“NASA needs to stop studying crew escape systems for the Space Shuttle and start building them. Moreover, such an escape system should allow the crew to safely depart the Shuttle during all phases of flight – so says the agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.”

27 March 2003: Rep. Hall: NASA Needs to Heed ASAP’s Call For A Shuttle Crew Escape System

“The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), chartered by Congress in 1967 to act as an independent body advising NASA on safety issues, released its annual report on Tuesday, March 25th. The report, which was finished before the Columbia accident, nevertheless focused on a number of Shuttle safety issues. In particular, the ASAP stated that “…the Panel reemphasizes the need for a crew escape system.”

26 March 2003: NASA Panel Urges Crew Escape System – Agency Is Accused of Neglecting Safety, Washington Post

“The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, a group established by the NASA administrator after the 1986 loss of the space shuttle Challenger…”

Editor’s note: Wrong Jeff: “The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel is a senior advisory committee that reports to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Congress. The Panel was established by Congress after the Apollo 204 Command and Service Module spacecraft fire in January 1967.” (source: ASAP website)

“… the destruction of the Columbia on Feb. 1 and the loss of the Challenger 16 years ago..”

Editor’s note: Let’s see: 2003 – 1986 = 17.

“But several panelists challenged O’Keefe at the session, held in a cramped conference room of NASA’s headquarters and attended by virtually all the agency’s top managers.”

Editor’s note: Let’s see: Sean O’Keefe, Bryan O’Connor (Code Q AA). Fred Gregory, Paul Pastorek (NASA General Counsel – Code G), Bill Readdy (Code M AA) and Glenn Mahone (Code P AA) were present. The rest of the seats were taken up by media or ASAP staffers. To say that “virtually all the agency’s top managers” were present you’d need a few more people in attendance. Alas, the Associate Administrators for Codes B, C, E, F, H, I, J, K, L, N, R, S, U, W, X, and Y were not present – nor were any of their Deputy Associate Administrators. Oh yes, then there are the Center Directors (who certainly qualify as “top managers”) from MSFC, ARC, DFRC, JSC, GSFC, SSC, JPL, KSC, LaRC, and GRC – none of whom were present either.

But yes Jeff, the room was a little cramped.

25 March 2003: NASA urged to create shuttle escape system, UPI

25 March 2003: NASA panel: Aging shuttles causing increasing problems, AP

25 March 2003: Safety expert wants fewer flights, Orlando Sentinel

25 March 2003: Safety panel presses NASA for shuttle escape system, Houston Chronicle

25 March 2003: Safety Panel Urges NASA to Examine Shuttle Escape, NY Times

25 March 2003: Columbia’s safety margins misread, expert tells panel, Houston Chronicle

“NASA displayed insufficient attention to safety precautions when it launched Columbia without ensuring it was able to withstand the impact of fuel tank insulation striking vulnerable sections of a wing, an expert told investigators on Tuesday.”

26 March 2003: Panel Examines Whether NASA Was Out of Touch With Safety Problems, NY Times

“Steven B. Wallace, a board member on loan from the Federal Aviation Administration, went even further, saying that if commercial airline flights operated with the same reliability as the shuttle, there would be more than 500 fatal crashes a day.”

25 March 2003: Expert: NASA myopia led to shuttle flaws, UPI

“NASA violated the space shuttle’s operating parameters by continuing to fly despite foam insulation falling off the fuel tank and striking the ship, a launch vehicle and space systems expert testifying before the Columbia accident investigation board said Tuesday.”

24 March 2003: Columbia Water Damage Probed, Aviation Week Reports, Aviation Week and Space Technology

“And in another military tie with the accident, AW&ST reports that an Air Force “Defense Support Program” (DSP) missile warning satellite, parked 22,000 mi. above the Pacific Ocean, first detected an abnormal thermal event on the exterior of the shuttle when the vehicle was still 700 mi. west of California just 26 sec. after the shuttle began to experience peak heating during reentry.”

24 March 2003: NASA Looks to Keep Shuttles Flying Until 2022, Reuters

25 March 2003: Largely undamaged tape raises NASA’s optimism, Houston Chronicle

25 March 2003: 3 other shuttles may be needed for years, official says, NY Times

24 March 2003: NASA hopes tape holds clues, Orlando Sentinel

“In the near term, the outward appearance of the shuttles is unlikely to change, Kostelnik said. But as time goes on — and NASA develops new vehicles to supplement or replace the shuttles — that could change. For example, he said, the crew-ferrying capability of the proposed orbital space plane, which is supposed to be ready to go back and forth into orbit by 2012, could allow the shuttle to fly with fewer astronauts. That could mean a crew-escape system might be revived, he said, because taking astronauts off the shuttle’s middeck opens up the possibility of using some kind of ejector seat.”

23 March 2003: Columbia Fallout May Hit Some NASA Centers, LA Times (registration required)

“Goldin, a proponent of making NASA projects “faster, better, cheaper,” launched what became known as a “strategic resources review.” But he retired in November 2001, before it was done. O’Keefe, his successor, was warned at his Senate confirmation hearing in December 2001 not to meddle with the centers. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), a guardian of the Stennis center, told O’Keefe that many lawmakers would object if he took steps toward shutting one down. Last year, O’Keefe quietly buried the resources review. On Friday, he said the review had yielded few noteworthy findings.”

23 March 2003: NASA managers missed chances to take closer look for tile damage, Orlando Sentinel

“New details from internal NASA reports and transcripts of key meetings obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, confidential interviews with several participants, copies of e-mails and documents released under the Freedom of Information Act portray a shuttle program too comfortable with past successes and its ability to measure risk. The mind-set extended to the upper levels of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the agency’s shuttle contractors.”

21 March 2003: NASA researched, dismissed foam as safety issue last year, Houston Chronicle

“On Friday, NASA released additional documents showing the senior shuttle managers were unconcerned about possible foam damage to Columbia’s wing. During five meetings while Columbia was in orbit, managers barely mentioned the issue and on Jan. 27 dismissed it as “not a safety-of-flight concern.”

21 March 2003: NASA Shift Could Rock Small Firms, Washington Post

“If NASA makes major changes in the nation’s manned space program after the loss of the shuttle Columbia, the companies watching nervously won’t just be giant enterprises such as Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp., which teamed up to form United Space Alliance, NASA’s prime contractor for the shuttle program.”

20 March 2003: NASA Columbia Accident Suport Activities Reorganized, NASA HQ

“NASA has reorganized its support of Shuttle accident related activities to better accommodate the investigation and align more closely with the structure adopted by the independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB).”

20 March 2003: NASA pushes fall shuttle launch, Huntsville Times

“A worst-case scenario would idle the shuttle fleet for more than two years, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said Wednesday at the meeting of the NASA Advisory Council. O’Keefe didn’t voice an opinion on the likely outcome, although NASA managers and advisory council members are pushing to return to flight sooner rather than later.”

21 March 2003: Worries Grow on Space Flight’s Future, Washington Post

“Since the Columbia disintegrated over Texas last month, NASA’s motto has been: Figure out the cause, fix it and get back to flight. Last week, however, agency officials acknowledged it likely could take 18 months to two years before the shuttle is flying again.”

Editor’s note: NO, Eric that is NOT what they said. I was there too. Another reporter in the audience asked if NASA was looking at possible longer delays than the near term one that they were planning for. This is what I posted the last time the Post printed this misinterpretation: It would seem that the Washington Post is once again running with a story that is at odds with what everyone else who attended the same press briefing is writing. Contrary to the Post’s assertion that “officials acknowledged yesterday that it likely could take 18 months to two years before the shuttle is flying again” the truth is that Readdy said that NASA was “looking out 18 months to 2 years”. Readdy did not say that this is what NASA expects to be the case. Quite the contrary: Readdy repeated the agency’s current plan as outlined in a 12 March letter (which was handed out at the briefing) wherein the agency is working towards a launch this Fall.

Perhaps this is the comment by Bill Readdy they did not understand (from transcript):

“QUESTIONER: Another thing I want to ask you about, primarily I am interested in the International Space Station. I am wondering if you are looking out. I know you are looking out 6 months and you are looking at 12 [inaudible] 18. How far out are you looking in terms of trying to prepare for operating without a Space Shuttle? Are you looking out 24 months? Are you looking out 30 months?

MR. READDY: You know, I think our view right now is much nearer term. We are certainly looking out 18 months to 2 years. Why? You know, if you look at the aftermath of Challenger, you might say that would be a length of time that would be appropriate.”

20 March 2003: NASA pushes fall shuttle launch, Huntsville Times

“A worst-case scenario would idle the shuttle fleet for more than two years, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe said Wednesday at the meeting of the NASA Advisory Council. O’Keefe didn’t voice an opinion on the likely outcome, although NASA managers and advisory council members are pushing to return to flight sooner rather than later.”

20 March 2003: NASA to extract data on Columbia tape, Washington Times

20 March 2003: Investigators Optimistic That Shuttle Recorder Holds Clues, NY Times

21 March 2003: NASA may have to wait a week to learn value of data recorder, Houston Chronicle

21 March 2003: Shuttle recorder examined carefully, MSNBC

20 March 2003: NASA: Experts Need Time to Analyze Shuttle ‘Black Box’, New York Post

19 March 2003: Board hearing shows work to piece together known data, Spaceflight Now

19 March 2003: Shuttle’s data recorder found intact, CNN

19 March 2003: Columbia Data Recorder Found, ABC

“NASA investigators today recovered the flight recorder of the space shuttle Columbia, giving them new hope that they may be able to determine what caused the ship’s breakup.”

19 March 2003: NASA to extend remaining shuttles’ lives, UPI

“NASA remains committed to flying the shuttles, provided the Columbia Accident Investigation Board does not return a finding that determines the craft are unsafe to resume operations, said Michael Kostelnik, deputy associate administrator for the space station and space shuttle programs. Kostelnik said he expects the board to come up with the probable cause of Columbia’s demise within 30 to 40 days.”

19 February 2003: In Congress, Support Grows For Unmanned Space Flight, Washington Post

“There’s a lot of PR and public pressure to continue the manned space program, unless the shuttle [investigative] commission comes up with some radical findings or recommendations,” said James Dyer, staff director of the House Appropriations Committee. “At times like this, people tend to rally around the flag.”

18 February 2003: Looking Ahead to NASA’s Next Visit to the South side of Capitol Hill.

Editor’s note: Word has it that in the coming weeks, the House Science Committee is going to be rather tough on NASA’s Code R wherein funding for the OSP resides. As such, look for the Committee to scrutinize Code R’s FY 2004 budget rather closely. One of the main questions the Committee will be asking is why NASA just doesn’t go ahead with a fully Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) – instead of pursuing both the OSP and the NGLV efforts as NASA says it plans to. They also want to know what the entire program is going to cost. Rumored estimates in the tens of billions of dollars have been heard.

Also, look for House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert to be rather tough (at least in terms of the line of inquiry followed) on Sean O’Keefe throughout this process. Meanwhile, persistent grumbling continues among House Democratic staffers with regard to a number of issues with NASA – including the charter of the CAIB and Rep. Boehlert’s usually cordial (and therefore suspect according to Democrats) relationship with NASA’s Administrator.

18 March 2003: Sen. Nelson denounces NASA, AP

“U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said arrogance and a lack of communication among NASA officials contributed to the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia six weeks ago. The former astronaut, who flew on Columbia in 1986, said Monday that the same problems befell the Challenger before it exploded in 1986.”

Editor’s note: Senator, flying on a Space Shuttle as a political passenger 17 years ago doesn’t make you a rocket scientist. Making such a simplistic linakge between these two accidents is clear evidence of lack of understanding about both events on your part.

17 March 2003: Senator asks if NASA could have changed re-entry of shuttle, AP

“Senator and former astronaut Bill Nelson says he wants to know if NASA could have changed the re-entry of space shuttle “Columbia.””

Editor’s note: Senator, haven’t you (or your staff) been listening these past 6 weeks? This question was asked (and answered) weeks ago.

18 March 2003: No Consensus on Cause of Shuttle Breakup, AP

“Preliminary consideration of various possibilities has not yet pointed to one likely cause for the breakup of the space shuttle Columbia, NASA engineers told the accident investigation board Tuesday.”

18 March 2003: Shuttle Accident Cause May Never Be Fully Known, Reuters

“I don’t think we’re ever going to be able to say absolutely 100 percent this is what it was, or zero percent this is what it was. We’re going to be looking at what’s the preponderance of evidence,” said James Hallock, an aviation safety expert and member of the independent Columbia Accident Investigation Board.”

18 March 2003:
Shuttle began to fall apart while over the Pacific Ocean, Orlando Sentinel

“At a public hearing Monday, NASA flight director Paul Hill said he was surprised the orbiter maintained control for as long as it did.”

17 March 2003: Shuttle Columbia’s ‘Smoking Gun’ Said West of Texas, Reuters

“The space shuttle Columbia shed debris all the way from California to Texas during its final minutes of flight before breaking up in a fatal accident last month, a NASA official said on Monday. Experts said that if a smoking gun, a definitive clue to why Columbia disintegrated upon reentry to Earth’s atmosphere, exists in the debris, it will likely come from the stream of parts that flew off before the shuttle reached Texas. To date, NASA has found nothing west of Texas.”

17 March 2003: CAIB Hearings [Session
] [Session

17 March 2003: Board to share short shuttle tape, Orlando Sentinel

16 March 2003: Shuttle probe follows a trail of data, MSNBC

“Part of the shuttle’s Global Positioning System receiver, the device has been sent to the vendor in Iowa in an attempt to read the last “state vector”- the precise position and time when the power was cut off by the cabin’s separation from the rest of the fuselage.”

16 March 2003: CAIB Releases Columbia Debris Images, CAIB

16 March 2003: STS-107 JSC MER Daily Reports, NASA JSC

14 March 2003: Columbia Timeline: Revision 15 3.7 mb PDF), CAIB

“March 13 revision of the series of timeline charts reconstructing the events prior to Columbia’s loss.”

14 March 2003: Offer to photograph shuttle damage was declined by NASA, Houston Chronicle

14 March 2003: Readdy says ‘no rationale’ for spy satellite inspection, Spaceflight Now

14 March 2003: House staffers visit NASA, Houston Chronicle

14 March 2003: Plans for Return to Space Flight, NASA HQ

As the Columbia accident investigation proceeds, NASA outlines activities necessary to return the Space Shuttle to flight. Associate Administrator for Space Flight provides internal planning letter and organization chart.

letter (PDF)
Org Chart

13 March 2003: NASA rejected spy photos plea for Columbia, UPI

13 March 2003: Shuttle Team Sought Satellite Assessment of Liftoff Damage, NY Times

“Two or three days after the space shuttle Columbia’s liftoff, a group of NASA engineers asked the shuttle program manager to request the aid of United States spy satellites in determining the extent of debris damage to the shuttle’s left wing, but the manager declined to do so, a senior NASA official said yesterday.”

13 March 2003: This photo is a fake

Editor’s note: I have gotten dozens of emails from all over the world – including NASA, asking me if these photos are real. They are not. The emails claim that the images were taken by some Israeli satellite. Doubtful. The lighting is wrong for objects in space, the Shuttle is too high over the Earth, it is at the wrong angle, and it is shown exploding in a way that has more in common with a toy model filled with lighter fluid than an actual spacecraft. Besides, Columbia broke up well into the atmosphere – in front of our eyes.

Please stop sending me these photos to me – and please stop circulating them to others. They are fake and waste people’s valuable time.

Update: I have now gotten 8 emails from NASA Watch readers identifying these photos as having come from the ever-popular (if somewhat goofy) movie “Armageddon”. Indeed, someone has already checked with NASA on this.

12 March 2003: Fake shuttle pictures fool few, Orlando Sentinel

13 March 2003: Long-ignored pinholes may have helped cause shuttle’s demise, Knight Ridder

“Experts have told NASA for years that simply covering the wings of a space shuttle while it sits on the launch pad could prevent a problem that investigators now think may have contributed to the destruction of the shuttle Columbia. But NASA ignored the recommendation, one of those experts told Knight Ridder on Wednesday, even though the idea had been endorsed by top materials researchers inside and outside the space agency.”

13 March 2003: A Joy That Defies His Absence – Alexandria Astronaut Mourned With Tales of Passion, Tears of Laughter, Washington Post

“There is a single word that Dave Brown’s friends used to describe him, a simple word, one that comes up again and again when they talk about what kind of person he was.


12 March 2003: Columbia Video Shows Better View Of Debris Impact; Cause Still ‘Elusive’ , Aerospace Daily

12 March 2003: NASA reasoning flawed, investigators told, The Citizen

12 March 2003: Did NASA Waive Safety?, Time

12 March 2003: Probe looks for weak spots on wing, Orlando Sentinel

12 March 2003: Shuttle Probe Turns to Steering Adjustment, Washington Post

12 March 2003: Investigators Focus on Shuttle’s Skeleton, NY Times

12 March 2003: Shuttle’s age may have played role, Houston Chronicle

11 March 2003: CAIB Briefing Transcript 11 March 2003, CAIB

11 March 2003: CAIB Hearing Transcript 6 March 2003, CAIB

11 March 2003: CAIB Press Conference Transcript 4 March 2003, CAIB

11 March 2003: CAIB Releases New Photos, CAIB

11 March 2003: Columbia Accident Investigation Board Releases Latest Version of Space Shuttle Timeline, CAIB (Excel format)

11 March 2003: NASA Engineer Says He Never Anticipated Loss of the Shuttle, Washington Post

“Until yesterday, Daugherty had declined to respond to media questions about the messages or explain why he worried in one e-mail that mission managers at the Johnson Space Center in Texas — where the Columbia’s flight was managed — might be “relegated to crossing their fingers and hoping for the best.”

11 March 2003: Opening Statement by Robert Daugherty, Senior Research Engineer, NASA LaRC

“I really do believe that the best thing I can do for the investigation is to talk to the investigation board first. On the other hand it is frustrating that my words are being misinterpeted. My quandry has now been relieved since the board has said they don’t mind if I speak up.”

Editor’s Note: NASA held a telecon yesterday for several dozen reporters during which Bob Daugherty and Mark Shuart from LaRC spoke about emails Daugherty sent prior to the Columbia accident. The reporter for the Washington Post was on the audio loop when Daugherty made this opening statement wherein Daugherty explains why he has not spoken publicly before this issue. Yet the Post makes no mention whatsoever of Daugherty’s statement – or his explanation. Meanwhile, the Post’s reporter apparently had a tape recording going because they make lengthy quotes from Daugherty’s responses during the telecon. The way the Post has phrased their article, the reader is left with a flawed representation about what the key person in this story (Daugherty) actually said. That is most unfortunate for anyone (perhaps people on Capitol Hill?) trying to understand what is going on with this investigation – and relying upon the Post as a news source.

Florida today pursued the same incomplete approach without making mention of what Daugherty said about not speaking out until now.

“Daugherty’s teleconference came just days after Administrator Sean O’Keefe sparred with reporters, who expressed skepticism about NASA’s contention that all of its engineers were in agreement with analysis that Columbia was not damaged badly enough to pose a safety risk. The reporters asked to talk with Daugherty, and others, whose e-mailed messages used a tone that expressed frustration that they were not being heard.”

Same goes for although they got a lot closer to what Daugherty said – except for why he hadn’t spoken until now:

“Daugherty said he feels his e-mails received the proper attention by the appropriate people, but he was surprised by how much attention they received since the accident and that he was frustrated that they were misinterpreted. He hoped the teleconference with reporters would help clear the air and put into context a number of his more oft quoted remarks.”

USA Today also missed this very important remark as did the Orlando Sentinel.

12 March 2003: Waiting for the Post’s Correction

Editor’s note: scanning through my print copy of the Post this morning I noticed no mention of this error in the paper’s regular “corrections” box. Perhaps we’ll see one tomorrow?

Meanwhile, other reporters were apparently paying attention to what Daugherty said:

11 March 2003: NASA engineer says e-mail was misleading, Daily Press

“After five weeks of silence, Daugherty spoke to reporters about his work with the Columbia mission. He said the Columbia Accident Investigation Board recently gave him permission to clear up what he called misconceptions about his e-mails, which seemed to express frustration with NASA officials.”

11 March 2003: Engineer who raised red flag defends NASA, CNN

“Daugherty sought permission from NASA’s independent investigation board to speak to reporters because he felt some of his e-mail comments had been misconstrued.”

11 March 2003: Engineers recount shuttle shock, MSNBC

“Daugherty and Shuart spoke with reporters in a conference call organized by NASA, with staff from the agency’s headquarters in Washington listening. The two previously had declined to talk about the e-mails, citing the investigation by the board looking into the accident. They said Monday the board indicated that speaking with reporters wouldn’t hamper the probe.”

10 March 2003: Sean O’Keefe Does Brunch With the Press, SpaceRef

“Both visibly tired, O’Keefe and Bill Readdy sat down with several dozen reporters for a 2 hour brunch on Friday, 28 February. Despite countless media opportunities since the Columbia accident, this was the first time O’Keefe had the time to elaborate on his thoughts with reporters without deferring to the necessity of sound bites.”

10 March 2003: Shuttle Overhaul May Follow NASA Review, Washington Post

10 March 2003: Russia Says Funding Needed For Station Flights, Washington Post

10 March 2003: Crew may have tried to regain control of Columbia, USA Today

“If the shuttle was pitching violently in those last seconds, Husband or pilot Willie McCool may have fallen against his control stick. But they also might’ve been trying to get the shuttle under control. “If the crew noticed the attitude (the shuttle’s position) was going funny, they would’ve grabbed it,” Meade says. “Either scenario is possible.”

10 March 2003: Did crew grab controls?, Orlando Sentinel

“A NASA timeline offers a conflicting glimpse inside shuttle Columbia’s cockpit, where some data indicate the astronauts may have tried to take the ship off autopilot and fly manually in the final seconds of the doomed flight.”

9 March 2003: Telemetry shows autopilot on through last transmission, Spaceflight Now

“Ongoing analysis of the final two seconds of telemetry from the shuttle Columbia during re-entry Feb. 1 shows the doomed ship’s fuselage, crew module, right wing and right-side rocket pod were essentially intact 32 seconds after the commander’s final transmission and that the orbiter’s digital autopilot was still flying the spacecraft.”

9 March 2003: New Analysis Sees Shuttle Breakup Beginning Earlier, NY Times

“The analysis is in a document called Rev. 14, the 14th revision of the timeline, completed late last week but not made public. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, led by Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., is planning to release a subsequent version, Rev. 15, which is supposed to be completed on Monday. As the names imply, neither is considered final.”

9 March 2003: Exploration Heritage To Grace Florida Quarter, WKMG

“With over 400,00 votes tallied, Florida will be represented on the U.S. Mint’s commemorative quarter by the “Gateway to Discovery” design featuring a 16th century Spanish galleon and the 20th century space shuttle.”

8 March 2003: Astronaut Anderson remembered as ‘Christian, father, friend’, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

8 March 2003: An Elegy in Air Force Blues – With Martial Precision and Polished Poise, Astronaut Is Laid to Rest, Washington Post

“The 43-year-old payload specialist is posthumously awarded three medals for his distinguished service to his country, and top NASA and Air Force brass kneel tenderly on the sodden ground to comfort his bewildered children. He is eulogized by his best friend, who wears Air Force blues and speaks of Anderson’s deep faith. Chaplain Richard Hum, a colonel himself, notes that Anderson had asked his church congregation back home in Houston to pray that his space mission be used “for the glory of God.”

8 March 2003: Panel probing shuttle severing link to NASA, Knight Ridder

“While not looking for individuals to blame, board members say their early work indicates that the agency’s management will be a target, yet O’Keefe wrote the board to say he is worried that the panel may be “prejudging the facts.” “If we’re upsetting people, then we must be doing something right,” board member James Hallock said in an interview Thursday. The board is purposely distancing itself from NASA, board member Scott Hubbard said.”

9 March 2003: Idea of tile repairs in space faded after 1st shuttle flight, Orlando Sentinel

“In January 1980, Martin Marietta was awarded a $2.1 million contract to build the repair kit. Though there were testing problems, an internal NASA committee had concluded that the kit was necessary. Then, abruptly, 10 months before the first shuttle launch, NASA officials decided a kit would not be on board. Martin Marietta was ordered to stop development of the kit, said a Lockheed Martin official familiar with the company’s involvement with the process who spoke on condition of anonymity.”

9 March 2003: Problems with NASA’s management ways, Houston Chronicle

“Interestingly, while Columbia was still in orbit several NASA engineers exchanged e-mails postulating that such a catastrophic event could occur. But little was done to pass the engineers’ concerns up the line. It appears that the possibilities as outlined in engineers’ e-mails were too quickly dismissed by some NASA officials and didn’t get disseminated to others, who might have acted in some way to recognize the potential for disaster.”

8 March 2003: Panel probes why flights made after Atlantis hit, Houston Chronicle

8 March 2003: Analysis by NASA of risks is faulted, Knight Ridder

8 March 2003: NASA is weighing changes to shuttle, Orlando Sentinel

8 March 2003: NASA works to eliminate failure scenarios, Spaceflight Now

8 March 2003: Arlington burial honors Anderson of Columbia crew, Orlando Sentinel

8 March 2003: Investigators will drop a key shuttle manager, Orlando Sentinel

“Linda Ham, a top-level space shuttle program manager and the leader of NASA’s Mishap Response Team, on Monday will be replaced in her role in the Columbia investigation, agency sources said Friday.”

Editor’s note: NASA sources tell us that there are currently no plans to reassign Ron Dittemore.

7 March 2003: Photo of Columbia Yields New Clues , Washington Post

“A fuzzy Air Force photo of the space shuttle Columbia in its final moments is revealing more to investigators than they first realized, including what may be a vortex of superheated air roiling over the left wing and a section of heat-shield panels missing from the leading edge.”

7 March 2003: Investigators Look at NASA Communications, AP

“Board spokeswoman Laura Brown said the fourth team will “look into NASA culture and some of the issues” raised during Thursday’s public hearing in Houston by former NASA official Henry McDonald.
Brown said the new team will include Nobel Prize-winning physicist Douglas Osheroff of Stanford University and the director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute, John Logsdon.”

8 March 2003: Critics assail NASA’s risk assessment, Houston Chronicle

“Although Stamatelatos said the space agency has completed a PRA for the space station, NASA still does not require contractors, such as Boeing, to include a PRA for a space station component when it is delivered. Boeing and other aerospace contractors routinely do this for commercial airplanes.”

6 March 2003: Bureaucracy Marches On

“Having left the agency, I had to file a FOIA request for my own memos.” – Former ARC Center Director Harry McDonald testifying before the CAIB this afternoon.

6 March 2003: Statement of Henry McDonald on appearing before the CAIB

“I would like to conclude by recalling two statements from our report, one being “The Shuttle program is one of the most complex engineering activities undertaken anywhere in the world at the present time” and the other being “The SIAT was continually impressed with the skill, dedication, commitment and concern for astronaut safety of the entire Shuttle workforce”. I see no reason to qualify either of these remarks today.”

6 March 2003: NASA Records in Disarray, Study Leader Tells Board, NY Times

“When someone like Dittemore goes and tries to make an assessment of what his risk is, the instant access to all of that past history would have been valuable, incredibly valuable, I think.” But the NASA records are not in a form that can be searched by modern tools like Web browsers, he said, because they are too old. He said the records began as simple tracking systems to see if problems were addressed and were not designed to search for trends.”

6 March 2003: Witness Chides NASA in Assessing Risk, Washington Post

“McDonald, testifying during the first public hearing of the investigating board, said NASA has again fallen prey to “systemic” flaws in reasoning — such as the creeping acceptance of poorly understood risks in operating the space shuttle — that may require major changes in the agency’s culture and technology to correct.”

7 March 2003: Ex-NASA official blames how agency rates risks, AP

“McDonald said he was disappointed the space agency did not adopt more of his team’s recommendations. He noted that the same type of communication breakdown he warned about seems to have hindered engineers who evaluated damage to Columbia’s left wing by launch debris and concluded the shuttle and its astronauts were safe.”

6 March 2003: NASA Seeks Truth in Shuttle Inquiry, OpEd, by Sean O’Keefe, NY Times

“But clearly, something on this mission went tragically wrong. And we’re committed to receiving and acting on the board’s recommendations so that our country’s space research and exploration activities can move forward.”

4 March 2003: Shuttle Myopia, OpEd, NY Times

“How high up the NASA management structure these debates over a possible catastrophe percolated has not yet been revealed. Sean O’Keefe, the agency’s administrator, said that he had been unaware of the technical disagreements while they were occurring, but he questioned whether top managers should be routinely involved in technical issues that lie beyond their technical competence. That seems a misguided segmentation of responsibilities in an agency where a technical failure can bring operations to a halt and threaten the very survival of manned space programs.”

5 March 2003: NASA Runs the Press Gauntlet: Mission Operations and Email, SpaceRef

“Associate Administrator for Space Flight Bill Readdy sat down for an hour or so with a dozen reporters earlier this week. The intent was to provide background on how launch, on-orbit, and landing decisions were considered and implemented during a Space Shuttle mission. Half way through the session NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe popped in. Soon, with the prodding of reporters, what had been a routine briefing with lots of detail and minimal sound bites became a bit of a low grade confrontation between O’Keefe and some of the assembled NASA press corps – and the original purpose of the briefing was all but forgotten. Indeed, no one, except me seems to have bothered to try and report the full breadth of what was said.”

5 March 2003: Rush Limbaugh Will Fall for Anything (surprise surprise)

Editor’s note: check out this page on Rush’s website (sent to me by a NASA Watch reader). What you see is an image of Europe and Africa which Rush claims “was taken from the shuttle Columbia on its last mission and relayed by satellite, which is why we have it.” WRONG. Altitude, lack of cloud cover, and mid-oceanic ridge visibility issues aside, this is clearly a computer-generated image. Have a look at the wonderful Earth and Moon Viewer website in Switzerand. Specifically this page. In a few hours the simulation will match Rush’s “photograph” precisely. Check your sources a little better next time Rush.

5 March 2003: Panel Leader Wants to Add Three to Inquiry Into Columbia, NY Times

5 March 2003: Columbia Accident Investigation Board Chairman Names New Members, CAIB

“Columbia Accident Investigation Board Chairman Adm. Hal Gehman has asked National Aeronautics and Space Administration Administrator Sean O’Keefe to appoint three new members to the CAIB. Those members are: Nobel Prize laureate in Physics Dr. Douglas Osheroff; former NASA astronaut and physicist Dr. Sally Ride; and George Washington University Space Policy Institute Director Dr. John Logsdon.”

5 March 2003: Columbia Accident Investigation Board News Conference (transcript), CAIB

“The board remains completely determined and energized of finding the answer to this problem. We are still working seven days a week. Our energy and our seriousness have not flagged. We still have confidence that we’re going to find the cause–the direct cause and determine the contributing causes. We are dedicated to that end, and we have no slacking off. We’re not getting discouraged just because we haven’t found it so far.”

5 March 2003: Columbia Accident Investigation Board Public Hearing

“The speakers include: Jefferson D. Howell, Jr., Director, Johnson Space Center; Ron Dittemore, NASA Shuttle Program Manager; Keith Chong, Boeing Company Senior Engineer/Scientist, Expendable Launch Systems; and Dr. Harry McDonald, professor of computational engineering at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga.”

4 March 2003: CAIB Press Briefing, NASA KSC (RealVideo)

4 March 2003: Molten Aluminum Found on Columbia Tiles, AP

“Molten aluminum was found on Columbia’s thermal tiles and inside the leading edge of the left wing, bolstering the theory that the shuttle was destroyed by hot gases that penetrated a damaged spot on the wing, the accident investigation board said Tuesday.”

5 March 2003: NASA chief defends handling of e-mails, Washington Times

4 March 2003: NASA holds fast on e-mail procedure, Houston Chronicle

4 March 2003: It’s too early to start pointing fingers, NASA says, Orlando Sentinel

4 March 2003: NASA Chief: Internal Review Premature, CBS

NASA will not formally reconsider whether internal concerns about Columbia’s safety should have been sent to senior mission controllers until after it learns the conclusions of the board investigating the shuttle disaster, the space agency’s administrator said Tuesday.

4 March 2003: NASA: No Changes Ahead of Probe Findings, AP

“We’re not sure what it is that caused this,” O’Keefe said, citing the investigation by the board. “When they have decided that, that’s when that question gets an answer, with clarity rather than someone’s opinion.”

4 March 2003: JSC Media Roundtable Transcript: email exchanges

“JSC flight engineers Bob Doremus and Jeff Kling discussed e-mails they exchanged with colleagues during Columbia’s mission. Roundtable held at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas on Feb. 26.”

3 March 2003: Several scientists recommended for board, Houston Chronicle

“Scientists and others taking shots at the Columbia Accident Investigation Board for its gap in technical expertise aren’t without constructive suggestions for additions to the panel.”

Editor’s note: among the names listed: “Robert Park, University of Maryland physicist.” To put someone on this panel such as Bob Park, someone with such an avowed, long standing anti-human spaceflight bias would be a disservice not only to the crew of Columbia, but to America’s space program as a whole. Bob Park has ZERO technical expertise when it comes to human spaceflight.

13 February 2003: O’Keefe says humans needed in space, Houston Chronicle

“Park said there is nothing that has been done on the shuttle or space station that has had “any significant impact on science.” “You could justify humans in space for other reasons, like good public relations, but not for scientific reasons,” he said.”

5 February 2003: Is human space travel worth the risk? , Seattle Times

“Robert Park, director of the American Physical Society’s office of public information and a frequent NASA critic, said space-station research “is not very important. As a measure of this, virtually none of that research has ever been published in science journals.”

2 March 2003: STS-107: U.S. Air Force Optical Supercomputing Site (AMOS) Imagery, NASA JSC

2 March 2003: A Ming Emperor Would Have Grounded the Shuttle. Bad Idea,, Washington Post

“One can hear echoes of such voices today from Americans who call on the United States to abandon space and redirect the funds to worthy projects closer to home. And, from one perspective, that is reasonable. But it should not be allowed to happen. Our space program is as symbolic as it is practical. Abandoning it would have every bit as profound an effect on the American psyche as the cancellation of the treasure fleet did on the Ming Dynasty. For the continuing manned exploration of space grows out of an aspect of our history that has been a fundamental part of our national mythology since the beginning: the exploration of frontiers. That undertaking has never been free of risks.”

2 March 2003: A service for one who dared to ‘soar through outer space’, Baltimore Sun

“The academy’s mastery of tradition and ceremony was on crisp display during the 90-minute remembrance inside and outside the century-old chapel, built above the tomb of naval hero John Paul Jones. A Navy harpist played. Mourners sang the 19th-century Navy Hymn (“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”) with a verse added in 1961 to recognize the hazards of spaceflight: “Oh, hear us when we seek thy grace/ For those who soar through outer space.”

1 March 2003: NASA will reluctantly reassign key Shuttle management

Editor’s note: The wording of Sean O’Keefe’s 28 Feb 2003 letter has lead to some conflicting interpretations in the media. Despite reports to the contrary, NASA Watch has learned that several Shuttle program managers will indeed be reassigned by NASA, per the CAIB’s request – albeit rather reluctantly. Senior NASA management is quite adamant that they do not want anyone singled out before the CAIB’s final report is even written – hence their reluctance to remove people from their positions.

On the other hand, NASA is also concerned about having certain individuals confronted with potential conflicts that might arise while attempting to both carry out their operational responsibilities as well as honor the requests made by the ongoing accident investigation wherein their previous actions might come under scrutiny. As such, (per O’Keefe’s letter) NASA will restructure its support efforts for the CAIB and use non-Shuttle personnel to assist their investigation.

25 February 2003: Letter from Adm. Gehman to Sean O’Keefe Regarding CAIB Request for Personnel Reassignments, CAIB

“Now that the initial recovery and response actions are behind us and operations are more predictable and mangeable, the Board requests that you reassign the top level Space Shuttle Program management personnel who were invlved in the preparat

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.