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Full Transcript: NASA Update on the Space Shuttle Columbia Sean O'Keefe and Scott Hubbard August 26, 2003 (part 4)

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

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MR. O'KEEFE: Let's go to Dryden.

QUESTION: My question has there parts to it. Number one is Admiral Gehman's committee and all the various panels of experts that they had, this kind of impartiality and the ability to stand back and look at critical issues within NASA concerning the Space Shuttle, is that impartiality, maybe that panel is going to be maintained over time or is another panel going to be created to take their place, or are they just going to stay with it?

The second part is all of the recommendations and all the suggestions that Admiral Gehman's committee came up with, are they going to be implemented in their entirety by NASA or is NASA going to pick and choose what they want to take from that recommendations?

And if they are going to be accepted in their entirety by NASA, are the results of NASA's efforts to comply with that, are they going to be made public over time after each and every issue is addressed and resolved?

The third part is it sure was nice to hear the comments of Gene Kranz. I wonder if we're going to hear more from him over time.

MR. O'KEEFE: Well, thank you for that. I've had to take notes here to make sure I get every part of your question and I appreciate the thought to this. You're emulating some of the journalists I have an opportunity to interact with from time to time and that's a very fine characteristic.

The Board's future. Admiral Gehman early on in this process observed in public testimony on several occasions that their approach would be again to reach findings and recommendations and that findings be statements of fact and that the recommendations would be to describe the corrective actions that must be taken but not to prescribe in a dispositive way, in a very specific way, here's what the corrective action must look like.

It's his view that he expressed in public testimony in press conferences and everything else over the course of several months was that the Board's responsibility was to look at what led to the accident, find the problem, the first of that commitment that I talked about, and to therefore lay out what the blueprint or the road map would be in order to correct those problems, but that it would be NASA's responsibility as management and as all of us as part of this family, to make the choices about the options that we think are best in order to comply with those recommendations because we have to implement it and we have to live with it and be responsible and accountable for the results of it.

And his view was, and he expressed it again repetitively in several public foram, was that having a group describing in great detail exactly what the organizational or mechanical or hardware change or technical fix would be and then leaving or not being responsible for its implementation would be the worst of all worlds.

So he has been very specific about saying their objectives would be to reach those statements of fact and determination of fact and findings and describe what needs to be done, what needs to be corrected, and make it very much our responsibility at NASA to make the choices a best effort at determining exactly what those options should be, what the best options are in order to fully comply with those recommendations.

So their view is that as of today, with the exception of Admiral Gehman and some staff, the rest of the Board is going to go back to their regular lives. They've been at this since February 1 nearly 24/7. I mean this is an amazing effort, a very exhaustive investigative activity that they've engaged in and they've been focussed exclusively on those two points--finding the facts, coming up with a recommendation on what needs to be corrected, so therefore not looking at longer-term implementation plans. They've directed that that is our responsibility and we must be accountable for that activity.

So from this day forward it is our task to carry forth. He will stay--Admiral Gehman will, the chairman--for some weeks ahead in order to appear before members of Congress. Lots of committees would like to spend time with him and me and others throughout this agency and from around the community, so he will be the principal witness for the Board in the weeks and months ahead as the Congress goes through its particular review. Then at the conclusion of that activity he intends to go back to peaceful, blissful retirement, which is where he was interrupted from when I called him on the afternoon of Saturday, February 1 and said, "You're going to work 24/7 from this day forward until you finish the report" and he gratefully accepted that challenge and thank God he did because he really did a remarkable job with his 12 colleagues I think in working through this.

To the second part of your question, do we intend to comply with the recommendations? You bet. Without reservation. The time for debate about this has been done. We've had seven months. There's been lots of hearings. This has been a very open, extremely, very extensive investigative process. And public testimony has been taken from lots of folks within our agency, lots of folks external to the agency, anybody with an opinion. I mean it's been a very, very thorough endeavor. And every one of those 20 odd hearings were the better part of four hours long.

So we've had plenty of opportunity in public debate to engage in that discussion. We've had lots of opportunity working with the Board every single day in providing the analysis to support the investigative activity, to offer our view, our judgment, our opinion, whatever. It has been had. We've gone through it and I've talked about this at every center in the several weeks and months that have preceded this point of saying we have really engaged in a very fulsome debate about this.

The opportunity now to debate these points is now closed. The issue of how we go about picking the options to comply with these recommendations, each one of them, is going to be our charge from this point forward and that's a position I think we really must take with great conviction, accepting the findings and complying with the recommendations. And again knowing that we have the responsibility to select options that will comply with those recommendations that will be fully compliant in that effort and that means we really have to choose wisely. We have to be very careful in selecting that.

So in that regard as part of your first question, too, what will take over from here are folks who have not become wed to a particular solution. Again Admiral Gehman offered the view that one of the other reasons why the recommendations are not dispositive or directive in terms of how we actually go about compliance is that every member of the Board, with all deference to our friend Scott and all of his colleagues, all have a favorite way they'd like to have seen it implemented, for which there was no consensus or couldn't be a consensus on precisely what the approach should really be.

So they would have spent a lot more time actually converging on 13 different consensus positions among 13 people on exactly what the right approach would be. So instead, that's our responsibility, is we have to implement it. We have to own it. We will be accountable for what we choose to do, all of us in this agency, in making that choice.

So in order to make sure that we are thorough in our treatment of all of the options for every one of the recommendations, we've asked Tom Stafford, certainly a veteran astronaut of the Gemini and Apollo era and has been a continuing source of guidance and statesmanship to us for many, many years. He and Dick Covey, who was the pilot on the return to flight after Challenger in September of 1988, the two of them will co-chair a task group of 27 different members of external players outside this agency who are academics, engineers, technical folks, management experts, all manner of different experiences that each of these 27 people bring to this, to help us make sure we choose wisely what each of those options should be to comply with those recommendations.

So the Stafford-Covey team is now going to take over as the external reviewing authorities with no sense of ownership or proprietorship or any fondness for any individual option, as the Board may have or as we may have, in dealing with these recommendations. They're going to come to this with a completely objective view.

They've already met once. They got together in early August. They'll meet again next month and we'll be meeting with them regularly as we go through every one of these findings and recommendations and a number of things that we within NASA have come up with as requiring of full implementation prior to our efforts to return to flight or that we'll alter down the road or better improvements to the management, as well as conduct of operations for every NASA program from this point forward.

So the Stafford-Covey team and the task group that they will be co-chairing will be looking over our shoulder and helping us arrive at the right kind of solutions of which are the best options, which are the best approaches to comply with those recommendations fully and I fully expect they're going to be a very opinion-driven bunch because they all come from different backgrounds, much as the Accident Investigation Board did.

And they were selected specifically because of their expertise in each of those individual disciplines and we certainly could add additional members if there are other dimensions of things we come to find we need more expertise to deal with.

So in that regard, you bet. I think the professionalism, on your third question, and the dedication to service, as well as what I found most impressive about Gene Kranz's tenure and his career is a very strong sense of community, a very strong sense of family, of how we have a direct responsibility for everything it is we do within this agency and we take it personally as our charge to be responsible and accountable for those activities. He really recognized that and really recognized the activities of teamwork in the dimension or the particular activities that he spent his career dealing with. It's a model to emulate in other areas that we sort our way through. There's no question he is one of the heroes of the NASA culture and history that we all ought to be justifiably proud of and those are the parts we ought to emulate most.

Sorry for the long answer but it was a very thoughtful three-part question.

To the Langley Research Center.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Mr. O'Keefe, Scott. This is Mark Saunders.

MR. HUBBARD: Hi, Mark.

QUESTION: You mentioned the NASA Engineering and Safety Center and I mean presuming that this is our response to the Board's recommendations on the independent technical engineering authority. Do you see any additional systemic organizational changes that the agency needs to make to help us take advantages of the recommendations for all of us to do a better job and work better together?

MR. O'KEEFE: That's possible. Certainly again there's a very strong view, I think, among the Safety and Mission Assurance folks, from Brian O'Connor very specifically, I think, that we cannot do anything that's going to ever relieve any program management team or any of us, any of us, of the responsibility for safety in the way we consistently conduct our activities.

So any idea of trying to sever these functions would inadvertently establish some form of absolution on the part of all the rest of us except for those who are charged with safety activities. We want to avoid that.

So in our efforts to put together the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, we have to be absolutely diligent, very committed to assuring that we not disrupt that responsibility, that all of us must feel deep in our souls as a responsibility for safety in the way we conduct business and that we do it professionally but, at the same time, that we have an organization that has the capability to look at things objectively, removed from a little bit of a distance, and look at, over time, the kind of trend analysis efforts that are necessary to do the testing that's necessary, the kinds of things that are not driven by day-in and day-out operational imperatives in any program that NASA manages and is responsible for.

So in working through that, there may be additional changes in that regard or more that is an outgrowth of that to bolster the engineering or bolster the safety capabilities within our organization and within each of the programs that may emerge from this.

So the one point I think to your question, Mark, is to focus very specifically on let's get the NASA Engineering and Safety Center under way and within the next 30 days or so that's our intent, is to have that door open and in business, to start the process of all the things that are included in the Engineering and Safety Center's charter, and then let's build on that experience to figure out what other expertise or what other capabilities we need to bolster throughout all of our programs and activities across the agency.

And to the Goddard Space Flight Center.

QUESTION: Sir, with respect to our organizational causes--we have a horrible echo here--this is an R&D outfit. I have been doing a lot of work in math and computer science that I feel is directly relevant. How can I suggest things to address Chapter 7 issues to you or to staff? In general, how are you going to handle out-of-the-blue suggestions from the employees?

MR. O'KEEFE: That's a great point. There are a number of different ways that you go about enjoining on this question and let me just enumerate there or four that come to my mind right now. There are going to be lots more and we'll see if we can get something out here that will very specifically detail the avenues and directions because we want to hear from anybody and everybody as we work our way through this, so we make sure we do it right and that we all have a sense of ownership of those results. I think that's imperative that we do so.

This is not about space flights, not about the Shuttle program. It's about NASA overall. So I'm delighted that you've got the interest in participating in that regard in wanting it to go forward. So let me just enumerate three or four ways.

The first one is the Return-to-Flight Task Group is now being chaired, and has been since March, as we've begun this process developing the implementation plan, by the Associate Administrator for Space Flight, Bill Readdy, and by Michael Greenfield, who is the Associate Deputy Administrator for technical programs.

And the two of them are looking at the overall conduct and coordination of all of the different teams that are involved in this. Colonel Jim Halsell is the primary program responsibility, if you will, of the Return-to-Flight Team down at Johnson, but all of those activities between the Readdy-Greenfield effort is to coordinate these kinds of activities to be sure that this all gets infused in as well.

So those are at least two avenues there through the Readdy-Greenfield Team, through Office of Space Flight or through the Associate Deputy Administrator for Technical Programs Activities, any ideas that may be attained there, certainly through those two avenues, as well as through Jim Halsell's approach. There are specific aspects that pertain specifically to the activities of return to flight. That's where you stop there as well.

The third approach would be at the Goddard Space Flight Center. Al Diaz has his door open all the time, from what I remember, as the Center Director there. He's anxious to hear what's involved. We're all anxious to hear of what's necessary in order to move forward, and he is extremely receptive and very interested in any ideas that come from anybody in order to move forward with that approach.

Again, the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, as that stands up in the next 30 days, will be a great repository for that, and our intent is to--this is a fourth avenue that I can think of, off the top of my head--is to put the overall monitoring of the NASA Safety Reporting System, the NSRS effort, throughout the NASA Engineering and Safety Center. And that gives another avenue for the purpose of defining good ideas, good approaches, good ways to do business that are really focused on how we can do business better in this particular regard.

So choose your avenue, which one you want, and we'll also try to get more information out through each of the Center Directors on how everybody can participate in this. We'll try to see if we can solicit as wide a participation as possible, and certainly we want to hear everybody's approaches, suggestions, and participation in what is really an agencywide function and set of challenges that we need to conquer. And given the history of this remarkable agency, I have no doubt that we'll do it with great skill and great consistency, as we work our way through this, but we must commit ourselves to that task.

So I'm delighted to hear you're interested in that approach.

Tony is waving at me saying that I've got to at least pass on to you, as well, that there are two other avenues for gaining information on the accident investigation report.

The first one is through the Accident Investigation Board itself. There is www.caib.us is the website for the Accident Investigation Board and lots of different information there, as well as now, as of this morning, we have posted the final report on the NASA website. So www.nasa.gov is where we can access the report as well.

So a combination of both of those should give everybody access to everything that's out there, as well as, over time now, in the next few weeks, as the additional volumes of backup and appendices, and so forth that complete this effort, this is the report itself, and then all of the backup material that goes with it will be published as well. All of that will go up on the websites as well in time.

So what we've seen right now is the findings, and recommendations and the specific results of this very definitive work over the course of the last seven months.

Let me just conclude, I guess, with my thanks and appreciation to Scott Hubbard for your tremendous public service on this Board. He was among that 13 folks who didn't see any prospect that his life was going to be disrupted as it was on February 1st and for every single day thereafter. I think he's looking forward to the challenge of getting back and leading the Ames Research Center, and we're really very pleased. So, as of today, he has got that charge, and he's on his way to reassuming that important responsibility that he has done so exceptionally well, and we know that he'll pick up from this.

But I think the contributions that Scott has made, as well as will continue to make as part of this, will be an even stronger set because of this great experience. And it's one that I know we can count on him for that remarkable insight, as well as assistance in working through these challenges.

To all of us, though, I think we all have a responsibility, and I think the very clear message that I heard from Scott's commentary, as well as from what I've seen in the report and my discussions with Admiral Gehman this morning as he delivered the report, is that the importance of exploration and the task and the quest we dedicate ourselves to professionally, every single day, have been reaffirmed by this Board.

Indeed, Admiral Gehman's view that he had mentioned in the press conference was that if they spent the time writing about all of the good things that they see about what's so remarkable about this agency, it would have been a huge report. Instead, their charter that I asked them to do when I commissioned them on that morning, that morning, within two hours of this activity, and they had their first meeting by 5 o'clock that day on the 1st of February, was to look at what caused this accident. That was their focus.

And so as a consequence, they really honed in on that question, instead of dwelling on all of the other things that involve the activities around the Agency, although, again, he offered us how there are lots of extraordinary things that they have found, that they were privileged to be part of and to see and witness in terms of our extraordinary professionalism and the things that we are engaged in and that we should, and the American public, in his statement, should be very proud of what it is we do.

Well, they endorsed that exploration objective and that quest for what we have been founded to do, and we continue our charter in pursuing those particular objectives.

And the second thing they found very clearly is there isn't any reason why we should not continue to pursue those objectives, using this capability and other capabilities to achieve those exploration objectives in the time ahead.

So those issues, having really been resolved as a matter of this, our responsibility, again, that I find absolutely the most compelling of all, is to those seven families we owe them our best effort to assure that we fix those problems--the second part of the commitment--and that we return to the exploration objectives that their loved ones dedicated their lives to.

That's something we want to take very seriously, we ought to take to heart, and we need to believe it as we work through all of these findings and recommendations to assure we do our very best at it.

And as I started my commentary, if history is any guide, this too will be a seminal moment in our history and one that, when we look back on, we should be very proud of our professional response to it, and I have no doubt that will be true.

I thank you all for the time, and I thank you, Scott, for joining me today. I appreciate it very much.

[Applause.]

[Whereupon, at 3:37 p.m., the proceedings were adjourned.]

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