Press Release

NASA Updates Columbia Accident Investigation

By SpaceRef Editor
February 6, 2003
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NASA Updates Columbia Accident Investigation
columbia update

The independent board charged with determining what
caused the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and the
loss of seven astronauts, began work today at the Johnson
Space Center, Houston. Recovery teams continued to search for

Under the leadership of retired Navy admiral Harold Gehman,
Jr., the Columbia Accident Investigation Board received a
briefing from Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore. The board
began the process of gathering material collected so far since
Columbia’s breakup during reentry just 16 minutes before
landing on Feb 1.

NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe reaffirmed the Board will act
as a “totally independent entity in assessing all of the
factors” associated with Columbia’s loss. Administrator
O’Keefe added, “We will be guided by the findings of the

As search teams looked for debris throughout the west, the
southwest and the Gulf Coast, Administrator O’Keefe said he
met with the International Space Station Partners today
following the memorial ceremony for Columbia’s astronauts at
Washington’s National Cathedral. He said the Partners
expressed their support for the recovery effort and NASA’s vow
to find the cause for the accident for the resumption of safe
flight operations.

O’Keefe indicated Admiral Gehman may consider adding another
member or members to the Independent Board that have no
affiliation or ties to NASA in further strengthening its
charter. The Charter is available on line at:

O’Keefe will appear before a joint hearing of the Senate and
House Science Committees, Wednesday, Feb. 12, to provide
details of the progress of the investigation.
In his afternoon briefing, Dittemore described the pace of the
inquiry and data and debris collection as “fast and furious”.
He said the Shuttle program would support Admiral Gehman’s
Board “in any way we can”.

Dittemore said more than 1000 pieces of Shuttle debris have
been recovered. Items found as far west as California are
currently being analyzed to see whether they are from
Columbia. As of today, no debris found west of Fort Worth,
Texas has been positively identified as coming from Columbia.

“No possibility is being ruled out as the root cause for
Columbia’s loss,” Dittemore said. “We are still looking for
that elusive missing link.” Dittemore said bad weather in the
west today hampered efforts to recover additional debris. The
forecast calls for improving conditions by the weekend. The
recovered debris will be analyzed at Barksdale Air Force Base,
La., before being returned to the Kennedy Space Center for
reconstruction to the extent possible and for final

Dittemore added a fault tree is being developed based on
existing Probability Risk Assessments. The investigation team
has received a large number of still images and video, which
are being examined to determine if they are authentic and to
see if they shed light on the investigation. At the memorial
service at National Cathedral, Vice President Dick Cheney said
of Columbia’s astronauts, “They were soldiers and scientists,
doctors and pilots, but above all they were explorers.” “They
were envoys to the unknown,” Cheney added. “They advanced
human understanding by showing human courage.”

Aboard the Space Station, the crew continued to unload the
Russian Progress resupply ship that docked Tuesday, carrying
one ton of food, fuel and supplies. Payload controllers
continued to analyze the new power components installed
yesterday in the Microgravity Science Glovebox in the Destiny
laboratory to try to determine why a circuit breaker popped
after it was powered. The science facility remains off while
the troubleshooting effort is underway.

On Friday, a memorial ceremony for Columbia’s astronauts will
be held at the Kennedy Space Center. Florida Governor Jeb
Bush, Administrator O’Keefe and former astronaut Robert
Crippen, Columbia’s first pilot on its maiden flight, STS-1,
on April 12, 1981, will attend. The ceremony will be broadcast
live on NASA Television at 8:15 a.m. EST, the exact time of
Columbia’s deorbit burn last Saturday. NASA TV is on AMC-2,
Transponder 9C, vertical polarization at 85 degrees west
longitude, 3880 MHz, with audio at 6.8 MHz.

The next STS-107 Accident Response briefing is on Friday at
4:30 p.m. EST from the Johnson Space Center. It will be on
NASA TV, with question and answer capability for reporters at
NASA centers.

For more information, view NASA on the Internet at:

SpaceRef staff editor.