Press Release

Statement by NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe

By SpaceRef Editor
February 1, 2003
Filed under ,

“This is indeed a tragic day for the NASA family, for
the families of the astronauts who flew on STS-107, and
likewise is tragic for the Nation.

“Immediately upon indication of a loss of communications from
STS-107, at a little after 9:00 a.m. this morning, we began
our contingency plan to preserve all the information relative
to the flight activities.

“I immediately advised the President and the Secretary of
Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, at the point after landing was
due to have occurred at 9:16 a.m., and spoke to them very
briefly to advise them that we had lost contact with the
Shuttle orbiter, Columbia, and STS-107 crew. They offered,
the President specifically offered, full and immediate
support to determine the appropriate steps to be taken.

“We then spent the next hour and a half working through the
details and information of what we have received and Bill
Readdy, Associate Administrator for the NASA Office of Space
Flight, will walk you through the specifics of those
operational and technical issues.

“We met with the family members of the astronauts who were
here at the Kennedy Space Center and are soon to be departing
back to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The President
has called and spoken to the family members to express our
deepest national regrets. We have assured them that we will
begin the process immediately to recover their loved ones and
understand the cause of this tragedy.

“We have no indication that the mishap was caused by anything
or anyone on the ground.

“We assembled a Mishap Investigation Team at a point past the
stage that the orbiter was to have landed here at Kennedy
Space Center a little after 9:30. That team, in turn, is
coordinating on a regular basis on all the facts that are
pertaining to this from the Johnson Space Center with help
from a Rapid Response Team from here at the Kennedy Space
Center, as well participants from the Marshall Space Flight
Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“In addition to these internal efforts, we have appointed a
Mishap Investigation Board, an external group of people who
are independent from NASA who will be charged with the
responsibility to look at all the information that was
immediately locked down right after the absence of

“Each of these individuals are Safety and Mission Assurance
related officials in other departments of the Federal
government, from the Air Force, the Navy, the Department of
Transportation, and across the federal expanse. This
Investigation Team will be chaired by an individual who is
external to the federal agencies and will have the
responsibility to coordinate all the information from an
external view.

“So we’ll be conducting both the internal activity as well as
the external review immediately to ascertain the causes and
circumstances under which this tragedy occurred.

“We have pulled together all the federal agencies and local
governments as well. I have been in discussion several times
this morning with Secretary Tom Ridge. The effort is under
way to coordinate an understanding of exactly where the
orbiter path had taken it from West Texas towards the Kennedy
Space Center here in Florida and to make sure that the
material on the ground is secured so that the investigation
can begin promptly.

“We would urge people who believe they have found any
material to stay away from it and to please contact local
officials. The local first responder groups for emergency
services have been authorized and directed by Secretary Tom
Ridge to assist in any way. The Federal Emergency Management
Agency is coordinating that effort on behalf of the
Department of Homeland Security.

“I was here this morning with the families of the astronauts
and their friends. It started out as a pretty happy morning,
as we awaited the landing of STS-107. We had highly
anticipated their return because we couldn’t wait to
congratulate them for their extraordinary performance and
their excellent effort on this very important science

“They dedicated their lives to pushing scientific challenges
for all of us here on Earth. They dedicated themselves to
that objective and did it with a happy heart, willingly and
with great enthusiasm.

“The loss of this valued crew is something we will never be
able to get over. We have assured the families that we will
do everything, everything we can possibly do to guarantee
that we work our way through this horrific tragedy.
We ask the members of the media to honor that too. Please
respect their privacy and please understand the tragedy that
they are going through at this time. We will help the media
assure that this will be the case as well.

“We trust the prayers of the Nation will be with them and
with their families. A more courageous group of people you
could not have hoped to know- an extraordinary group of
astronauts who gave their lives-and the families of these
crewmembers. They knew exactly the risks. And never, ever did
we want to see a circumstance in which this could happen.

“We diligently dedicate ourselves every single day to
assuring these things don’t occur. And when they do we have
to act responsibly, accountably and that is exactly what we
will do.”

For more information on the Internet:

SpaceRef staff editor.