Status Report

CAIB Briefing Transcript 11 March 2003 (Part 1)

By SpaceRef Editor
March 11, 2003
Filed under ,

Harold Gehman, USN, Chairman of CAIB
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hess, Chief, Safety Center, Kirtland Air Force Base
Dr. Sheila Widnall, Vice President, National Academy of Engineering
Maj. Gen. John Barry, Director, Plans and Programs,
Headquarters Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base

the video stream

afternoon. I’m joined today by three of my colleagues on the board, one
representing each of the sub boards or working groups that we have established.
To my left is Ken Hess, who is working in the operations section. Beside
him is John Barry, who’s working in the section that’s looking at materiel
and maintenance issues. And to his left is Dr. Sheila Widnall, who’s working
on the engineering and technical evaluations section.

I’ll make
a few introductory comments and then each of them will make some short
comments as to what their groups are working one and where their fellow
board members are. And then we’ll open it up to questions.

As is our
practice every week, we try not to save up news for Tuesday. We do release
things as they become apparent. The purpose of this press conference is
really more of a dialogue so you can ask questions and get a two-way dialogue
going with the board members on anything that you’re interested in.

Once again,
I think that we’ve had a good week here. We are moving along methodically
in our understanding of what happened to the orbiter. That is–let me
rephrase that. We’re moving along nicely in our understanding of the forces
that were at work on the orbiter as it failed to properly enter the Earth’s

I would not
want to say that we’re moving along rapidly at finding the cause, because
it remains to be elusive.

But we are
doing a considerable amount of good hard engineering and science work
at understanding the environment and the forces that the orbiter was subjected
to and also narrowing down the part of the geography on the orbiter where
the assault seems to have taken place.

Every time
we do a little analysis, every time we see another study, it tends to
focus us a little bit more. And I think that my colleagues here will talk
about that some more.

We continue
to rely primarily on the six major detective stories that I told you about
before. And they are: the aerodynamic analysis; the thermal analysis;
the videographic and picture analysis of debris shedding; the refinement
of the time line; debris collection, lay out, analysis; and the material
documentation of everything that was done to the orbiter or anyone who
touched the orbiter in between its flights. And those are the six primary
areas that we hope will lead us to an answer to this riddle. And a lot
of work has been done in each of those areas.

The board
this week, as a group, spent a lot of time, many hours this week, testing,
proposing and discarding scenarios. Now, by that I mean, individual little
pieces of scenarios; relatively detailed discussions.

The purpose
of these hours that we spent together was not necessarily to find the
scenario that caused the orbiter to fail–we’re not smart enough to do
that yet. But we did want to determine what tests would be necessary in
order to either prove or disprove a scenario. In other words, if somebody
has a theory or a scenario which seems to be relevant, then we want to
develop what it takes to either prove or disprove that.

And so we
went through that–we spent a considerable number of hours going through
that process. And I don’t have–we don’t have an answer for you, so I’m
not going to–I won’t go into any more detail than that.

The public
hearing I found to be very useful. We’re going to continue with the public
hearing process. The next public hearing’s on Monday afternoon, next,
and Tuesday morning. We’re going to go for three or four hours on Monday
afternoon and go for three or four hours on Tuesday morning here at JSC.
It’s actually going to be at the Clear Lake Hilton Hotel in one of the
ballrooms there.

We’re going
to discuss investigatory matters. We’re going to have some of the experts
on thermal and aero-analysis come and brief us with charts and view graphs
and movies and videographs as to exactly where they are. So you will get
a post-graduate level education on aerodynamics and thermodynamics. So
you will see–you will be able to tell at the end of that exactly how
far we’ve gone, how deep we’ve gone, but also how much further we have
to go.

We worked–another
issue that the board worked very hard this week was the issue of debris
testing. We and NASA have had several meetings. The board has some testing
initiatives that we want to get started. Just laying the debris out on
the floor is not enough to find the answer to this mystery.

We need to
do metallurgic testing, we need to do heat testing. There’s a whole lot
of kinds of–whole series of tests that need to be conducted.

But at the
same time we have to be very careful that we don’t in any way disturb
or remove anything that might be evidence.

So this has
been a very careful, methodical process between us, NASA and the people
who are helping us, like the NTSB and other people that are helping us
like that.

The last
thing I’m going to mention is three new members that I announced last
week. Dr. Sally Ride has already been to work. She was here last week
and has already made a significant contribution. Dr. Douglas Osheroff
I’ve been in contact with. He will be visiting us this week. He already
has a bunch of ideas that he wants to pursue. And Dr. John Logsdon and
I have exchanged a couple of telephone calls, a couple of e-mails, and
I will be meeting with him next week.

So, all three
of the new board members are either on or already participating, either
in person or by remote. And essentially from now on they will be coming
and going essentially weekly, if they can, to participate and help our
investigation along.

That’s a
quick summary. Let me throw some facts out–just some facts and figures.

of close of business last night we had collected 28,286 pieces total that
are at Kennedy. We collected thousands more than that. Kennedy has 28,286
pieces, of which 25,404 have been identified.

Now, only–when
you see pictures of the floor and see pictures of the grid, that represents
only 1,038 pieces of the 25,000. Because you got to remember that we are
laying the orbiter out in two dimensions, not three dimensions, upside
down. So we’re looking, what we’re interested is the bottom surface. So
that’s what–those are the 1,000 pieces that we have out there, the landing
gear, the landing gear door, the tiles, elevons and things like that.

All the rest
of the pieces are catalogued and stored, and they’re available for us
to use for analysis.

The 28,286
pieces represents 39,300 pounds, I haven’t divided that into the dry weight,
but it works out to something like 18 or 19 percent.

On a daily
basis, every day of the week, there have been over 4,000 people out collecting
debris. On one day last week–I think I’m looking at the 7th here–they
had actually 5,300 people out on one particular day.

They continue
to average a dozen aircraft a day, helicopters and fixed wing. The Navy
team in the two lakes, the Toledo Bend Lake and the Lake Nacogdoches,
have identified over 200 submerged targets which are of great interest
by electronic means, by sonar means, and then they’re going to go back
and dive on them.

We’re hopeful
included in there are the main engines, and I think that that’s kind of
all the h’s.

Oh, yes,
the–laid out in the grid among the 1,038 pieces laid out in the grid,
are 233 that are from the left wing, which, of course, is what we’re most
interested in.

And I think
that covers, kind of, all the introductory things, and I’ll pass it now
to General Ken Hess.

HESS: Good
afternoon. Group Two is continuing on its march through the basic processes
that got the shuttle into the launch that had to do with training and
payload and operations.

Now, if you
recall from our previous sessions with you, we, kind of, described our
approach as, kind of, in phases. We’re, I would say, maybe two-thirds
of the way through Phase One, and that’s just understanding and appreciating
all the processes that lead to a launch.

This last
week we finished looking at the training and certification, as well as
complete research of the impounded records that NASA had on hold for us.
And in the payload area we’ve completed our documentation review and we’ve
looked at the telemetry that had to do with the payload and everything
that was down-linked to NASA, and we didn’t find anything that was unusual
in those areas.

In the areas
of operations, we are continuing our look into the DOD request for imagery;
we are sharing that with Group One, and also with Group One we’re looking
at the e-mails that were exchanged between engineers, as well as looking
at the impounded records and logs of the mission control team that was
at the Mission Control Center at the time.

And this
last week saw us begin our initial sets of interviews with the Astronaut

In the area
of mission management we’ve started to take a look at NASA’s organizational
structure, and those actions and decisions that led to launch preparation
and launch decisions, as well as the things that took place while the
shuttle was on orbit.

And we’ll
begin taking a look at the MMT specifically, it’s organization and performance,
here in the coming weeks with the addition of Dr. Ride to our team.

Last week,
I had the opportunity to go to Kirtland Air Force Base as part of the
Air Force Research Lab and got to the Star Fire Optical Range, and if
you’ll recall they took the picture of the orbiter overhead, that–where
people have been suggesting, perhaps, that there was leading edge damage
that was in that picture. And we’re trying to verify that.

And I went
there because I wanted to understand the techniques that were used to
take that picture, and also to find out what kinds of things have been
done to enhance that image by the Department of Defense.

I mean, I
must tell you that those photo experts are just now beginning their work
in liaison with aerodynamics experts and plasma experts to try to see
what the picture will really yield. But the important part right now is
to enhance the photo as much as can be done without adjusting the facts
behind the photo. And we have an excellent team that’s working that process
right now.

The team
added two new members. Admiral Gehman mentioned Dr. Sally Ride. She’s
going to be joining our team. And she’s going to concentrate mostly in
the flight readiness review and certification processes, as well, I think,
as pinch hitting in other groups and areas where she has tremendous expertise.

We are also
adding tonight, Dr. Tracie Dillinger (ph), who’s a human factors and organizational
psychologist. If you look in the McDonald’s (ph) independent assessment,
you will find that she was part of the human factor’s group in that particular
report, as well.

Now, in the
very near future, we are going to be attending an integrated simulation
training between astronauts who are preparing for a mission and their
ground team so that we can look at all aspects of that training. And I
think that’ll be probably the last piece that we’ll look at as far as
active training processes.

We are beginning
to outline our approach to taking a look at the safety organization and
processes in the next week or so. And then, several members of the team
will travel to D.C. this next week to begin interviewing at NASA headquarters
those people who are in our area of responsibility.

Dr. Dillinger
(ph) and many others who are already on the team, to include a Ph.D. from
the NTSB, will join us in coming together with a strategy to begin looking
at human factors.

I think everybody
realizes that our whole investigation will fall short if all we do is
concentrate on the technical aspects and ignore the organizational dynamic.
And as you recall, Dr. McDonald, last week, says he had great confidence
that the management would make the right decisions if they had the right
information, OK? So we’re going to take a look at the organization dynamic
with an attempt to try to understand the implications of what Dr. McDonald
was telling us.

And our goal
still remains mishap prevention by identifying the hazards and coming
up with risk mitigation strategies that would be helpful. So we’ll look
at the processes, and then talk to the personnel both in maintenance with
General Barry’s group and on the operational side with Group Two, and
then work the seam of that issue together.

And in the
coming weeks, we expect to finish Phase One, and then basically use safety
and the human factor processes, being our Phase Two approach to the overall

Thank you.

GEHMAN: General


As a member
of Group One, right now we have General Duane Deal, who’s down at KSC
right now. Admiral Turcotte will leave tonight to go to KSC. We’ll follow
up that with visits to Michoud. And we plan to also, next Tuesday, visit
the vendor for the RCC. And also follow up with General Hess’ group when
we head up to headquarters at NASA to do some interviews.

As you remember,
our group is responsible for maintenance, materials and management, human
factors kinds of considerations also. We’ve got a number of subteams out
right now that are going on, continue their investigation, at least two
to three investigators for each subgroup.

I’m going
to give you a couple of updates on maintenance, and then I’m going to
follow up with material. So let me just cover the maintenance to begin

Close out
on fault trees is progressing at a pretty good rate. We continue to work
the issues that will eventually be categorized as nonfactors. To date,
we are closing out on the fault trees, probably in about a week. That
still has to be a formal presentation to the board. But we expect to see
the SSME, the space shuttle main engine, the SRB, solid rocket booster,
and the replacement on the solid rocket motor. So we expect that to be
probably be done in the next couple of weeks. And we’ll give you updates
as we go along that. Nothings been finalized yet on the close out, but
right now, to date that looks like a pretty good schedule.

The external
tank will take a little bit longer, because right now there are 14 working
groups and about 3,200 blocks on their tree and, of course, the orbiter.
So we still have a little bit of work to do on that one. So that’s the
update on maintenance.

Let me just
turn to material. If I could have the first slide, please. I’m going to
show you a couple of slides here, some of which you have seen before.
This is the bipod that I think you’ve seen before. Right now, we’re trying
to follow the foam. And here is the connector, as you can make the comparison
between what the slide has and what we have that Woody’s (ph) holding
in his hand.

I will also
tell you that as we follow the foam, we’re also looking at the fact that
1893, which was the external tank involved with Columbia, was mated, demated
and then remated. And there was a problem report generated on that on
damaged foam, which is not unusual when that happens, visibly inspected
and concluded that there was no problem.

Also, I want
to bring to the attention is, this is what is underneath the foam. There
are three kinds of gladed (ph) material. And we have examples of it up
here that you can take a look at. This is like cork, if you want to think
of it that way. But part of this is clearly going to be an issue in so
far as cryo-pumping (ph) is concerned. We’re still looking at that as
an issue.

Now, cryo-pumping,
as you remember, is when we have liquid nitrogen or trapped air that liquefies
when it’s cold.

And that’s
what happens when it’s sitting on the ramp. And then when it launches,
of course, we have the fuel being transferred inside the external tank
and we have trapped gases that eventually need to be what they call flash
evaporated. And that can expand rapidly and break foam, break ablative
and break TPS, thermal protection system, bonds.

So these
three kinds of ablative material that you see there, from our investigation
to date clearly shows that questionable whether it’s even needed. And,
in fact, the alternatives that are being designed by NASA right now do
not include the ablative material underneath the foam.

There will
be some changes to this bipod. You can see that a lot of it’s at a pretty
strong right angle. They’re looking at making it more aerodynamic, and
they’re considering what exactly is–how they’re going to pack the connections
underneath so they can maintain the integrity of the system.

I want to
give you an update on RCC. And this is, as some of you have seen, the
quarter-inch complete RCC that shows you not only the fact that we have
a sealant on top, but also that we have a silicone carbide coating on
top of the carbon-carbon. You go to the carbon-carbon with another silicone
coating, and that is a quarter of an inch. That is really what is protecting
the RCC.

One of the
things that we’re looking at is the issue–here’s an Atlantis panel where
we’ve had some problems with pinholes and what I’ll introduce as some
of you have heard before oxidation. Oxidation is when you have a void
underneath the surface and a void in the surface that translates down
to the lower levels–a void or a pocket, if you want to think about that,
as you can.

Here we have
an indication that Atlantis–where they found a defect. When they went
ahead and did further analysis, this is what we call a CAT scan, an X-ray.
You can see where the–not only the surface but also the sub-surface shows
some problems.

Now, this
is one way of looking at it besides a visual inspection. Let me introduce
another one. This happens to be what they call thermography. If you’ll
hear the term "tomography," that has to do with CAT scans. If
you hear the term "thermography," it has to be a flash of heat
on a surface and as it cools down, you get an idea of what’s underneath

This is that
same panel. It happens to be a repair that went bad. And you can see clearly
with area three and four that those show some voided areas as well as
area five.

Now, I introduce
this as not the answer on how to do this, but I know NASA is looking at
trying to validate this as a probable way of doing nondestructive examination
of this really vital piece of the orbiter.

I want to
also show this one. It’s a little bit of a side cut on another panel that
was discovered on the Discovery. And you can see where the carbon-silicon
carbides on top and then also that we have the, kind of, a grayish crack
and underneath that is a void. If you do a visual or you do a tap test
on this, maybe it will penetrate, maybe it won’t. But clearly we want
to explore the options of improved capabilities for MDE (ph). So that
is thermography and also the issue of oxidation.

Day-2 (ph)
debris, I also want to mention is being analyzed at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base. We are doing radar signatures on a number of items from tiles,
RCC blanket ice, horse collars and carrier plates to get some comparative
signatures that we can maybe get some idea of what it is that floated
off on the second day. Now, that’s proceeding rapidly.

We also have
what I would characterize as an interesting aspect on ascent. On ascent,
what you try to do is measure the winds on liftoff. They send a balloon
up and they figure out where the wind sheers are. The wind sheers allow
you to make a prediction in the software on how the orbiter ought to roll
or the power ought to be adjusted to transient through any wind sheer.
We have an issue with that that we’re looking into, and I just wanted
to share with you all.

The bottom
line is, as we move to understand that, at 62 seconds on launch we saw
one of the larger transients we’ve seen on the solid rocket motor. It
was well within parameters, but, interestingly enough, the two largest
ones we’ve seen on ascent both happen to be Columbia, both happen to be
going on 39 degree inclinations, both have lightweight tanks. So we’re
trying to identify if there’s any commonality there as an additional stress
load on the left-hand side of the orbiter, because it was on the left
solid rocket motor that had this input. Again, well within parameters,
but just one more as we follow the foam, as we follow the transient stresses
on the orbiter that might have been able to contribute to one more issue
as we trace down this detective story.

So that concludes
my remarks.

you very much.

Part 1 | 2 | 3

SpaceRef staff editor.