Status Report

CAIB Hearing Transcript 6 March 2003 (Part 1)

By SpaceRef Editor
March 11, 2003
Filed under ,

MARCH 6, 2003

Adm. Harold W. Gehman, Jr., Chairman, Columbia Accident Investigation
Rear Adm. Stephen Turcotte, Commander, U.S. Naval Safety Center
Maj. Gen. John Barry, Director, Plans and Programs, Headquarters Air
Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hess, Commander, U.S. Air Force Chief of Safety,
Kirtland Air Force Base
Dr. James Hallock, Aviation Safety Division Chief, U.S. Dept. of Transportation
Dr. Sheila Widnall, Former Secretary of the Air Force,
Professor of Aeronautics, Astronautics and Engineering Systems at MIT
Steven Wallace, Director of Accident Investigation, Federal Aviation
Brig. Gen. Duane Deal, Commander 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force
G. Scott Hubbard, Director, NASA Ames Research Center
Bryan O’Connor, NASA Associate Administrator, Office of Safety and Mission
Theron Bradley, Jr., NASA Chief Engineer, NASA Headquarters, Washington,
Board Executive Secretary

Gen. Jefferson Howell, Director, Johnson Space Center

the video stream from the morning
or afternoon

morning, ladies and gentlemen. The first public hearing of the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board is hereby in session.

We are going
to begin our review this morning by talking to two officials of NASA who
work here at JSC. And we’re going to be talking about organizational and
lines-of-responsibility kinds of matters, so we have a clear understanding
of who does what and how you get it done and who answers to whom.

We’re delighted
to be able to start right at the top here at JSC with the center director,
General Howell.

Jeff Howell,
thank you very much for taking time to be here. And we also are aware
that you’ve got duties that are going to call you away here, and those
duties, of course, are related to this accident, for which we are understanding
and appreciative.

Before we
begin, the way we’ll conduct this public hearing is Jeff Howell will–Director
Howell will make an opening statement, which we’ll be delighted to listen
to. Then we’ll just simply ask questions, as the board sees fit.

Before we
begin, though, Mr. Howell, let me first ask you to affirm that the information
that you will provide to this board at this hearing will be accurate and
complete to the best of your current knowledge and belief.

so affirm.

right, sir, the floor is yours.

you, Admiral.

Ladies and
gentlemen, I am pleased to appear before the Columbia Accident Investigation
Board. It’s now 33 days after the tragic loss of the courageous crew of
space shuttle Columbia. We are deeply–we are deeply appreciative of the
efforts of the board to determine what caused the loss of Columbia and
its crew. And we pledge to continue to cooperate and support your efforts
in every possible way.

I’d like
to begin by describing Johnson Space Center’s role in our nation’s space
program. Originally named the Manned Spacecraft Center, JSC has served
as a focal point for human space exploration since the early 1960s.

The core
capabilities resident at JSC since the beginning and continuing today
consist of the design, development and test of human spacecraft and human
robotics interfaces; planning, execution and control of human spacecraft;
selection, training and assignment of astronaut crew members; extravehicular
planning of hardware development and training; life science research related
to human spaceflight and associated biomedical research; the program management
of large-scale human spaceflight hardware development programs; the study
and curation of astral materials; and last, but not least, the safety,
reliability and quality assurance expertise to support all of these activities.

Within this
context, as the director of the Johnson Space Center, I am responsible
for providing the shuttle program with the institutional support needed
to execute the space shuttle program’s mission. The center is accountable
for the hardware and software it delivers to the program, as well as the
quality and technical content of the analysis products it delivers to
the program.

Center management
works closely with the space shuttle program manager, Ron Dittemore, and
I am regularly apprised of program status and issues as well as personnel
and other matters. I will be happy to discuss my understanding of these
roles and relationships.

Thank you,

you very much. I’ll ask the first question, since I’m the chairman.

Would you
describe for us the lines of authority, the chain of command as we say
in the military, the lines of authority that starts with Mr. O’Keefe,
a couple of layers above you, or one layer above you, and perhaps one
layer or two layers below you?

How does
that–describe it, but then if you would expand it to, if there are any
branches or sequels (ph), for example, if the money is done differently
than the hiring and firing or something like that?

Of course, under Mr. O’Keefe is his deputy administrator, Fred Gregory.
And under the two of them, he has his enterprise associate administrators.
And Code M, which is the Office of Space Flight, is headed by Bill Readdy.
He is my boss. I am one of the Office of Space Flight center directors.
We have four: myself, Marshall, Kennedy and Stennis.

And as the
center director, below me I have an immediate staff of direct reports,
you know, legal, HR, that type. Plus, I have, directors of our major…


… life
sciences, and then safety and mission assurance–safety, reliability and
quality assurance.

So, those
are my major activities, and each of them has a director. Under them are
their branch managers and so on. So the largest of those directors is
our engineering and then our flight crew operations division. Those are
the two largest ones I have.

Mr. Readdy also has various projects that direct-report to him also. And
we’re going to hear from one of those projects later, right?

HOWELL: Correct.

that means, then, that the way the wiring diagram works out is that the
projects and the centers can operate in parallel with each other, is that
a safe way to put it?

HOWELL: That’s
correct. Of course, under him, he has an associate administrator for these
programs, General Mike Kostelnik. He has both the shuttle and the space
station programs under him. So he’s the direct line of authority to Mr.

you know, down at our level, Ron Dittemore and I are literally joined
at the hip in the way we function, because a big portion of my center
personnel support his activities, and we are intertwined in a very complex
organization in that regard.

you very much.

General Barry,
do you want to lead off, since we talking about shuttle support?


General Howell,
good morning.

Could you
go into a little more detail–a two-part question, really–responsibilities
of the astronaut office in regards to your responsibilities, and then
could you outline your role before and after the Columbia mishap?

HOWELL: Certainly.
The astronaut office is–the actual office is called Flight Crew Operations
Directorate. And under–and this is, Bob Cabana is the head of that. Under
him, he has several different divisions, but the major one is the flight
crew office, the astronaut office.

And so he
is charged, under me, to recruit, select and then train our astronauts
to get up to a level where they are designated astronauts. They go through
a very vigorous, almost a two-year training program to qualify to go on
to become a crew of either a shuttle or a station.

So he’s charged
with the responsibility. And under him are several activities to do that.
He has, you know, an aviation division where he has aircraft that our
military air crew have to stay current in. And he has the training aircraft
for the astronaut pilots that simulate a reentry of a shuttle. They have
that type of a capability. All those things.

And so that’s–I’m
responsible for all of this. He is accountable. He does this for me, in
that regard. Is that–does that answer you question?

BARRY: That’s
something, I think, that few people understand, the difference between
Ron Dittemore’s responsibilities and your responsibilities for the astronauts.

Now, Bob, you know, is–has to make sure–has to ensure that his astronauts
are ready to perform their functions for Ron as members of shuttle crews.

We share
responsibility in that with our Mission Operations Directorate, though.
Because, under our Mission Operations Directorate, they’re the ones who
actually design the missions and build the whole milestone of activities
to prepare for the missions and to conduct the missions.

So, the astronauts
actually are trained by members of our Mission Operations Division. That’s
where they get their specific training for the missions they fly on. And
so the MOD, under John Harpol (ph), is really the directorate of mine
that does that function for them.

So it’s a
next step beyond being an astronaut now to train for a mission, you’re
basically directed and under the auspices of the Mission Operations Division,
who plan the mission, and they’re the same who control them when they’re
in space.

second part of the question is, you know, could you explain your responsibilities
to the board on the stands (ph), like, what is the center director’s role
insofar as the shuttle mission is concerned? What were you doing before?
And just, kind of, a general outline on what responsibilities would be
on any normal launch.

you. I don’t have any direct responsibility over the shuttle program or
the missions themselves. However, we have–as I said before, we’re so
intertwined with our activities that I have members of my staff and members
of my organization who support all of their activities. So I have a responsibility
to make sure that they do their jobs directly.

We also,
as part of the budget process, we have activities that are defined by
the program that they assign to us, and of course we work out a budget
with them. And we are given tasks that we have to perform in support of
the program.

And of course,
I’m responsible for making sure that–it could be hardware products coming
out of engineering, it could be software, and also the activities out
of MOD. And I have to–I’m responsible to make sure those are done correctly.
So I–that’s the type of oversight I have in that regard.

Now, on a
higher level, I’m also a member of the Office of Space Flight Management
Council, and that is under Mr. Readdy. The members are the center directors
and his deputy, or associate administrator, Mr. Kostelnik. And we gather
on a regular basis to discuss policy, discuss issues, and we all have
a voice in that regard. And that’s, you know, another indirect oversight
that we have in influencing what might occur or not occur in the shuttle

We’re also–I
am also a member of the Flight Review Board, which meets–Flight Readiness
Review, to say it correctly–that we meet approximately two weeks prior
to every shuttle mission. And we have a very formal, extensive, comprehensive
review of every aspect of the mission.

And I’m a
voting member of that board. I sit at the table at the FRR, that is chaired
by Mr. Readdy. And it’s more on the auspices–as a voting member, I can
participate in question-and-answers of any of the people who brief it.
And also, I have a vote as–it’s more of, I guess, on a level of a board
of directors, for–and I sign the certificate for flight. So I do have
that type of oversight on a personal level, on a direct level.

BARRY: Thank

GEHMAN: Anybody?
Ken, you want to be recognized?

HESS: Yes,

One of the
constant themes that we see and hear about is (ph) talks about the debate
between enough resources and staffing to conduct the mission that we’ve
got here. You’ve laid out for us a pretty articulate description of a
very complex, highly matrixed organization.

Could you
go into your personal feelings about staffing versus resources in the
mission you’ve been assigned?

I think we’re in good shape. We’re–there is a–you know, the majority
of our people who work at the Johnson Space Center are contract employees.
Just to let you know, on site, on a daily basis, we have about 10,000
people working here every day. Three thousand are civil servants; the
other 7,000 are contractor people. And even in the surrounding area, in
direct support of our activities, are another 6,000 or so contractors
who support our activities. So, it’s truly a team effort.

And when
you–and when I look at that team that we have right now, I am very pleased.
I think we have a very highly qualified, gifted, dedicated and committed
team of men and women who support our activities and get the job done.

If I have
a concern, it’s always the balance between civil service and contractor.
What is the–you know, I call it a critical–what is the critical mass
of civil servants necessary to ensure that we have the proper skills to
oversee our contractor activities? I am very confident that we have that
at this time.

The issue,
of course, always is, within our 3,000 civil servants, our skill level,
our experience level–we’re in great shape right now.

I have a concern, because a very large number of our civil servants are
at the age where they may retire in the next several years. So I have
that challenge in the future ahead of me.

But as we
speak right now, I am very confident in the capabilities and skill levels
of our people and our ability to support the shuttle program.

a follow-up, you mentioned that one of the direct-reports you have is
for the safety and mission assurance area. Could you explain to us how
that functions and how it works in parallel during the flight readiness

more, it is complex, but I think it’s very effective.

Every activity
that supports our human space flight program–each one of my directorates,
each one of our contractors–United Space Alliance, Lockheed, Boeing and
so on and so on–they all have quality-assurance people, safety people
and like, because everybody is totally intent on making this a safe activity
at all levels and all the way to the end.

because of the critical nature of our activity of having people exposed
to this environment, I think it’s imperative upon me to have a separate
organization–safety, reliability and quality-assurance organization that
is an added dimension for oversight to ensure that everybody’s really
doing their jobs and taking care of business.

And so, they
do–there are several facets to this. One is we actually use them to support
the program and have actual activities with the review boards and are
part of the program team, being with them and participating in design
and development just to ensure that, from our point of view, everything’s
done according to Hoyle.

But another
aspect of it is I retain the right, since the astronauts belong to me,
I have the right to have my own oversight and activities to ensure that
everything, you know, we have done everything we can to reduce the risk
to the men and women who go in those machines, as well as the men and
women who work with those machines. And so, that is another aspect to
that organization. They work for me directly to do that.

So there’s
a combination. They work in concert with the program to assist them in
what they do, but they’re also have the right to come to me with any kind
of a concerns about anything that might be going on. And I can take that
directly to Mr. Readdy or whomever.

HESS: Thank
you very much.

Sir, did
the shuttle program manager ever report directly to the Johnson Space

this time, no. He did…

did? Yes. And how long ago was that?

just less than a year ago, right before I became–I became the center
director on 1 April of last year, so I haven’t been here quite a year.
But right after Mr. O’Keefe became the administrator, the decision was
made to take the two major programs in Code M, both the shuttle and station,
and move them under the direct leadership of the Johnson Space Center
director and up to the deputy associate administrator for space flight.

So, this
was–this was, I think, a result of the Young (ph) committee’s suggestions
and recommendations. And so, that decision was made.

And we went
through a transition period when it was already–the transition period
had begun when I arrived in April, and by summer, we had moved the total
responsibility for those programs under General Kostelnik.

So, it’s
been fairly recently, if you look over the long term, in the history NASA,
this authority has been moved back and forth from the centers to the headquarters
a couple of times, I believe. But this was the last iteration of that.

HESS: Thank

ahead, Jim.

Thank you, Hal.

As I understand
the shuttle program, there are four centers that really are very much
involved with it: your own, Kennedy, Marshall and Stennis. I’m just curious,
what kind of interactions you have at your level with these other groups?

the other centers?


communicate quite regularly. I think it’s–sometimes, given what the issues
are, I might be communicating every day with Roy Bridges at Kennedy or
Art Stevens at Marshall. Other times, we’ll go a week or so without talking
to each other. So, it really, at our level, we sort of hit the hot buttons
and talk to each other over major issues.

At a lower
level, we have a continuous liaison, communications and actual integrative
work with the other centers with our engineers. We actually have a virtual
engineering capability with Marshall, where our engineers and their engineers
sit down together and work out problems together on a regular basis.

Our relationship
with Kennedy is very close, because, of course, that’s where they process
the vehicles and work with them. And our astronauts are over there on
a continuous basis for training and for familiarization.

So, below
me, below our directorate level, there is a continuous flow of information
and activity among the centers, where they work with each other on a continual

Thank you.


OK. I actually have two questions. One’s just a point of information.
Who does the mission ops directorate report to?

mission operations director reports to me.

OK, so that reports to you.

The second
question is, you spoke about the Safety and Mission Assurance Organization
that works for you, which, as I understand, your description is, basically
it’s supposed to provide an independent assessment.

Could you
give me some examples of major program or mission changes that have occurred
as a result of recommendations brought forward by the Safety and Mission
Assurance Organization?

And of course
I put in the word "major." I have no idea what "major"
means. But if you can’t answer it now, I guess I would be interested if
you could supply some examples for the record.

know, right at this moment, I really don’t have an example…

I understand.

I’ll be happy to do that.

Another aspect–just
because of my capability of having leverage in these things, a lot of
issues that they raise are worked out with the programs at a lower level.

So it’s a
rare occasion when it would actually come to me, because they–you know,
every–I probably can’t say it sufficiently how important safety is to
every person who works at that center. And it’s a way of life. You know,
you can say it’s number-one, first. But it’s really–you know, if we were
fish, it’s the ocean we swim in there. It’s an attitude. And so any time
anybody raises that flag at any level, it gets people’s attention very
quickly, and people are going to take care of it.

So it really
hasn’t been, since I have been the director, I don’t really have an example.
I do know that those things have happened in the past, and I’ll be happy
to get something…

I’d be very interested.


Part 1 | 2 | 3

SpaceRef staff editor.