Status Report

Full Transcript: NASA Update on the Space Shuttle Columbia Sean O’Keefe and Scott Hubbard August 26, 2003 (part 2)

By SpaceRef Editor
August 26, 2003
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There are four recommendations that have to do with imaging, not only improved imaging on launch, but using national assets to be able to examine the orbiter.

And we have two recommendations with respect to sensors. The Columbia, being the first vehicle, had a very extensive, early set of sensors, and that data which we recovered was very helpful to the Board in reconstructing the accident. The Board believes that we need to maintain and update this capability and add new vehicle health monitoring and engineering performance data so that we understand how the orbiter functions in a much more deep and thorough way.

And then there’s a collection of recommendations having to do with inspecting wiring, and testing bolt catchers, having a common definition of what foreign object debris means, having two people present at every close-out and understanding the probability of on-orbit debris and working so that we have a consistent story between what we define for the Space Station and what we define for the Shuttle.

And if there is going to be a decision to fly the Shuttle beyond 2010, it needs to be recertified.

And then, finally, we need to have our photos of the orbiter, what goes on inside of it, as we close it out, as we get ready to fly. Those need to be documented, digitized, retrievable, and in the long term, we need to have very accurate digital Shuttle CAD models so that we understand, should anything happen again, where the part is, and we can retrieve that instantly.

Next, there was a set of organizational recommendations dealing with schedule, training, and then the whole idea of checks and balances, which the Board strongly believes need to be reintroduced.

Scheduling. Fly when you’re ready, consistent with the resources that you have;

Training for the Mission Management Team beyond launch and ascent for a full range of contingencies;

And, finally, work with our Safety and Mission Assurance people to be sure they have the kind of authority they need with independent funding;

That the Integration Office for the Shuttle program includes the orbiter;

And, finally, a strong recommendation that for long-term operational ventures like the Shuttle that are high-risk venture, that we separate the pressures of schedule that the program feels from the requirements and the waivers into a different organization, separately funded.

This is a departure, I know, from today’s approach, but the Board felt very strongly that this change, which has, in some sense, some cultural implications, would, in fact, create an atmosphere and an approach where the program would not–could not waive safety requirements. It would have to go to this independent authority in order to secure that waiver. Preparing a plan for that is a return-to-flight recommendation.

These changes will be not only in organizational structure, but probably also require all of us, as managers and executives, to show the leadership that goes along with it.

I’m going to conclude with two sets of thoughts:

First of all, the Board supports exploration of space. The Board supports continuing to fly the Shuttle, subsequent to the recommendations. The Board believes that we have framed the debate for the nation for the direction of human exploration.

These are in three phases: return to flight, mid-term, continuing to fly, and then finally the longer term, where this national debate about the vision for human exploration and for space exploration will occur.

We have, thanks to the leadership of Administrator O’Keefe, I think an extraordinarily good vision and mission statement. This, the Board believes, will help have that vision and mission debated in a national context and hopefully lead to the endorsement of what I know all of us want to do.
NASA is an extraordinary organization. I’ve been honored to work here the 15 years that I’ve been a part of this. An incredible people. We do things no one else has ever been able to do, maybe even thought of doing. All of this capability, all of our dreams and aspirations I think can be helped by the recommendations in this report.

I want to comment about where we are in space exploration. We’re 50 years into it, but in the first 50 years of aviation, a million airplanes were built, most of them flown several times, and tuned, and tweaked.

In the first 50 years of space travel, we’ve launched 4,500 times, most of those used only once. We are still in the infancy of space exploration. It’ll continue to be a high-risk venture.

Brave men and women risk their lives in the service of science and exploration. We’ve shed many tears over the loss of the crew of the Columbia. Their best legacy is to continue what we do best to improve and learn from our successes and our mistakes.

George W. Bush said, on February 1st, “Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on.”

I pledge to do the very best I can to make that happen, and I know you will as well.

Thank you.


MR. O’KEEFE: Thank you, Scott, very, very much for that very thorough summary of where the Board’s findings and efforts have taken us at this point.

We’re going to go to questions here in a few moments, from both here at headquarters, as well as around all 10 centers, but first I want to summarize and conclude with a couple of comments as well.

First of all, I think Scott’s summary or concluding comments and remarking I think on the support that we have received, and the endorsement that we continue to receive from the President, in working through these very, very challenging times, I think should be a source of inspiration to all of us. He has been there every single time at the toughest parts of what this challenge has presented to us.

And just no more than about an hour ago, he released the following statement:

“Today, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its report on the tragic accident that claimed the lives of seven brave astronauts. These men and women assumed great risk in service to all humanity. On behalf of a grateful nation, I once again recognize their sacrifices and those of their loved ones. Their service will never be forgotten.”

“Our nation also owes its appreciation to Admiral Hal Gehman, as well as the 12 members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. As the Board’s Chair, Admiral Gehman and his team have worked tirelessly over the past seven months conducting an exhaustive review of the circumstances surrounding this accident.”

“The next steps for NASA, under Sean O’Keefe’s leadership, must be determined after a thorough review of the entire report, including its recommendations. And our journey into space will go on. The work of the crew of the Columbia and the heroic explorers who traveled before them will continue.”

In that spirit, we must go forward and resolve to follow this blueprint and do our very best to make this a much stronger organization. It’s going to require all of us, all of us, to participate in this. In the weeks and months that have preceded this date, we have talked about this a lot throughout our NASA family, that we are all, all of us, at NASA, a part of the solution in fulfilling that second commitment to fix those problems, and then ultimately to achieve the third commitment to return to the exploration objectives that they dedicated their lives to.

It’s a different NASA today than it was on February the 1st. Our lives are forever changed by this tragic event, to be sure, but nowhere near as much as the lives of the survivors of the Columbia crew. We must be as resolute and as courageous in our efforts as the families have been in working through this horrible tragedy. They have been a source of inspiration every single moment of every day in working through this challenge.

How we respond in the days, weeks and months ahead will matter as much as what we decide to do and whether it will be a lasting change that will withstand years from now. And, indeed, that’s precisely what this Board, and their report, will help contribute to us to achieve.

I started the discussion here for this update with the proposition that, in our 45 years of remarkable history, we have been defined to the American public, and indeed throughout the world, by our great successes and our terrible failures. In an earlier tragedy, in the immediate aftermath of the Apollo fire, Gene Kranz, the legendary Flight Director who had been involved with the space exploration effort since the early days of Mercury through Gemini, to Apollo, and through the early Shuttle years, after that accident, he had this to say to his team:

“Space flight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity and neglect. Somewhere, somehow we screwed up. It could have been a design in build or in test, but whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung-ho about the schedule, and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work.”

“Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, `Damnit. Stop.'”

“I don’t know what the Thompson Committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause. We were not ready. We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day when, in our hearts, we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.”

“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words, `tough’ and `competent.’ Tough means we will forever be accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control, we will know what we stand for.”

“Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect.”

That was Gene Kranz’s view at that time. That was his charge to all that supported his activities and, indeed, all of NASA’s activities in those extraordinary days of great successes which were barely defined as successes because they could have been tragedies, and on that day it was. So they have known, they knew then, the great successes and the great failures that define this agency. And this is another seminal moment in the remarkable history of this remarkable agency of remarkable people.

We must resolve to be that definitive in our acceptance of our failures and follow through on our commitment to the families to fix the problem now and return to the exploration objectives their loved ones dedicated their lives to.

He concluded, Gene Kranz did, his commentary that day, two days after the Apollo fire, when he said, “When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you’ll do is write ‘Tough and competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

I would suggest that we update those words, that we indeed also adopt the principle of tough and competent and that each day when we enter and we do what we do throughout this agency every single one of us ought to be reminded of the price paid by Husband, McCool, Anderson, Clark, Challa, Brown and Ramon. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of NASA and we should adopt it that way.

Let’s go to work and let’s take a break for a few moments and we’ll come back and talk. Thank you.

QUESTION: In reference to the McDonald Report on the Shuttle wiring and the shortcomings of the program back then, are any of those recommendations being taken into consideration at this time, as well?

MR. HUBBARD: We looked at dozens of previous reports and their recommendations and the 1999 independent assessment team was certainly one of those. The wiring aspect is something that’s included in this set of recommendations, particularly to come up. And I know with 17,000 engineers we will come up with a way of investigating wiring where it’s inaccessible. This is an engineering issue where it may be deteriorating back there, you can’t easily get to it. I’m confident we can find some way to investigate that.

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SpaceRef staff editor.