Status Report

Transcript of NASA Press Conference with Linda Hamm, Phil Engelauf, and LeRoy Cain (part 2)

By SpaceRef Editor
July 23, 2003
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Linda, on the transcript from the 24th, you say that you had had a discussion with Calvin Shomberg [ph], who is not in the room, about damage to tile from — potential damage to tile from foam.

Why a tile expert and not an RCC expert, and could you describe that conversation? All you did was allude to it in the MMT.

MS. HAM: Right. First, why the tile expert. I cannot recall if the RCC expert was in the room or tied in, and you would have to go back and ask that person if he was or wasn’t.

The Mission Evaluation Room, with all the systems expertise, they call in the right people. I will bet he was tied in, either downstairs or in the room.

I will say that the RCC was one of the ones that was closed out early. They had done the engineering assessment and evaluated it. He said that the worst case on the RCC would be a coating damage, which would not be a flight safety issue whatsoever. So that was closed out earlier.

The tile discussion that — yes, Calvin was in the MMT, and he did speak from the back of the room. You couldn’t hear him in the — so it didn’t come out in the transcript. He was reiterating something that he had talked to me about in my office saying that at worst case that the tile may have sort of a slope-shaped kind of damage and at worst case they would go down — it would still have a layer at the FIP [ph], a layer of tile remaining.

So he did not believe that there would be any burn-through completely all the way through a tile, that tile, and did not believe there was any safety-of-flight issue. And he had been in my office describing this to me, a couple of days prior to that. I think it was the Tuesday or — Wednesday of that week.

QUESTIONER: Do you know who the MMT person — did you get a report from an MMT person that said surface which can only stand .007-foot pound [ph] — excuse me — excuse me — from an RCC person who said that this surface that could only — it is only designed for .007-foot pound was going to come off with nothing more than coating damage from [inaudible]?

MS. HAM: I did not get a report from that person specifically, the MER manager — from the MER manager.

QUESTIONER: From the MER manager.

MS. HAM: Yes.

QUESTIONER: And who is that?

MS. HAM: McCormack.

QUESTIONER: McCormack. Okay.


QUESTIONER: Tracy [inaudible] again.

You mentioned earlier that there were people on the Mission Management Team meeting as well as in the MER who had wanted imagery. Did you ever [inaudible]?

MS. HAM: No. The people — now, in hindsight again, once I found out who they were that were members of the assessment team that wanted them, they were tied — they were in the MMT, yes, and they were in that MER meeting, yes. In fact, I think they briefed the briefing to the MER manager.

QUESTIONER: So who were they? Can you tell us the names?

MS. HAM: The co-chairs were Rodney Rojo [ph] for Engineering Directorate, and United States Alliance, Pam Adore [ph].


MS. HAM: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Pam was on the MMT, and Rodney was, too?

MS. HAM: He was tied in from downstairs. I asked him that several weeks after the accident, and I asked him, “Were you at the MMT?” He said he was in the MER — its telecon. So he didn’t — he just didn’t walk off, and he was there, downstairs.

QUESTIONER: But you asked him from the MER whether imagery was wanted, and that person could know that Rodney —

MS. HAM: I did not ask in the MMT. I asked on the phone. I called the MER up as soon as I found out, which was on a Wednesday, and called the MER manage and said,”Do you know of anyone asking for outside assistance?” They said, “Well, we’ll check around and make sure, and we’ll call you back.” They checked around, called me back and said, “No, nobody was looking.” You’re right. At their meetings, it never came up either. At the engineering meetings held in the MER, the request never came up.

You can confirm that with the MER manager.

QUESTIONER: Do you think that that indicates some kind of problem, though, in people’s willingness to speak up? Because it’s obvious some people did [inaudible].

MS. HAM: If it was, it was, you know, down at the lower level of management.
I really can’t put words in their mouth or I cannot speculate on why they didn’t feel it was appropriate to bring it to the MER manager or the MMT.

QUESTIONER: I was curious as to why the Boeing analysis, the so-called “Crater assessment,” why that wasn’t more formally — or either formally briefed during the MMT. It seems like there was a brief discussion about it, I think, on the 24th, but I am curious as to why the head of that team did not come in and brief the MMT on that issue.

MS. HAM: The MER manager will brief — uses his judgment, the MER manager and his management team, on deciding how much, the level of detail he needs to bring forward to the Mission Management Team.

I believe that the engineering community didn’t feel it was a significant enough issue to bring forward a great deal of information.

What do you think?

MR. ENGELAUF: I agree. He presented, essentially, the results of the analysis and not necessarily the details of it, I think probably because the result indicated that he didn’t believe we were going to have a problem. Had he decided that we had a problem, we would have talked about the underlying assumptions and the details and so on and so forth.

Crater. As an observer, again, sitting in the room, my interpretation of the conversation was that Crater was the tool that had been accepted up to that point as the standard tool for doing that kind of analysis, and they had run essentially what would be the norm for that kind of analysis.

MS. HAM: Another thing is that you also noticed that nobody asked questions either. You can ask John Rutts [ph], the safety rep, and all the folks on their contractor team who also supports the MER meetings, their management [inaudible] in the MER when they have those. Nobody had any technical questions. Everyone seemed to feel comfortable with what we were being told.


QUESTIONER: This is for Linda Ham. Let me just sort of come at this question from this direction. Is what you are saying, that throughout the mission while there were all of these conversations going on at various levels among engineers and contractors and all that about the need for imagery, that you didn’t know anything about those concerns and questions, and therefore, you never really responded to them until you found out after the fact?

And secondly, how much responsibility do you personally feel you bear for what proved to be faulty decisions on the severity of the foam strike and the need for the imagery?

MR. HERRING: The answer to the first question on the imagery, I was never alerted to the concerns that were expressed by the engineers working the issue. Neither the severity, the potential severity of — some of them felt — of the damage or the fact that they wanted the [inaudible] image, again, it came up to me that there may be a possible request on Wednesday. I forget which day that was.

MR. ENGELAUF: The 22nd.

MS. HAM: The 22nd, that is when it initially came up to me. That is when I went and spent a large part of my day trying to find out who was requesting it, so we could get the proper information, and it ended that day. It never came up again, never, not in the hallway, not in the Mission Management Team. None of my MMT members had heard about — heard or brought forward to me the fact that someone had been asking. So that was the beginning and the end of it.

QUESTIONER: Could you do the second part of my question?

MS. HAM: The second part, could you repeat it?

QUESTIONER: How much responsibility do you personally feel you share in what proved to be faulty decision-making on the foam and the need for imagery?

MS. HAM: Okay. Well, first of all, on the imagery, I will take responsibility for being the chair of the Mission Management Team. You know, I am the team leader there, but we are a team.

We all heard the discussions. None of us felt that the analysis was faulty. I said, first, imagery, but I am actually addressing the analysis.

I personally, nor does the MMT, do the analysis. We must rely on our contractor work force who had the systems expertise to go off and do that analysis. We don’t have the tools to do that. We don’t have the knowledge to do that or the background or expertise to do that kind of thing. So we do rely on the systems experts. That is the way that we operate. We have to rely on them to bring that forward.

On the imagery, as a team leader, I am accountable for that team, but again, no one came forward and asked for the imagery on my part and that of program management. We had no [inaudible] in going forward in asking for external help.

MR. HERRING: Marsha?

QUESTIONER: Some people with the board have told me that in listening and reading your transcript [inaudible], and other board people said the decision-maker should be [inaudible]. And I’m just if — do you consider that overly harsh criticism?

I am just wondering. I mean, you have been reading and listening to all of these various comments, too, I’m sure. How do you address these comments?

MS. HAM: Well, it goes without saying that we were all trying to do the right thing. All along, we were basing our decisions on the best information that we had at the time. Nobody wanted to do anything harm to anyone. Nobody wanted to — obviously, nobody wanted to hurt the crew.
These people are our friends. They are our neighbors. We run with them, work out with the gym with them. My husband is an astronaut. I don’t believe anyone is at fault for this.

MR. ENGELAUF: It really is amazing to me, Marsha. It is unconscionable to me that people can attribute to the members of the MMT or the Flight Control Team or the rest of the folks who are in these missions anything other than the best of intentions. These are people of good conscience doing everything in their power to get the right answers.

This is what we do for a living. When LeRoy sits at that console and his job and my job when I am there is to keep the crew safe and get them home in one piece, that is everything we do here, and when we come to work, that is all we are focused on.

So, in the end, yes, we lost the crew and we lost the vehicle, and we can’t escape that. And nobody feels worse about that than every one of us who has our hands on these missions every day, but it is not because of lack of good intent or lack of effort on anybody’s part. If the system fell down, we will fix the system, but it is really difficult for me to attribute blame to individual personalities or people.

We can find mistakes in analysis, and we can find places where we weren’t good enough, but it is not because of malice or ill intent.


QUESTIONER: Bill Harwood.

LeRoy has already done this in a previous briefing, but with Linda and Phil, just for the record, kind of, A, I know you were in mission control that day. Where were you? And I was wondering what your first reaction was when this telemetry came in, when you realized that it was the left wing, and maybe give us some insight into what you were thinking at that moment.

I mean, LeRoy had said that he immediately thought of the impact when he first heard [inaudible], and I have got a million more, but I will stop there.

MS. HAM: I was in the mission control center. We were up in the room where management overlooks the control center.

When we first lost the transducers and the MACS [ph] officer reported that to LeRoy and then he had — I think he [inaudible] some more, and he was looking to see if there was any kind of common electrical box or common MDM, multiplexer or demultiplexer, and when he commented that there wasn’t anything common that he could find, then I began to worry and I thought yeah, it is a left wing, and once the ECOM [ph], another flight control position, began to report some loss of parameters, again, I was thinking about it being the left wing now.

At that point, we were just wondering what was going on and what could this potentially mean to us, not that it wasn’t that this could be catastrophic, but as we progressed, once we lost com with the crew and then we never got radar tracking and then, you know, it was past [inaudible], obviously all the managers up in that room, probably 20 of us, knew that we needed to get the MRT set up.

We needed to get this investigation team set up. So I immediately started calling the MIT chair, Dave Whittle [ph], so that he could get his [inaudible] and we could have the meeting and start sending people out.

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SpaceRef staff editor.