Status Report

Transcript of NASA Press Conference with Linda Hamm, Phil Engelauf, and LeRoy Cain (part 3)

By SpaceRef Editor
July 23, 2003
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QUESTIONER: Tell me kind of on a personal level. I mean, that is business level, but there had to be some personal level in your mind as you heard this stuff coming out.

MS. HAM: Well, yeah. I mean, it is not a fun situation to be in. Very difficult.

MR. ENGELAUF: Mine is really similar. Linda was up in the viewing room. I was down on the floor at the console, immediately behind LeRoy’s, and similar to Linda’s, when Jeff Kling indicated that he had lost the four transducers, my first — I made a mental connection there to the impact during the ascent, but at that point, I wasn’t even close to thinking about a catastrophic outcome. I thought maybe a connector had been jarred loose by the impact, and even though at first blush, Jeff couldn’t find any commonality, kind of deep down inside I was expecting him to come up with “Oh, I found it now, and now I know where the commonality is. They all go through this connector,” or some similar sort of thing.

When we lost some more transducers, part of it was this was a difficult puzzle we were trying to figure out, and I was waiting to get some more data, so we could figure this puzzle out.
We lost com with the crew. At first, that wasn’t unusual. We take hits periodically. When we didn’t get com back, you sort of get that sick feeling in your stomach that this is not good, but in my heart, I was still holding ont hope that, yeah, com will come back in a minute and then we will know why we were out of com and we will have some more data, we can solve this puzzle.

When we got to the point where we should have had radar data and we didn’t, it was, in my mind, pretty clear that we had — we were having a real bad day and we probably had lost the vehicle. It wasn’t 100-percent certain, but I was pretty sure.

John Shannon [ph] was sitting at the console with me, another one of our Ascent/Entry flight directors at the time, and he reached down. He was sitting closest to the book shelf, and he reached down and he had the contingency procedures out and handed them to me. And he said, “You need to turn the right page here.”

He left the room and went up to talk to the managers and sort of informed the managers, who — not Linda, but some of the other folks who were up there observing, that we were going to have a real problem here.

I did get a phone call then from one of the other flight directors who was involved in the mission, and not to reveal his name, but indicated that he had been observing the over-flight and saw multiple objects overflying the area.

I got that call. It really confirmed what we already knew, pretty much. I mentioned that Eleanor Cho [ph] who was standing beside me there leaned over the console, got LeRoy’s attention and told him. And again, I don’t think I told him anything he didn’t already know in his heart, but it was sort of a final confirmation. And about that time, we were getting video pictures from Dallas and at the control center as well. So we had pretty clear indications by that point.

We called for the securing at the control center. At that point, it took me a minute. A couple of the crew members were people that I knew fairly well, and, you know, I reflected on that for a minute or two.

But then your training does take over, as LeRoy said, and everybody is going to want to know what happened during the accident, and our piece of helping that happen is to secure the data in the control center and make sure we don’t lose anything.

In addition, I think — I have a real focus on the Flight Control Team members, having been here during Challenger, not on console, but I had just finished the flight just before Challenger. I remember how a lot of the people were really severely affected, and I looked out at the Flight Control Team and looked into the eyes of some of the people sitting at the consoles.

And I think the rest of my focus for that day was playing back-stop for LeRoy and helping him through with the procedures, keeping the people in the control center engaged and focused on what they were trying to do and, quite honestly, looking at the next day and trying to figure out where we were going to go from there and what to do with the people.


QUESTIONER: My question is for Ms. Ham. I would like to revisit the on-orbit photography question, if I could, briefly. My understanding is that the first request for on-orbit photography did not come from the Damage Assessment Team, but it came from a fellow who was part of the inner center photo working group at Kennedy Space Center, and that he contacted his boss or someone — Wayne Hale [ph], who in turn contacted Mr. Austin and sort of got the process informally revved up.

And that when you responded to the photo request, it was not to the Damage Assessment Team’s request, but it was to the Kennedy Space Center request. It has also said that these requests have collided in Ms. Batique’s [ph] office when Shaq [ph], Mr. Roach’s [ph] superior, went to talk about getting possible on-orbit photography.

Can you talk about that for a minute? Which requests were you responding to when you turned it down, and how did that whole thing unfold? And specifically, what were your conversations with Mr. Austin and Mr. Hale?

MS. HAM: Okay. That was the first phone call I received was from Lambert Austin on that Wednesday morning. He said that he had heard about a possible request for imagery, and we talked about it some. And I said, “Well, who has asked?” He said it was United States Alliance Systems Integration who said that USA Orbiter wanted the picture, and I said, “Who?” He said, “Well, I really don’t know.” I said, “Well, Lambert, will you go see if you can find out, and I will see if I can find out, also.”

So I did call Lawrence Driver [ph] for United States Alliance to see if he knew of anything, and he checked around and reported back that he hadn’t heard of any request for imagery.

I talked to Space Shuttle, engineering office, and I talked to the Mission Evaluation Room, and I could not find a facility.

So then I did call the Cape, and I called Wayne. And I said, “I know you talked to Lambert, and Lambert was asking about a possible request.” I said, “You know, I have been spending the day trying to find out where it is coming from, and I really can’t find a source. So I don’t think we need to pursue it.”

QUESTIONER: Did Mr. Hale inform you at that time that the source that had originated had canceled?

MS. HAM: Not that I can recall. I cannot recall that.


QUESTIONER: Mark Karo from Houston Chronicle.

I wanted to go back to the minutes and to January 21st, and you made a comment, “I hope we had the good flight rationale then,” referring back to the outcome of the flight readiness review for the 112 mission.

I guess I wondered what you were thinking and how much did you know because you really are asking, as I interpret it, the other people to find out and refresh you. How much did you know about that incident, and how much did you know about it then, and what — I guess I was also curious from that what you wanted these other experts to respond to you with and what did you want them to come back, not the answer, but the information that —

MS. HAM: The information I was asking for was both the information for the — it was actually the STS-113 flight readiness review after 112, what was our flight rationale. That was even — and I also wanted to go back to the STS-87 where I knew we had some foam loss on the inner tank flange where it was popcorning off to smaller pieces, what was our flight rationale there.

What I wanted to do was pull those two pieces of data. What I was searching for is our flight rationale because I couldn’t recall it. It had been, what, 3 months prior when we did the STS-113. It was for our rationale based on the material properties of that foam, so that even on the bipod ramp, if that foam would come off, that it would do no damage to the Orbiter. That is what I was hoping for because, if we had done that kind of analysis before we launched 113 and say even the biggest size of bipod foam that could come off and mass properties of that, so that it won’t be enough kinetic energy to hurt the Orbiter anywhere, anywhere hit.

Well, that wasn’t what the flight rationale was, but I was hoping it would be because then we could certainly — besides the assessment we were doing for this mission specifically, with that other piece of information that would back the assessment that said we don’t have a safety flight issue, we could say — feel even more comfortable that we were safer this way.

QUESTIONER: I gather that is not what they came back and told you, and I was just trying to close the loop on —

MS. HAM: That’s true. They did not brief that out back at the MMT. What they came back with was a charge from the FARs for both the STS-113 and also the 89 which was the flight following 87, and, of course, that was a whole different case. It was a different kind of foam loss, and the 113 story could not support the flight, the flight that was 107. What we needed to do was rely on them completing their analysis to indicate whether we would have a problem during 107.

QUESTIONER: So, I just wanted to make sure. This sort of fed in, then, to eventually the credibility of the analysis you had going on with —

MS. HAM: It would, yes.


MS. HAM: That was the goal.

QUESTIONER: It made it more crucial.

MS. HAM: Yes, it did.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thank you.

MS. HAM: Rather than have the analysis in, the analysis we had done two flights ago, we only had analysis we were doing during 107.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Linda, what is your next assignment at NASA? What is next for you?

MS. HAM: I have some opportunities. Some people have suggested jobs I could do here at NASA. I haven’t made a decision. I am leaving for vacation the end of this week, and I am not going to decide what I am going to do until I get back.

You know, I have — my family is here. My husband is an astronaut, as I said. So he would like to see me continue with this career here. So I need to figure out what I am going to do.
QUESTIONER: But you are going to stay here at NASA?

MS. HAM: I am going to stay with NASA.

QUESTIONER: Linda, reading through the transcripts, there’s a couple of places where you ask [inaudible] issue only and we have seen pieces of this size before, haven’t we. McCormack says that you sort of fumbling about what the size of the damage is and that the analysis isn’t complete and [inaudible] jump conclusions. You sort of cut him off and say no burn-through means no catastrophic damage, localized heating damage [inaudible] tile replacement.

In hindsight, 20/20 hindsight, were you sufficiently open to the idea that this was a really serious problem?

MS. HAM: In 20/20 hindsight, you are asking 20/20 hindsight or what my thought was then?

QUESTIONER: Well, it sounds like you were just kind of seeking reassurance that everything was okay as opposed to digging in and saying how do we know this, are we asking the right questions, do we have the right people on this, have we [inaudible] this properly.

MS. HAM: I was asking to make — I was trying to reiterate what Don McCormack had already said to me, so that everyone in the room could understand what he was saying.

When he said — would make statements like no burn-through, that that meant no safety-of-flight issue, I wanted — I was trying to reassure even myself that that was a true fact. I couldn’t really [inaudible] or jump to a conclusion that there could be no damage until they came forward and — catastrophic damage, until they came forward and complete that analysis and tell me what the analysis showed.

Again, I don’t have the engineering expertise, nor do I have the tools to do that kind of analysis. So I didn’t have a preconceived notion on the damage or the possible consequences, and I needed to wait for them to complete their work.

MR. HERRING: I have time for one more round. So try to keep them fairly brief.

Go ahead, Tracy.

QUESTIONER: I have a quick question, then a follow-up.

I have heard from a number of engineers that when they saw the ascent video, they were very worried and instantly feared loss of vehicle. Did any of you hear about those fears?

MR. ENGELAUF: I will tell you first that I did not. I was not aware of anyone having any concerns, much less significant concerns. Certainly, for safety of flight, what I was aware of was that we had a potential for some reflight turnaround schedule or manifest type issue only, if you will, if we had some kind of minimal damage to the tile or the TPS. I was not aware of anything of that nature until well after the accident when some of these reports started to surface.

QUESTIONER: Since none of you seemed to have heard that, do you think that indicates some kind of communication difficulty that should be addressed?

MR. CAIN: Let me follow up first, and then I will let Phil and Linda answer.

We foster a culture here that very much encourages folks to talk, to communicate. The lines of communication are always open. We encourage people to — if we think we have an issue or a problem, we stand up and talk about it. We debate it. We will bring the data forward. That is the culture that we very much encourage and we foster around here.

The reason we do that is because, as you had heard Linda mention earlier, not the least of the reasons we do it anyway, is because we have the safety of a crew, the success of the missions at the forefront of our mind every single day when we come to work.

So, in order for us to be able to do our jobs effectively, it is crucial that we have open and clear lines of communication. It is absolutely critical, and it is, frankly, expected of every single person in every organization, from the engineer all the way up through the groups in the management of the programs and throughout the agency, but certainly for human space flight endeavors, that is the culture that we foster and I believe that it is alive and healthy today.

MR. ENGELAUF: I would have to agree with LeRoy. There is not a lot else I can add there. From the standpoint of the Flight Control Team culture, I think that is so inherent and embedded in the psychology and operating standards that it really is second nature to us.

I think more often, people pick on us when there is disagreement or discord, and I think it is just because we take all the inputs and we talk about everything. We spend our days when we are not flying missions in rooms having heated technical debates over how we do this or that or what this particular data means.

So I don’t think there is a resistance or a reluctance, and I will tell you that at no time during the mission from the first time I heard about the foam strike until the end of the mission did I ever hear anyone express a concern for loss of the crew and the vehicle as a result of the debris strike.

MS. HAM: I can also say that I was never alerted to any concerns expressed by the engineers, and I do — I am in the MER a lot. I am down there and I wander around in the Flight Control back rooms and others areas, and I did not hear any concerns.

Now, obviously, there are formal methods for getting things and communicating through the MER and the MMT and all that, and there is the informal way. For some reason, we didn’t get it either way, which I think is also of interest. So whatever happens somewhere, we probably need to figure that out and see if there is a way we can improve that, but I would also agree that we have wide-open communication. Our doors are always open, and we are more than willing to hear what people have to say.

It is the only way we can operate. It is the only way are going to hear about these kind of things and the only way we can continue to fly safely. So we really do need these people to feel comfortable and come forward with their issues.

QUESTIONER: In terms of the MMT meetings during the STS-107 mission and how this all played out, Linda, is there anything that you in 20/20 hindsight would do differently?

MS. HAM: In 20/20 hindsight, there are things the MMT could have done better. There are things the analysis team could have done better. There are things the whole NASA team could have done better. 20/20, perfect-vision hindsight, I would go back to the STS-113 flight readiness review, and we should have done more analysis on the foam loss we had on 112 and we should have really come — look back, done the engineering and done the work to see if we were safe to fly with the bipod [inaudible] foam coming off. I think, you know, going back that far was where we really needed to go to solve this issue.


QUESTIONER: Could you tell me who from NASA headquarters monitored these MMT meetings, particularly the three where foam was discussed?

MS. HAM: They tie in every day to the MMT, and I probably even have with me exactly those locations. I can’t tell you who was in the room.

QUESTIONER: But somebody from headquarters was monitoring all of these?

MS. HAM: Yes, that’s correct. They —

QUESTIONER: All [inaudible]?

MS. HAM: Yes.

MR. HERRING: That is probably a question for headquarters, if you want to know who actually was there.

You can have one more, Eric, since that was [inaudible]. That was my answer, and I don’t count.

QUESTIONER: Talking about 20/20 hindsight, again, do you think that perhaps there was too much emphasis placed on the need for following proper procedures and going through correct channels and somehow some of these concerns were not — did not filter up to the top of the pyramid, as you described it?

MS. HAM: My initial answer is no, I don’t believe that is the case because we are, again, more open-door policy, more than willing to take anything, any information we get either formally or informally. That is why I do go into the MER. That is why I do talk to people in my office. That is why Calvin Shomberg came to my office. I talked to Rolf Roll [ph], the head of the vehicle engineering office. We are always talking. It’s part of the job. That is why I come into the Flight Control Team. We would take an input anyway that someone was willing to give it, be it phone, e-mail, anything.

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SpaceRef staff editor.