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NASA Briefing, Part I

Aired February 2, 2003 - 17:10   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We are going back to Houston.

RON DITTEMORE, SHUTTLE PROGRAM DIRECTOR: ... the response has been overwhelming. And we appreciate it. For those families and individuals in east Texas and Ft. Worth and Dallas and Lufkin and Nacogdoches, those that have gone out of their way to help us identify debris and report it to the proper officials, we thank you. And we again, ask that you be cautious.

Again, we state that the debris, no matter how small, could have toxic consequences. And so, we ask you to notify the proper personnel in a timely fashion.

For what you have done so far, we express our thanks. Gathering this information, gathering the debris, notifying to us the locations has been important for us in this first step of piecing together the puzzle. And we are beginning to make progress.

Let me talk a little bit about our organization. I believe a press release has come out identifying a Columbia accident investigation board. That board is on its way to Shreveport, Barksdale Air Force base, should be arriving there this afternoon. We have a mishap response -- our mishap investigation team already on the scene with headquarters at Barksdale Air Force base. We have other teams in the local area, in Lufkin, in Ft. Worth and Dallas, spreading out to small communities in the general area. Working with law enforcement, state and local law enforcement, to help us identify and collect debris.

At headquarters, we have formed a contingency action team. Underneath that contingency action team is a local mishap response team that's led here at the Johnson Space Center by the shuttle program office. Reporting to the mishap response team are several important teams. The mishap investigation team, headquartered right now at Barksdale Air Force base, reports on the status of debris and human remain collection. The MIT, as we refer to it, is made up of several different agencies. This is a partnership, a collective group of individuals, now working together, comprised of NASA, FEMA, NTSB, FBI, state and local law enforcement and Department of Defense personnel. It's a large team, but it's a necessary team, in order for us to do our job properly.

This team reports to us twice a day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, on the status of their efforts and their progress. In addition to the MIT, we have numerous engineering teams that are beginning the laborious work of poring through data, taking their time to understand the different pieces and elements of the data. And that's -- we're making progress. And I'm pleased at the progress that they're making. It's going to take us some days and weeks ahead to put it all together and make sure we have it correct.

Both the engineering teams and the MIT report to the mishap response team. And the mishap response team reports to the headquarters contingency action team. All those teams are, again, supporting the Columbia accident investigation board.

So, that's how we're organized. As you can imagine, yesterday, all these different elements were coming together. And I'm proud of the men and women that, under difficult, difficult circumstances, were able to organize, communicate, relocate, plan their activities, to the point where today we're becoming very organized, very supportive of each other and working together very well.

Let me talk to you a little bit about an update in the technical arena. Caution you, first of all, that what I'm telling you today is, again, fluid. It builds on yesterday's briefing, gives a little more detail, but I'm confident that even what I tell you today will be fluid and will change from day to day for a while. It's just the nature of these types of investigations. It's the nature of trying to work through an engineering problem. First reports are notoriously unreliable. Second reports are better. Third reports, you start getting to the real details and then you have some confidence. And so, we're on this path of getting to the third and fourth reports to get some confidence.

So I'm going to be honest and open with you, and tell you exactly what we know. And hope you understand that from day to day, it will change.

But let me give you some time correlation with location on the entry yesterday from California to northeast Texas in a little more detail. At 7:53 a.m. Central Standard Time -- and all times will be Central Standard Time -- as we were over California, four left-hand elevon hydraulic return line temperature measurements dropped off off- scale, as we talked about yesterday. The left brake line, strut actuator and uplock actuator temperature measurements rose significantly, 20 to 30 degrees in five minutes.

This is significant in that these measurements were located in the wheel well, left wheel well. This was the first occurrence of a significant thermal event.

It's also important for us that we understand and have found out that the elevon temperature measurements that I talked about that had dropped offscale low, are routed adjacent to the wheel well area.

At 7:54, we were over eastern California and western Nevada. At this time, the mid fuselage left bine (ph) line temp, showed unusual temperature rise. The mid fuselage is not -- if you were looking at the vehicle, wing on the left side, the left fuselage, if you looked at the left fuselage, the wing below it, I'm talking about the temperature on the side of the vehicle, the left-hand side of the vehicle, above the wing. Unusual temperature rise. The temperature rose 60 degrees over five minutes. Whereas, on the right-hand side of the vehicle, in the same location but opposite on the right-hand side showed a nominal 15-degree rise, 1-5, 15 degree rise, over five minutes.

Another interesting piece of information that even though the mid fuselage bine (ph) line temp showed a 60-degree rise over five minutes, just inside that wall -- outside we saw a 60-degree rise in five minutes -- just inside the wall, in the payload bay, our cryotanks, our cryogenic tanks were nominal. So, it didn't look like there was any increase in temperature within the payload bay, as far as we're able to discern today.

At 7:58 a.m., over New Mexico, the roll trim and the elevons started to increase, indicating that we had an increase in drag on the left side of the vehicle.

Does this mean something to us? We're not sure. It can be indicative of rough tile. It can be indicative for, perhaps, missing tile. We're not sure yet. We do know it's indicative that there was an increase in drag on the left side of the vehicle.

At this time, we also lost the left, main landing gear tire pressure and wheel temperature measurements. We're fairly confident that this loss of information was measurement-related and not loss of the tires themselves, because the measurements were staggered in their loss. If we would have lost a tire, they would have lost, physically we believe that we would have lost all the measurements at the same time. But that didn't occur. We lost some measurements in a stagger fashion. So, it indicates to us that it was instrumentation, rather than a physical loss of the tire.

At 7:59 a.m., we're over west Texas. Again, we see an increase in the roll trim, as indicated by elevon motion, indicating that the vehicle was reacting to an increased drag on the left-hand side. The flight control system was countering that drag by trying to command the vehicle to roll to the right-hand side.

So, we were seeing a drag, causing the vehicle to roll to the left. The flight control system was commanding surfaces to get the vehicle back to where it believed it should be, more to the roll to the right.

Soon after, we had loss of signal. We do believe that there are -- there is additional information to us, another 32 seconds that we believe, if we go into our computer system on the ground, that we can pull out additional data, in the neighborhood of 32 seconds after the point yesterday where we lost signal, and that may give us additional information about what happened, subsequent to that time.

In addition to that, yesterday you informed me of a report from California about an observer seeing what was indicated to be debris shedding from the orbiter. We have talked to that observer and we have his written statement. We believe that is important to us, because we are trying to correlate what that observer experienced and saw with the time line that I just related to you. And during the coming hours, overnight and tomorrow, we're going to overlay his report with what the data shows to us. And hopefully, the two of them will help us piece together to a path that we think might lead us to the cause.

Again, very early in our analysis. And we're still poring over a lot of data. So, bear with us as we go through this effort and bear with us as we report to you, because it's going to be fluid and it's going to change. And it's certainly possible that we'll contradict ourselves from day to day. That's just the nature of what we have to go through right now.

You asked me yesterday whether we were concentrating on the tile only. We are not. There are other areas -- we're looking at structure, we're looking at thermal indications, we're looking at flight control. And as we bury down into the data, we're getting more and more information that will help us decipher the problem and get the pieces of the puzzle together to help us find the cause. So, we're -- we're gaining ground, not a lot. We're gaining ground. And in the coming days, we'll give you more information as we get it.

At this point, I'd like to turn some time over to Bob. And then, we'll respond to your questions.

BOB CABANA, DIR., FLIGHT CREW OPERATIONS, JSC: First off, I'd like to thank all of you on behalf of the families for the tremendous outpouring of support from across the country. It really means a lot to them. I would also like to ask the media to respect the privacy of the families during this difficult time. I know when the time comes and they're ready, they'll be more than willing to talk with all of you.

It's been a tremendously difficult last couple of days. Yesterday was probably the hardest day in my life, to have to sit down with the families of close friends and tell them that their husbands and wives and moms and dads aren't going to be coming home. And if you've never had to do that, I hope you never have to.

I'd also like to say that the support that was provided in Florida to the families was outstanding. I couldn't be more proud of our team down there, in what they did. It went very well from that point of view. And getting the families home here to Houston, where they could have a better support network, went well.

We are working very closely with the families. We in the astronaut office, it is our family. And we have assigned astronauts to each of the families, as their casualty assistance officers, to support them and provide what they need.

We're focused on a very difficult time right now, and Ron gave you a lot of details about what happened. But I'd also like to point out that we're still finding space. We have a crew in orbit right now. And we have a space station on orbit. And they also deserve our full attention, to ensure that they have a safe and productive mission. Along those lines, I had a long talk with Sox (ph) and Don and Nikolai this morning, mostly with Sox (ph) and Don. And I want you to know, they're being kept fully informed about what's going on down here on the ground.

Mostly it was just sharing. I shared with them. They're grieving up there, also. And they feel a little isolated. We're keeping them fully informed. And I told Sox (ph) I wouldn't keep anything from him, anything I knew down here on the ground about what was going on, he would know on orbit. And I shared the technical details that Ron shared with you with the crew. And I've shared some other things I'll tell you about.

They want to get through this process. And it's harder for them being detached from it in space. But all I can tell you is they're in tremendous spirits. They're proud to be where they are. They're proud to be part of the space program and be contributing to the science that's going on on the International Space Station.

I shared stories with them about the crew. I talked about better memories, about on-orbit video conference I had with them and how happy they were to be there and how much it meant to them to be contributing on this mission. And those are the memories I'm always going to cherish.

I'm sure you've heard, before I go on, just from another point of view, as far as supporting the crew on orbit, they were very glad to hear about the successful Progress launch and are looking forward to docking of the next Progress vehicle, about 08:50 Central time on Tuesday morning. They're well-prepared for it and looking forward to getting those supplies up there.

I'm also sure that you've all heard reports of the recovery of human remains in the debris field. I want you to know that the federal authorities, the local authorities are doing an extremely professional job in the field. That we have astronauts in the field with them. And that we're treating those remains with the ultimate respect and care that they deserve.

And out of respect for the families, I'm not going to go into anymore detail than that. I just want you to know that we're honoring our fellow crewmates and we're taking care of them. And it's a tough time. But I want you to know that we're going to get through this. We're a close-knit group. We're a family. And we support one another. And this is going to pass. We're going to continue to fly. And we are flying, and we're going to continue to do great things. Thank you.

KYLE HERRING, NASA PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Thank you, Bob. Let's see, to give you a rundown. We're going to start here in Houston. And we're going to go to the Kennedy Space Center for questions, followed by headquarters in Washington, followed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and then, to Lufkin, Texas, where a command center is located. So those are the sites for questions. As you can see, we have a lot of places to go. I would caution you and urge you to please ask one question. Please don't ask a follow-up. We don't have enough time for that. And if you have already heard the question from someone else, don't ask it again. You're just going to take time away from everybody else.

For here in Houston, please wait for a microphone. We have some mike handlers here. State your name and affiliation. And we'll start -- we'll start right here, Greg, on the front row. A couple.

QUESTION: Gene Gleason (ph) from Channel 7 in Los Angeles. What -- I know you're looking at flight controls and other things, but is there anything in the activity of the shuttle orbiter that would be consistent with the types of maneuvers you're seeing and the response from the elevon and the heating that would be other than missing tiles?

DITTEMORE: What's a little intriguing is that it looks like the orbiter is doing just what it should do. It's responding to command. It's maintaining its attitude. A little bit of a drag increase and a reaction from flight control is not alarming in any sense. When you piece it together with all the other events that we've talked about, we believe that might be a piece of the puzzle.

But even the trim that I talked to you about and the fact that the flight control system was asking for a little bit more trim to counter what looks like an increased drag on the left-hand side, it's well within the ability of the flight control system to respond to and to react. It's out of family, in the sense that we've never seen it to this degree. But it does not approach the limits of saturating the flight control system.

So, it's an interesting piece of data that's part of our equation. And we're putting it in with everything else we have got to look at. And I think it will help us in the long run. But by itself, it was not tremendously unusual.

QUESTION: If I can follow up...

DITTEMORE: No, no, you can't. Bill.

QUESTION: Sorry. It's Bill Horwood (ph), with CBS. Ron, you carefully led us into the landing gear wheel well, with some of these temp sensors and tying the hydraulic system to what you were seeing in other places. Realizing speculation is obviously what you are trying to avoid, but just getting me in the wheel well makes me wonder, if the temperatures that you saw and the drag you saw, would that in any way be consistent with either a landing gear door coming off or an ET (ph) umbilical attached door opening? And have you ruled out any connection with the impact -- the debris impact from shortly after launch with the insulation?

DITTEMORE: Well, we certainly know that the wheel well area is one of our sensitive areas, thermally. We've analyzed that area intensively in the past. And the loss of any one single tile we believe would not be the cause for loss of a vehicle. In fact, we believe we can lose a tile in different locations, and all by themselves, we don't believe that would represent loss of vehicle. It may represent some structural damage, but not loss of a vehicle. Certainly, as we start talking more about the wheel well area, what's interesting to us about it is yesterday, we had indications of the trailing edge, left in-board, left out-board elevon. As we are starting to look at the trail of this wiring, as it goes through the fuselage and out to the elevon, it has a common point as it goes adjacent to the wheel well. That's interesting to us. That's all we know today.

So, as we go through the coming days, maybe I'll get more information to add to this puzzle. I don't have anymore than what I told you today. I don't want to speculate anymore than the information I gave you. Be cautious. I know I'm thinking the same thing you're thinking, but I can't go beyond that. And I want to be careful that I don't jump to conclusions, because if I do, I'll miss something else that may be very important.

So, you got the point. There may be some significance to the wheel well. We're going to look in that area more carefully. We're going to inspect vehicles down in Florida. OB-103 (ph) is going through its maintenance down period. We may elect to go into the wing and look how this wiring has been implemented in the fuselage to help us understand what 102 (ph) looked like, to see if there was any thermal breaches, would that also affect the wheel well and the wiring. So we've got some more detective work, but that's why I say we're making progress, inch by inch.

QUESTION: Eric Roanoke (ph), "L.A. Times." Did this spacecraft carry a flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, and if so, were they armored you with standard sort of forces?

DITTEMORE: Well, we carry a voice recorder, we carry data recorders. But they're not armored in the way that you think about commercial aircraft and a black box. We don't have that capability. It's doubtful that those avionics boxes survived.

QUESTION: Evan Daly (ph), News 24, Houston. Regarding the International Space Station, there was some initial concern by the public about getting supplies to the station. Can you talk a little bit more in detail about what's going to be happening on Tuesday, how you're getting the supplies there? What's being taken there and also how this accident is going to affect future deliveries?

CABANA: I leave that to the space station program to discuss in greater detail, but it was the planned Progress launch, bringing up the nominal supplies. The program is making every effort to ensure that the crew on orbit has all that they need to continually man the space station. And right now, there's absolutely no concern for any of their consumables on board.

QUESTION: Jennie Blankenship (ph), with KI CBS News in Austin. Many of us attended church services this morning for the astronauts. And I think a lot of people tend to think of them as scientists, or science-oriented people. But can any of you tell me how big a role God or spirituality plays in astronauts' lives? I understand it's very strong. CABANA: Well, I'll tell you right now. I wish I had half the faith of Rick and Evelyn Husband. I don't know of any finer individual or anybody that has a greater faith in his Creator. And it's been a source of strength for Evelyn. I know that she's content to know that Rick is with his Lord, now, and that brings a lot of peace to her. Rick was a tremendous guy.

QUESTION: Samantha Levine (ph), "U.S. News and World Report." Do you have any information on the size and/or weight on any pieces of material that may have broken from the shuttle on its ascent?

DITTEMORE: Are you talking about the ascent?


DITTEMORE: We didn't have any pieces that broke away from the shuttle, the orbiter, during the launch phase. The only thing that we know of and that we're looking into is what I previously briefed, and that was the piece of foam installation that was shed by the external tank.

QUESTION: Sanjay But (ph), "Palm Beach Post." You talked a little bit about the drag on the left wing and how the craft has measures it can take. Could you elaborate a little bit on whether there are any kind of optional maneuvers that the crew had to ease off of that left wing in their entry?

DITTEMORE: At this time, during re-entry, the crew is watching the flight control system do its job automatically. And they would not be alarmed. They may watch the trim. They'll have indications in the cockpit of the flight control system, trying to trim out the vehicle. And they would certainly know that the vehicle was trying to, maybe yaw (ph) and roll a little bit to the left. And the flight control surfaces would respond appropriately. And just like on an airplane, they would correct it and move the orbiter and straighten the nose out and get it to the right altitude. Very small motions, very small degrees.

And the crew would watch it. I'm sure they would talk about it, but there would be really no cause for alarm. The vehicle was doing what it was designed to do, and the software and the flight control systems were handling any disturbance.

QUESTION: Gentlemen, Chuck Goudy (ph) from ABC 7 in Chicago. You touched on this a little bit in that answer, but is there any evidence that the crew knew that there was a problem during the six- minute timeline that you were just talking about? And is there evidence that they, indeed, did what you just said they could do?

DITTEMORE: Well, based on our familiarity with the crew and the training regimen, we know that's what they were doing during re-entry. We know they're monitoring flight control systems. We know that they're monitoring attitude. We train them to do that. As pilots, that is what they're going to do. So we're confident that's exactly what they were doing. We have no data, no communication, no evidence that the crew was alarmed, had any communication. We had no communication with the ground concerning these parameters that I've talked to you about. I feel certain that on board, they could have talked one to another, to say look at that particular parameter. We ought to watch it. But I'm speculating that's what happened. I feel confident as pilots that's what they would do. But we have no information from the crew to the ground that would confirm what they were doing on board.

QUESTION: Phil Robertson (ph), with WFTV in Orlando. Going back to the discussions concerning the debris hitting the tiles, were those engineering meetings -- was the discussion intense? Was there a lot of discussion about that? Was anybody even throwing up a red flag or throwing out possible contingencies or scenarios that might need to take place, just in case there was some drag or anything else?

DITTEMORE: We handled that debris impact like we would do any off-nominal event. Number one, it occurred. Two, where did it hit the orbiter? Three, since it hit the orbiter, what could be any consequence of hitting the orbiter? Is it severe or inconsequential? And should we do anything about it?

We went through the gamut of what we normally do. The management was involved, technical people, technical experts were involved and they had a thorough discussion. Our technical experts believed the debris that hit the orbiter was inconsequential. It was not going to represent an impact to our flight control qualities or our safety.

But even then, we talked about what if it did. What would we do, even if it did. And we had that discussion. We talked about, in our technical teams, is there a way that if we were wrong, was there a way during entry that would minimize the thermal profile? And we reminded ourselves if you think about how we've designed this vehicle, with these tiles, we fly the minimal profile today. Anything beyond this profile aggravates the temperature extremes, and that seems logical. It is logical. Because I'm re-using this vehicle over and over again, so I'm trying to send it through an environment that minimizes the wear and tear on the structure and the tile.

And so, we're already at the minimum environment, as far as coming in during entry. We asked ourselves, is there any other option? There's no other option. If you want to come back home, you have got to come back through the atmosphere. And the way this vehicle flies, you have to get the nose up in the air and you have to protect yourself from the environment. And we put it in such an attitude as to minimize the thermal effects on the vehicle.

We were there already. There was nothing we can do from an environment or technique point of view. So we talked about that. We reinforced our beliefs. We reinforced our knowledge. We went through the "what if" scenario, if we were wrong, what's the worst case. All that was talked about. Again, we had strong participation from our safety and quality, strong participation from our flight crew members, our flight control, our mission ops. All the technical and engineering disciplines, the appropriate management, and we concluded that it did not represent a safety concern. It represented a turnaround issue that we needed to go investigate. And we still believe that today. But as we gather more evidence, certainly more of the evidence may point us in a different direction, and we're very interested in that.

QUESTION: You mentioned an additional -- Harry Forrestfield (ph) from CBS Television, you mentioned on additional 32 seconds of data that you think may be in your computers. Can you tell us anything about the nature of that data? Whether there's any question that it is in your computers? And how long it would take to extract and analyze?

DITTEMORE: It should take us no time at all to get that data. The reason it doesn't come forward right away is because we have criteria. When the data starts getting ruddy (ph) or doesn't represent itself in the framework of the packaging of the data down to the ground, if it's not -- for example, if it's not 80 percent or 90 percent good, then we throw up flags and don't allow it to be displayed to our flight control system.

So, we're going after data that we know we can extract. It may have been flagged as bad information because it violated this criteria. But yet, we can go in and extract it. And let's say half the frames were good. Well, we're going to go after those -- that 50 percent, maybe that information may lend something to our investigation. We've done it in the past. We did it during Challenger. And so, we're going to go after this information.

QUESTION: I'm Mark Corro (ph) from "The Houston Chronicle." And I have a timeline question for Ron Dittemore. Can you explain this flap? The foam issue on a timeline basis? When your engineering analysis saw the film in flight day or mission elapsed time, when you began an internal discussion of this issue and when you resolved it? And can you put it on some sort of day scale or something that we can relate to, in terms of the launch and the landing?

DITTEMORE: I can certainly do that. I don't have all that information with me today. We will provide you with that information. Recall that this event happened around 80 seconds after launch. We didn't recognize that this event occurred until the following day, because it is our practice to review all the launch films in great detail, frame by frame. And when you have a very small debris, piece of debris or foam that sheds off the vehicle, it's not obvious that that occurs, especially as you look up into the plume, you're looking at a lot of rocket engine and solid rocket motor plume and you're not able to see a very piece of debris, unless you look at it very carefully, with the right experts on the film.

And we did -- we do this by practice, the following day. And we report any occurrences of debris. This was done, just as we planned. It was reported on the following day, the day after launch. And at that point, we kicked off the engineering teams to look and see whether that represented a concern.

What I don't know today is was it one day or three days before that issue was resolved to our satisfaction. It was more than one. And I just don't know how long, and we'll take a note to get that information to you outside this briefing.

QUESTION: Kelly Young (ph), at "Florida Today." For context, can you describe for me the reasons why you don't want to leave the station unmanned and the process for powering it down?

CABANA: Well, I think we don't want to leave it unmanned because we're exploring. We're doing science. We have a mission. We're up there to do what we set out to do. And that's not leave the space station. The crew is working very hard up there. They've got a lot to do. And it just wouldn't be right to quit.

DITTEMORE: And at this point, there's no reason to consider unmanning the station. We have sufficient supplies. We're able to communicate and perform and function as planned. We're early in our investigation on the shuttle. And so, it's premature for us to consider even talking about that. And it is our goal and our objective to stay continuously manned, unless there would be some other reason not to.

QUESTION: Mike Cabbage (ph) with "The Orlando Sentinel," for Ron. Insulation and ice coming off the tank and striking the orbiter during ascent is certainly not anything new. Could you talk a bit about what the program has done in recent years to minimize the chance of damage coming from events like that? And is this the sort of a calculated risk or an inherent risk in the shuttle's design that's always going to be there?

DITTEMORE: Well, it's very important for us to understand the debris field and the possibility or potential of debris. Small pieces of debris may not be any problem for you at all. Depending on when that debris occurs. We have established criteria, even before liftoff, that we will not permit a launch if we have ice on the tank, or ice on the vehicle, in specific locations. And these locations have been analyzed in such a way that we know if we have so much ice at a various -- at a predetermined thickness, we know that it could shed off the tank and could impact either the windows of the orbiter or the underside of the orbiter and affect the tile.

So, we're very cautious about debris, and anything that might represent a debris source. Ice would be one of those.

We have had instances in the past where we have shed debris. I talked to you yesterday about an insulation problem on the tank, a year or two ago, where during the launch phase, we were reaching an environmental condition where the insulation was outgassing (ph) in such a way that it was popping pieces of insulation off the tank and it was impacting the bottom of the orbiter and it was damaging the tile. And the tile damage was somewhat superficial, but because the popcorning -- popcorning was numerous, it represented a significant increase in the number of tiles that were being damaged, and hence when we got back to turn the vehicle around, we had a lot more work to do to repair tiles and to replace them.

So we were aggressive in trying to understand this popcorning, to the point of putting cameras on the boosters and looking at the tank so that we can actually see the phenomenon occur. And then, we were better able to resolve it, and which we did resolve it. We determined the root cause and we implemented corrective action, and we do not have the popcorning phenomenon occur any longer.

It wasn't too long ago that we flew a camera on the top of the tank. And you saw that. We flew it once. Our purpose in flying the camera was to get a bird's eye view of looking down at the tank and the orbiter interface, to learn if there was anything that was going on that, perhaps, that we hadn't predicted and couldn't see from the ground. And we built these cameras and positioned them in such a way, for just that type of engineering evaluation.

Now, we flew it once. And we were surprised a little bit by the hazing that we got at SRB separation. And so, we're working on that particular camera. But that's the type of activity we would put in place. And those are the types of preventative actions we're working on to make sure that we mitigate any possibility of debris.

QUESTION: Lisa Stark (ph) with ABC News. When you realized that you had this debris that had struck the shuttle and you started your analysis, what was the discussion about trying to take a look either through satellites or these large telescopes that the military has? And why was a decision made not to try that?

DITTEMORE: We certainly had that discussion, because we know there is a capability available to us to take a look at the orbiter and, perhaps, get us some pictures that are quite a bit -- a close-up view. I talked about this yesterday, where we had a drag chute door fall off. Did you listen so I don't have to go through that one again?

We had the drag chute door fall off right there at the launch phase, and when we got to orbit, we were very interested in what the back end of the vehicle looked like. And we actually did take some pictures. We positioned the orbiter at a particular attitude and we took some pictures. We reviewed the pictures, and they did not reveal a lot of granularity that would help us. We knew that as our background. That was our database. We believed that taking a picture at the bottom of the orbiter, looking for a tile or tile damage, might show us -- you know, the bottom of the vehicle is black -- it might show us white. By itself, a white tile is not an alarming fact. It does not show us the depth of tile that may have been shaved off. We cannot make a determination conclusively, whether that represents a concern or not.

The second factor was, even if I had information, I can't do anything about it. I'm really helpless to go out and do any tile repair. And the third factor was I had done the analysis. The best experts at our disposal concluded that it was a minor problem, not a significant problem. And when you added all that up, there was no need to take pictures to document any evidence, because we believed it to be superficial and it to be a turnaround issue and not a safety issue. And so, we didn't take any pictures.

QUESTION: Paul Dandridge (ph) with Channel 2 and Channel 9 in Los Angeles. Having moved away from the debris bin that hit the orbiter, saying it was inconsequential, can we move to the wheel well and that breach. What might possibly, if in fact that was the case, have caused that?

DITTEMORE: I didn't say we had a wheel well breach. All I said is we had some temperature sensor and pressure sensor indications that we lost. Off-scale low, which means they quit working. We did have an indication that on the side of the vehicle -- not in the wheel well -- on the side of the vehicle, we had a 60-degree rise over five minutes. That's not normal.

I really have no temperature rise inside of the main gear well, at all. All I know is that I lost temperature measurements. All I know is I have routing of wire close by. I know that the left side of the vehicle was getting warmer than the right side. And it would be speculation to say that the main landing gear well is my problem. I don't know that yet. I'm giving you that information -- I'm giving you as much information as I have. And that's all I know today.

I have no breach. I have no indicator that says the wheel well got hot. All I am doing is putting together different pieces of the puzzle and trying to understand what it means. And I don't yet have the answer.

QUESTION: Chris Hainbulb (ph) with WFAA TV in Dallas. Texas Governor Rick Perry has reportedly told school administrators in 93 counties not to open the schools until all of them have been fully inspected for debris and guaranteed safe. Did this advice come from NASA? And just how much of a threat does this pose to children?

DITTEMORE: I'm not aware of that report, nor am I aware of any advice that's coming from NASA, relative to the debris, to the governor. But I am -- let me reinforce the fact that pieces of debris can be toxic. And for the safety of the public, the safety of families and children, it is best that you not pick up the debris. It's best that you identify it, locate it and then call the proper authorities. Something that looks innocent could have become contaminated just because of the event. And we certainly don't want anybody to get harmed because of their zealousness to help us.

And so, we're trying to get the word out, to be careful. Call the proper authorities. Don't pick it up. Let the proper authorities move it and tag it appropriately.

HERRING: OK, I'm going to take two more questions here before going to the other center, so we'll take Miles and then...

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Question for Ron from Miles O'Brien at CNN. Ron, what do we know about the specific external tank? Was it a lightweight tank? In other words, a tank that hasn't been used as much of late, because super lightweight tanks have been used for the space station -- and so, how much shelf life did it have? And have you had a chance to look at all about -- and document any of the processes for putting on the foam of this particular tank?

DITTEMORE: We have really two types of tank in our inventory. We have what we call a lightweight tank and a super lightweight tank. The super lightweight tank was developed in our efforts to improve our performance, to gain more cargo lift capability to the station. The lightweight tank is what we flew, consistently, many years ago. And the one that we flew on SDS-107 was one of two that we had in our inventory remaining.

There's no concern about the lightweight tank. It's just different material than the super lightweight. It weighs roughly 6,000 to 7,000 more pounds than the super lightweight tank. But structurally and performance-wise, we had used it for many years and had no reason to doubt its capability.

I don't know, Miles, how long that particular tank had been built, sitting in inventory. We can certainly get that. We have that knowledge. And we have one more tank that's sitting in inventory, of lightweight nature.

QUESTION: Bruce Nichols (ph), "Dallas Morning News," for Ron Dittemore. You told us yesterday that the crew routinely got out of their seats to take pictures as the tank separated. Did they tell you what they saw? Were they able to transmit those pictures? Did they know it could be serious? What did they tell you?

DITTEMORE: We did alert the crew later on that we did have a debris impact from the tank onto the orbiter. We kept them informed of our analysis on the ground. And finally, as we have concluded that it was not going to be anything more than superficial, we alerted the crew to that fact.

I don't recall if we had any conversations from the crew to the ground, relative to the pictures that they took. Bob, do you recall?

CABANA: I don't -- I don't think there were any. Normally, the crew would take the pictures and stow that film, mark it and stow it for early return to Houston upon landing.

DITTEMORE: Especially given the knowledge that it was superficial and inconsequential, they went on with their business, stored the film and knew that we were interested in it as soon as they landed.


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