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Special Report: Columbia -- A Shuttle Tragedy

Aired February 2, 2003 - 20:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's incredible that one moment changes everything. It's the difference between tragedy and triumph, a mere 16 minutes from what would have been considered a great victory. But instead, we're gathered today around tragedy.


ANNOUNCER: A nation mourns while investigators look for answers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still flying in space. We have a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) orbit right now and we have a space station on orbit. And they also deserve our full attention to insure that they have a safe and productive mission.


ANNOUNCER: This is a CNN special report, COLUMBIA: A SHUTTLE TRAGEDY. From the CNN global headquarters in Atlanta, here's Anderson Cooper.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Thirty- five hours after we last saw Columbia streak across a clear blue Texas sky, the search for debris continues. Just about two or three hours ago, NASA telling us remains of all seven Columbia astronauts have been found. But the search for debris spread over two states continues and one has to wonder if all of it will ever be recovered.

Tonight, we have a lot to cover. Joining me for our special report for the next hour, CNN's Miles O'Brien. He is reporting live from Johnson Space Center in Houston. We will check in with Miles in just a moment. But first, let's get an update on the latest developments. For that, we turn to Carol Lin.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Anderson. Well, without offering any firm conclusions, NASA officials have a somewhat clearer picture about the shuttle tragedy. They say Columbia's computers adjusted the flight altitude just before the orbiter broke apart. The change was prompted by increased drag on the vehicle accompanied by a sharp increase in the temperature in the fuselage.

NASA also says remains of all seven crewmembers have been found. Israel's ambassador to the U.S. says Ilan Ramon's family is especially anxious to have his remains returned to Israel for a Jewish burial. Ramon's widow says their 5-year-old daughter may have actually had a premonition about the disaster. When the shuttle blasted off 17 days ago, the little girl said, "I lost my daddy."

And people across America and around the world have been creating spontaneous memorials to the Columbia astronauts. NASA is holding an official memorial on Tuesday in Houston. President and Mrs. Bush are expected to attend, Anderson. That is the latest that we've got there.

COOPER: Carol, thanks very much. We'll check back with you shortly.

Around 5:00 Eastern Time today at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, there was a press conference. It lasted for about an hour and a half. NASA officials talking -- going through a lot of details about what they know, what they don't know and what they want to find out. Miles O'Brien was at the press conference. He joins us now with details -- Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it's a story of raw emotion and also some raw numbers. And we got a lot of that today as Ron Dittemore, the shuttle program manager and Bob Cabana, flight crew operations director here, spent quite a bit of time laying out what they know so far, technically speaking, about the final minutes of Columbia's flight and a little bit about the beginning of the flight.

We'll talk about that in a minute, but first, basically to boil down what they said when they gave us that timeline of the last five minutes; you had a combination of two things happening. As Columbia came in, temperature sensors inside the left wheel well were indicating a significant spike as well as temperature sensors here on the left wall of the fuselage. And at the same time, some sensors that were in this flip at the trailing edge of the wing went solid. It just so happens they're cables went right through that wheel well. At the same time, it was trying to pull to the left. The orbiter's autopilot was trying to compensate, trimming it back, fighting that tendency to pull left. All of that, we're told, is consistent with a problem with the tiles underneath, either rough tiles or perhaps some missing tiles.

Joining me now to hash out a little bit of the technicalities here is Norm Thagard, veteran shuttle astronaut, a man who joined the astronaut corps in 1978, the first crew of astronauts selected specifically for the shuttle.

Norm, I don't want to get too far down the road here because that is definitely a bit of speculation we have there. But everything we've said there is consistent with a body of fact.

NORM THAGARD, FORMER SHUTTLE ASTRONAUT: That's exactly right. And I think what Ron Dittemore said this afternoon is he feels like probably anyone hearing that information would feel that's what it leads you to, but it's still too early to say that this or that is the cause because the situation is still fluid. O'BRIEN: All right. So do you feel fairly confident that no matter what the cause of that potential problem might have been that it -- that is perhaps what can best explain what we have seen from those flight data recorders or actually, the flight data, which is in the computers here in Houston of the last five minutes of Columbia?

THAGARD: Well, I would say that because in science you build a hypothesis that's consistent with all the observations and that one certainly is.

O'BRIEN: All right. Which brings us to the beginning of this mission, 17 days ago. And we've been talking a fair amount this and this is where we need to be very careful about the speculation because 80 seconds after Columbia launched from the launch pad there at the Kennedy Space Center, there was a piece of debris from the orange external fuel tank, which I'll reassemble the shuttle stack here for just a moment. We'll look at the analytical graphics animation to give you a sense of what happened.

As the shuttle rose, building up speed, and the pressure increasing on it, some object fell off that orange external fuel tank, which feeds fuel into the main engines of this orbiter as it raises toward orbit. And that object whether it was a piece of that orange foam, which insulates that tank or perhaps some ice or maybe a combination of both, definitely struck the left underside of that wing.

All right. Let's take it from there, Norm. How far do we go with that before we're getting deep into speculation?

THAGARD: Well, that is speculation because we loose this foam material on every flight. I've seen it certainly on the flights on which I was up on the flight deck. It almost looks like snow at times and the most it does is streak the wings. It does do minor damage to the tiles, but it wouldn't appear that that kind of material could do the sort of damage that would seem to have to happen to cause this accident.

O'BRIEN: NASA astronauts, anybody who's flown a shuttle has seen this stuff, so...

THAGARD: When you're up on the flight deck, you'll see it.

O'BRIEN: All right. So when engineers were pouring over the film that they looked at the day or so after launch and discovered this, it would, number one, be not unusual to see the foam fall off, and number two, based on what they've learned over a 112 previous flights, it would also not be way off the mark to conclude that that foam wouldn't cause much damage.

THAGARD: I think that's what you would conclude. And looking at the picture of it, it was white; exactly like that foam material appears to be when it comes off on this trail.

O'BRIEN: And finally, one other point here, which is perhaps more to the point than anything. Even if there was a tremendous amount of damage caused by that foam or ice or whatever it was, there really is nothing that the crew or anybody here at Mission Control could have done, is that correct?

THAGARD: That's pretty much correct. And it's one of those situations where if you're the crew, maybe it's even better not to know that because even knowing it, what do you do now.

O'BRIEN: Yes, all right. Norm Thagard, thank you very much for your insights. It's interesting to think that 80 seconds after this 16-day mission began; the crew might very well have been doomed. Well, we will be following that very closely and looking at other possibilities, trying not to get the blinders on. Certainly, NASA here is not trying to focus on any one thing for fear, as Ron Dittemore put it just a little while ago, of missing something very important.

Now, this was an in-flight breakup that is unprecedented in aviation and space history. Traveling 18 times the speed of sound, some 40 miles above the surface of the planet, the space shuttle Columbia broke up and rained down debris all over the continental United States -- Texas and Louisiana and New Mexico. But primarily the focus of much of the debris field in the area of Nacogdoches, Texas and that's where we find CNN's Ed Lavandera this evening -- Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Miles. Well, officials here in Nacogdoches have put out a preliminary map that they've used GPS technology to kind of pinpoint just what -- how much area they have to cover. And it has pretty much taken up the entire county. That is how much work they have ahead of them in the weeks ahead. They've already had 1,200 confirmed sightings and the locations of debris found in Nacogdoches County and that is important because right now, officials here say they've essentially pretty much run out of manpower as they await for federal officials to tell them with what they need to do with what is already been found on the ground. So they're hoping they can begin processing and moving what's already on the ground so they get those officials or that manpower onto the other debris that is still laying around the county.

Twelve hundred pieces of debris in Nacogdoches County alone. We understand that today they were able to find a portion of the crew cabin, a portion of a tire as well as a portion of a harness. And there were also three confirmed locations where human remains were found here in the Nacogdoches area as well, so much work ahead of them.

And also, one of the things that is now kind of slowing things down is that many of the -- much of the debris or -- in some locations, debris has fallen around schools. And now, there is concern that schools won't be able to open tomorrow unless that material is removed and the decision will be left up to the school district as to determine whether or not they should open tomorrow. But EPA crews have been given a preliminary go-ahead to be able to go into these school areas and try to remove that material out so that school can resume tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SHERIFF THOMAS KERSS, NACOGDOCHES, TEXAS: We do have FEMA collection teams that have arrived in Nacogdoches County that are going to place our public schools and private schools on a top priority for collection. As it stands right now, those are the only approved sites for retrieval of any type of debris. Anything else beyond that will come on a case-by-case basis.


LAVANDERA: Miles, officials here say that there are 25 calls coming in an hour with reports of new debris being found in the area. Officials here will use GPS technology to mark each one of these debris spots. And I think in a few weeks, perhaps even months, they will be able to put out a map of the entire east Texas area, they'll be able to pinpoint just how massive an area these folks have had to search through -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I know they're anxious to get that debris removed. It's a lot of manpower involved in all that, Ed Lavandera.

Let's turn our attention to Maria Hinojosa. She's nearby. She's in Sabine, Texas, another place where there's a tremendous amount of debris and where that issue of preserving that debris is uppermost on people's minds -- Maria.

MARIA HINOJOSA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, what we can talk to you about is really what the feeling is on the ground here. There are about 300 volunteers that fanned out into the Sabine National Forest, picking their way through the woods to try to find something.

And we want to show some of the pictures that perhaps give a sense of the enormity of the effort here. We ran into people as they were coming out of the forest in their yellow jump-suits. We're beginning to see dozens upon dozens, really hundreds, coming out of the forest. They had spent the entire day there, giving up their time, working for hours upon hours in difficult terrain. We've been told it's very difficult terrain.

We spoke to one middle-aged woman who said that it was hard work mostly because she had to do so much climbing and getting inside the mud. And I have to tell you though the interesting thing -- I have to hearken back to September 11 because what you really saw here was a group of people that crossed all kinds of borders. There were young, old, men, women, people of all different races. They certainly could have decided to spend this day trying to heal at home, but they decided that this was the work that they profoundly needed to do to heal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a national emergency, a national issue. And we all feel it's our responsibility to partake in this and help out any way we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HINOJOSA: So we -- Miles, after we saw that, we drove about half a mile or so. We were on our way back here when all of a sudden we happened upon another amazing moment, a very dramatic moment. We have been here for two days now. We have seen a lot of debris, most of it small. But when we saw these pictures -- well, when we saw this particular piece, it really brought it all home, the enormity. It's such a huge piece. We're not sure what it is. We're not being told what it is. It looks like a cylinder. But whatever it is, you really get the sense that this was something that helped to power the shuttle forward, that moved it.

There was a lot of drama around the -- around this particular piece simply because it's so huge, so intact, and Miles, resting in such a peaceful part of the Sabine National Forest, very, very dramatic I have to say at the end of a very, very difficult day. But the people will be back here tomorrow morning first thing to go back into the forest to do the work of trying to retrieve the debris -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Maria Hinojosa, that's quite a discovery. It looks like the door where the attach point is between the space shuttle orbiter and that external tank. That's a remarkable thing to see as you're driving along, isn't it?

HINOJOSA: It's incredible, Miles. And as I said, we've seen a lot of pieces of debris. But when you walk just right off the highway, literally off the highway, and you see it laying on another piece of a tree, it's amazing that this could have come down so intact. Again, amazing that no one was hurt on the ground as a result of these huge pieces that were coming down around the Sabine County area.

O'BRIEN: Truly remarkable on that point. Maria Hinojosa, thank you very much. With our reporters all throughout the country here tracking this, the recovery effort, the investigation and the very human and poignant story as well -- Anderson.

COOPER: Miles, thanks very much. I'm reminded -- just listening to Maria of a man, Billy Ted Smith, an emergency coordinator we heard just -- heard from just a couple of hours ago in Hemphill, Texas. He had 200 volunteers searching today. They were able to cover about one square mile. When you consider there about 500 square miles still to be covered in this debris field, you realize how long this is going to take.


COOPER: Miles O'Brien, thank you much from the Johnson Space Center. We'll come back to you very shortly, Miles.

It has not been just a day of searching; it has been a day of remembrance. Spontaneous memorials to the astronauts are cropping around literally around the world. Still ahead, we take you from France to Australia. The international community remembers Columbia. And a super send-off for their honored son, a friend, and pastor of two of Columbia's astronauts joins us next. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN NEAL, RICK HUSBAND'S FRIEND: I think any shuttle family is of course excited for their family member, but also very weary of the liftoff and the landing. And they knew the dangers, but they knew how much Rick wanted to fly and they were willing to love him through that.




COOPER: You know it is easy in this time where our nation has experienced so much grief in the last few years that our nation really has found a way to express itself in sort of very unique ways. We saw it after Oklahoma City. We saw it after the World Trade Center disaster. And we've seen it today. Spontaneous remembrances spouted up almost immediately in many places throughout the country, in the Johnson Space Center in Houston, an especially tight-knit community there.

Many people in the Houston area connected in some way to the space program. The impact truly has been a global one. Flags in Israel were flying at half-staff to honor their favorite son, Ilan Ramon, the son of a Holocaust survivor. Ramon was an air force colonel who became the first Israeli in space.

Similarly, residents of Karnal, India, have set up shrines for Kalpana Chawla, who was born in the village near New Delhi. Although she moved to the U.S. in the 1980's and became an American citizen, she was hailed as a heroine for being the first Indian woman in space.

And near Lake Michigan, in the southeast corner of Wisconsin, they are remembering mission specialist, Laurel Clark. She sent an e- mail to her family Friday, telling them about the incredible sights she had seen on the mission -- lightening spreading across the Pacific, the plains of Africa. She even saw Lake Michigan. CNN's Brian Cabell is in Clark's hometown of Racine, Wisconsin.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, Laurel Clark moved around a lot as a child with her family and as an adult, of course, she traveled extensively in the Navy, but she always Racine, Wisconsin to be her hometown. She worked at McDonald's as a teenager. She graduated high school here in 1979. And when she went up in the shuttle 17 days ago, she carried along something with her -- a block letter, a pennant from her high school. She was a proud hometown girl.


CABELL (voice-over): Students at Horlick High School may not have known Laurel Clark, but they knew of her. She is the school's most famous graduate. She sent them a photograph of herself as an astronaut. They followed her career and on Monday morning, they'll honor her.

NOLA STARLING-RATLIFF, PRINCIPAL, HORLICK HIGH SCHOOL: We're going to have one of our alumni play "Taps" and we'll have a moment of silence, a "Pledge of Allegiance." And I will say a couple of words and maybe have a student say something on behalf of all of us.

CABELL: At her former church in Racine -- her younger brother, Dan, still attends -- they recall a bright, ambitious young woman.

REV. TONY LARSEN, UNITARIAN CHURCH: I remember her as a very vivacious and energetic person and someone who was very talented. And you know, when you're talented, you can get by without being nice and she was not that kind of person. She was talented and nice.

CABELL: Laurel Clark had managed to juggle two roles in life. She was an astronaut and a mother. Her son, Ian, is 8 years old.

DANIEL SALTON, ASTRONAUT'S BROTHER: She always felt that it was the right thing to do and Ian would understand. And that's what we have to be there for now, for Ian, to help him understand and to get through this. An 8-year-old who loved his mother very, very much is now going to have to eventually understand that -- just how great she was.

CABELL: Here in Racine, a death of a hometown girl is certainly a tragedy. And as a friend pointed out, she was doing what she loved and doing what most of us could only dream of.


CABELL: Laurel Clark lived a very full life. Not only was she an astronaut, she was a doctor, she was a parachutist, she was a scuba diver, she was a hiker, she was a biker. She squeezed an awful lot of living into 41 years of life --Anderson.

COOPER: She certainly did that. It is amazing, Brian, when you read the resumes, the biographies of all of these astronauts, just what extraordinary lives they led. It's really remarkable.

CABELL: And they reached the pinnacle of their professions too. They reached to the stars.

COOPER: They did that. Brian Cabell, thanks very much tonight. I appreciate it. We will be right back after a short break.


COOPER: Welcome back to our special coverage, COLUMBIA: THE SHUTTLE TRAGEDY. I'm Anderson Cooper at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

We learned today that President and Mrs. Bush will travel to their home state of Texas Tuesday to attend a memorial service for Columbia's lost astronauts. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has more now on how the First Family is dealing with this tragedy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Bush enters one of the most important weeks of his presidency. First, he must comfort a nation in mourning. Today, he attended a church service to memorialize those aboard space shuttle Columbia and called India's prime minister to offer his condolences.

Tuesday, he will travel with the First Lady to Houston's Johnson Space Center for another memorial. And tomorrow, the president will meet face-to-face with NASA's administrator, Sean O'Keefe, for a briefing on the latest in the investigation.

Second, Mr. Bush must continue to build his case against Saddam Hussein. Today, the president called the leaders of Pakistan and Spain. He'll also be meeting with the prime minister of Poland on Wednesday, the same day that Secretary of State Colin Powell will present the administration's case before the United Nations.

And third, Mr. Bush will unveil his 2004 budget proposal, this amidst criticism over a $300 billion federal budget deficit and also complaints that budget constraints on NASA have compromised the shuttle's safety program. One senior administration official says that there will be an increase for NASA, some $500 million. That estimate was determined before the shuttle tragedy.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.


COOPER: Well, no doubt like the First Family, many Americans attended houses of worship today. At one church in a suburban Houston neighborhood held a special memorial service today for two members of its congregation. They were astronauts onboard Columbia. Mike Anderson and Rick Husband and their families have attended Grace Community Church in Clear Lake. Steve Riggle, the senior pastor of Grace Community Church, is with us from Houston.

Thanks very much for being with us. What was the message of the service today?

STEVE RIGGLE, SENIOR PASTOR: The message of the service was -- had to do with honoring, obviously, Mike and Rick, and also talking to the congregation and to the community that was there about tragedy and triumph and how each of those have to be. It also had to do with a note that Rick left for me. When Rick wrote a note and said, "Tell them about Jesus. He's real to me."

COOPER: Religion did play a very important role. We have heard that before in the life we know of Commander Husband, is that not correct?


COOPER: How long had they been attending your church?

RIGGLE: They've been attending Grace for over eight years. COOPER: What sort of response did you get from the community, from your parishioners? I mean they -- it must have been just an extraordinary day.

RIGGLE: Well, it is an extraordinary day and it's a day in which obviously the church community a the community at large, they're shocked, saddened by what has taken place, the tragedy of an event like this, but also, the understanding that these things come and that we have to go on from here.

COOPER: And how do you explain a tragedy like this to people who come to you with those questions? I mean a religious man or a man who devotedly believes, as you said, you know, faces such a terrible fate. I imagine a lot of people come to you and ask you why.

RIGGLE: Well, it's -- that's a good question. And I think that you start by saying how do we measure life. Is life measured in a -- in a quantitative or a qualitative sense? And if it's measured quantitatively, obviously then, the number of years you live mean something about good life is. But if it's measured from a quality sense, then the amount of years is really immaterial compared to did you live all the life that you had. And for Rick and Mike, I think the answer to that would be absolutely yes.

Relative to addressing the issues of how do you answer all the questions I don't think you can. I think life has some unanswerables. And I dealt with that today to the congregation.

COOPER: We appreciate -- Pastor Steve Riggle, we appreciate you joining us this evening. I know it's been a long day for you. You held this special memorial service. Appreciate you taking the time to speak with us and talk about your memories of these two men. Thank you very much.

RIGGLE: Thank you.

COOPER: More than a 1,000 pieces of debris have so far been found scattered across Texas and Louisiana. Maybe one holds an answer to what went wrong. We can only hope. A look at where the investigators will begin. That is coming up next.


SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: The space program is the embodiment of the hopes and dreams of almost all Americans, the fact that we are adventurers and explorers by nature. We never want to give that up or else we're going to be a second-rate country. And that's why we'll continue to have a robust space program.



LIN: Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Carol Lin at the CNN Center. In just a minute, we're going to go to CNN's space correspondent, Mile O'Brien, for an update on the investigation into the Columbia disaster. But before we do that, we've got a recap of all the stories in the headlines.

NASA says remains from all seven crewmembers of shuttle Columbia have been found. The remains have arrived at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where they will be analyzed and identified.

The man who led the probe into the deadly terrorist bombing of the USS Cole will head the investigation of the shuttle disaster. Retired Admiral Harold Gehman is to meet with his team tomorrow at Barksdale Air Force Base, the central place where the shuttle debris is being stored.

And NASA says the three crewmembers of the International Space Station are grieving for their comrades, but proud to be on their own mission. The orbiting astronauts didn't know about what happened to Columbia until this morning, Anderson. But the director of flight operations of NASA says that they're in good spirits. They are looking forward to the special delivery of the supplies that they're going to be getting on Tuesday, which includes some letters from home.

COOPER: That's right, Carol. And that some of the information that we learned at this press conference that lasted for about an hour and an half from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where we heard from Bob Cabana and Ron Dittemore. And that is also where we are going right now, by Miles O'Brien, who was at the press conference and has the latest on where the investigation stands -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Anderson, I'll try to boil an hour and a half of sometimes very technical talk down into just a minute and a half or so. That can be a challenge at times, as you well know. But let me just begin with telling you that a lot of focus on the beginning of this flight, certainly a lot of focus on the end of the flight. Don't need to tell you that.

Let's talk about the beginning first. As the shuttle was rising to orbit, 80 seconds after it lifted off from the launch pad, attached still to its solid rocket boosters and the orange external fuel tank, which feeds fuel to these main engines, a piece right around this portion here fell off, maybe foam, maybe ice, and struck the underside of the shuttle's left wing. Leave that as it may. And we will talk a little bit more about what happened at the end of the mission. But we cannot necessarily draw a link just yet. I'm just putting that out there.

Let's take a look at some tape that we managed to isolate to show you exactly what happened as the shuttle rose to space from the launch pad of Kennedy Space Center. We're zoomed in and if you look very closely as we slow it down, there you see what appears to be the debris in question as it flew off that external tank. We're talking about a tremendous amount of velocity.

Now NASA engineers have seen this happen time and again over the 112 previous flights. Foam has come off. Ice has come off. They looked at these sorts of images and much more detailed ones than we have right here and came to the conclusion that there was not any significant damage to the tiles. And perhaps more to the point, if there was significant damage to the tiles, there was nothing the crew or anybody in Mission Control could do about it.

Now, the reason we tell you about this is is these tiles -- they are about 20,000 of them coating a space shuttle -- are what protects it from the heat of re-entry. The aluminum skin of the space shuttle orbiter can withstand about 300 degrees. The tiles and in some cases, this carbon carbon fiber, a composite material, can withstand as much as 3.000 degrees. If some portion of those tiles -- and we're not just talking about one tile, we're talking about a cluster of tiles -- were to break away or perhaps become ruffled and fly away when they reached the wind and the air stream as they came down from space, that could cause those tiles to break away and the heat would cause a significant problem.

And that is what they were telling us as we look at some animation showing the re-entry scenario. What was happening was the shuttle, normally would have temperature sensors indicating a lot of heat on this side, it was pulling to the left. All of that consistent with a problem with tiles' underside of the left wing.

We were telling you a little bit just a little while ago about the retired admiral, Hal Gehman, who is heading up this investigation, the independent investigation for NASA. He is making his way to Barksdale Air Force Base to gather his team together and that's where we find CNN's Patty Davis.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, this is where NASA's command center is for the accident investigation. Human remains did arrive here this afternoon by helicopter. They will be examined by pathologists from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. No word from NASA as to when those remains will be turned over to families.

Now debris also will come here. We're told there is no debris here yet at this point. That is crucial to investigators as they search for answers to the accident.

This Air Force base has B-52 hangers and we're told the debris will go inside those hangers. The human remains are also in one of the hangers. There's a refrigeration unit there. Now, some of those B-52 bombers are out -- they have been forward deployed, so that makes some of the hangers available.

Now, as you said, Miles, the admiral who is leading the independent investigation, the retired admiral was here. Actually, he has arrived here at Barksdale Air Force Base and we grabbed him as he arrived just a short time ago for a quick interview. Here's what he had to say about what they'll be looking at.

Well, he says basically what they'll be looking at is every shred of twisted metal, all the metal (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- technology that they can find, the scientific data as well as the stream of audio that came in from the shuttle before it broke up.

Now, also, he says that he expects information to come out quickly. It's probably going to come out in stages, although he has no idea when this -- his investigation will be over. He says that the future of the shuttle program and the space station rests on finding an answer soon -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Patty, a lot of concurrent investigations and teams working on this right now. I'm told one of the big problems can be in these investigations is just sort of keeping track of all the data and who had the data and when they had it. Did the admiral address himself to that and just the complexities of keeping all this straight?

DAVIS: Well, that's certainly going to be an issue here. We did ask him about that -- how -- are you going to have access to all of the information that you did, all the debris, everything else that you need. And he said he has been assured that he will have access to that information. They're going to have to do a lot of sharing here.

Of course, there's the NASA investigation team. There is this independent investigation team. So they're going to have to do an awful lot of information sharing -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Layer upon layer of teams but in something as complex as this, the only way to get it done. Patty Davis joining us from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, thank you very much.

We'll send it back to Anderson in Atlanta.

COOPER: Miles, thanks very much. Any one of the countless bits of debris might hold the key to solving the mystery of why Columbia disintegrated. We're joined right now by former shuttle engineer, Randy Avera, who's with us here in Atlanta to share some of his expertise.

Randy, you know, often in a -- when a commercial jetliner crashes, we talk about the black box. Everyone knows that is what they search for, the flight data recorder. They know say that with NASA that Mission Control is in a sense that black box for the space shuttle. All the information is in computers. It's all there. It's all being monitored. So what are we looking for on the ground in the debris? Are the answers to this mystery of why this -- the shuttle disintegrated? Are the answers to be found in the debris or is it in those computers already?

RANDY AVERA, FORMER NASA ENGINEER: Well, it's a combination of both. The telemetry data from orbiter Columbia that has been recorded on the ground is a very substantial amount of very critical data. It's a monumental effort to go through this data very carefully to make sense of the data and apply it to the overall investigation. Also, the wreckage, the pieces, components, whether they are damaged in a burn fashion or unburned fashion, all of that type of physical evidence -- the actual events that took place to cause that damage has been the history of that evidence and what it experienced has been locked into those components. And the chemistry and metallurgy that will take place, composite materials that'll be analyzed, what actually happened, will be revealed.

COOPER: Randy, let's look at some video of debris and tell us if you can what you think it is. What are we looking at? We've seen this all throughout the day. You see the video there. AVERA: Yes, that appears to be a possible component from possibly the wing chining area or possible even up in the very early part of the premodulary area, but most likely this leading triangular section of the wing, which is curved, the part here on the orbiter model that is painted black.

COOPER: All right...

AVERA: That's what it appears to be. But there's also quite a bit of evidence of burning and charring there.

COOPER: ... let's look at another piece of debris there we've seen so far.

AVERA: OK, this is a piece of orbiter's structure where you see some remains of tile. Whether these were low temperature white tiles or the higher temperature black tiles is not obvious because of the damage to those tiles. And you can see the pattern on some of that aluminum structure where they tiles had been but are no longer there.

COOPER: You know we've been seeing this stuff all day. It's nice to actually find out what some of it is. Let's look at another piece of debris.

AVERA: This looks to be a mechanical system possibly from the nose or main wheel wells. You see the bolts there with the 12-point star pattern, that's a high strength, very high strength insuring tension bolt and that linkage, which could possibly drive, for example, the main landing or nose gear door locking mechanism. And when you see that white paint, that's typical of up in the wheel wells or inside a premodular or out in the payload bay area when you see that white paint.

COOPER: Well, more than a 1,000 items of debris so far have been recovered. We are told that it is scattered through some 500 square miles. Obviously, this will be a very long recovery process. Randy Avera, appreciate you coming in and talking a little bit -- showing us a little bit about what some of the debris so far collected is. Thanks very much, Randy.

AVERA: You're welcome.

COOPER: Coming up, some inspirational words from the first woman, the first U.S. woman I should say in space. Sally Ride talks about the risk and the great rewards of space exploration.


COOPER: Well, we all know Astronaut Sally Ride. The Columbia tragedy created a difficult dilemma for the former astronaut. She holds a special exhibit this time of the year and at inspiring young girls to follow in her footsteps. CNN's Jeanne Meserve has her story.


SALLY RIDE, FORMER ASTRONAUT: When I was growing up, you know, I just -- I dreamed of being an astronaut.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sally Ride's dream came true of course. Now, she tries to inspire young girls to follow her into science and in space with events like this, the Sally Ride Science Festival, held in central Florida, one of the home's of the space program.

When Columbia fell from the sky in bits and pieces, Ride considered canceling.

RIDE: But then, the more we thought about it and the more we talked to folks the more we thought that it would be important for the girls, their parents and their teachers, probably as well as for us, to have an opportunity to get together to ask questions, to get some answers to really try to put this into some context and perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What good has come out of yesterday's tragedy?

MESERVE: The questions were tough. Ride told the girls that there are great risks in being an astronaut and great joys.

RIDE: I suspect most astronauts would be happy to get on the shuttle flight as soon as the investigation is over and the shuttle is flying again.

MESERVE: But would these girls consider going up in one? Some said they had other goals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never really been interested in going up into space. I don't know. I think I'd miss my mom too much.

MESERVE: Some were ambivalent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'd really like to be weightless and other things. But you can enjoy space by having so much -- risking your life would be a big thing for me.

MESERVE: Some said absolutely not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared because like maybe tiles inside the shuttle will break again and we'll just go into ashes.

MESERVE: But plenty of girls are still interested. They crowded around the Kennedy Space Center booth pocketing NASA literature.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've always loved space and I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

MESERVE (on camera): Even after yesterday?


MESERVE (voice-over): There was sadness and sentiment here. Hundreds inscribed a memorial banner for the Columbia crew, but there were dreams here too. Trails of smoke and tragedy haven't taken the smiles from their faces or the stars from their eyes.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Orlando, Florida.


COOPER: Well, we don't need to remind you, two women were aboard Columbia, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, who dreamed of being an astronaut from the time she was born in a small town in India, and Commander Laurel Clark -- two American heroes.

Amid the anguish over the Columbia disaster and the nagging questions facing NASA about exactly what went wrong and an even larger question remains -- what will the tragedy mean for the shuttle program and how will it affect man's desire to push the envelope of space. CNN's Charles Feldman takes a look.


CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The primary mission for the remaining three space shuttles, the superior astronauts, heavy equipment, to the International Space Station. A space station is a laboratory for low gravity experiments. So the grounding of the remaining space shuttles is likely to have wide impact.

ANDREW CHAIKIN, SPACE JOURNALIST, AUTHOR: The cancellation of shuttle flights ripples through the rest of the human space flight program because the shuttle is the only way that this country has to send people into space unless we buy seats on the Russian Soyuz ferry.

FELDMAN: Sunday, Russia launched a previously scheduled unmanned flight to supply the International Space Station's three-man crew, enough supplies to last until June. They already have a lifeboat if they need it to get home, a Russian Soyuz space capsule. But without the space shuttle to bring more astronauts, more heavy components to finish building the lab, more bulky equipment for experiments and even periodically to boost the space station into the proper orbit, the multibillion dollar lab could face a life in limbo.

CHAIKIN: It's sort of a house of cards in the sense that all of the hopes for human space flight have been pinned on that station. And if they can't complete it, it's an enormous investment that -- who's potential will be unrealized.

FELDMAN: To pay for billings and cost overruns in the International Space Station, NASA had to make cuts to the space shuttle program. Now, there are likely to be questions about the role those budget cutbacks may have played in the Columbia disaster.

NICK FUHRMAN, SPACE POLICY ANALYST: Whether we put too much incentive into saving money as opposed to incentive into saving lives...

FELDMAN (on camera): Grounding the shuttle fleet will likely trigger debate over how important manned flights are to begin with.

(voice-over): Some scientists argue there's a bigger benefit in unmanned flights using robots, less expensive, less dangerous.

FUHRMAN: You can do a lot. You can read the soil. You can understand the atmosphere of virtually any planetary body.

FELDMAN: Others say a permanent space station and improved spacecraft to carry astronauts and equipment back and forth is important for science. It could also be a first step to a lunar base even a manned mission to Mars.

FUHRMAN: If you're going to do fundamental science, you need to have a laboratory that's open and active and accessible. That's the dream of the space station.

FELDMAN: But the space station and the space shuttle that supports it are not just about science -- advocacy political and diplomatic payoffs from involving other countries.

FUHRMAN: And using this as a bridge with the Europeans or with the Japanese and with Russia now, that made the whole space station a lot more sexy.

FELDMAN (on camera): The debate over the future of manned space flight will involve big science, big money and some of human kinds biggest dreams.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Houston.



COOPER: We have some late breaking news to report. NASA has just said -- just reported that Bob Cabana, the director of the shuttle crew operations, misspoke at a press conference earlier today. Earlier today, he had said the remains of all seven of the astronauts had been found, had been located. NASA is now saying he misspoke, that some remains of some of the astronauts have been found but not of all seven. Significant obviously, very important to not only Americans all around the country but to those family members waiting desperately to hear about the remains of their loved ones.

That about wraps it up for me, Anderson Cooper, here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Larry King is next. But before we go, we have this for you -- a look at some of the last things said and last things done by the astronauts aboard Columbia.


WILLIAM MCCOOL, PILOT: A big part of my time is spent on the flight deck maneuvering the vehicle to support the experiments that have pointing requirements. So that oh, wow for me is oh, wow, I've had the opportunity to be on the flight deck probably more than most of crewmates, to look outside and really soak up the sunrises and sunsets, the moonrises, the moonsets, the views of the Himalayas, Australia, all the continents. ILAN RAMON, PAYLOAD SPECIALIST: This moment, actually, is also a big wow for me. Being able to conduct a press conference from up in space as the first Israeli astronaut looking at the U.S. and the flag and the Israeli flag behind us, I think it's a big oh, wow for at least for Israel.

LAUREL CLARK, MISSION SPECIALIST: For the first time that I got to see the orbiter as the sun sets or rose and there's a flash the whole payload bay turns a beautiful rosy orange pink and it only lasts for about 16 seconds and then it's gone. It's very surreal and extremely beautiful and unexpected. I hadn't heard about that before.

KALPANA CHAWLA, MISSION SPECIALIST: Every movement is oh, wow. But I'd be lying if I said looking out of the window is not so bad. It really is. Early in the mission, we were very fortunate. We had the full moon when we launched. And there were several occasions when during those times we were doing maneuver turning and the orbiter moved from one particular altitude to another. And if you were looking at the tail, the whole spaceship was glowing in silver light from the moon and the altitude was changing. And you really felt that you were in a spaceship heading somewhere.



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