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CNN INSIDE POLITICS

Bush Intends to Keep U.S. Space Program Operating as Always; Memorial Service to be Held Tomorrow for Columbia Crew

Aired February 3, 2003 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to get every last shred of evidence and put that into the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that we will start to assemble. We're rapidly starting to fill in some of the elements in the time line.

ANNOUNCER: Investigators of the shuttle disaster move forward. Faced with painful discoveries and difficult questions, NASA puts the focus on family and recovery.

Washington officials honor Columbia's heroes and look to the future.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: They would want us to determine the cause, to fix that cause and then to move on in that same spirit of exploration.

ANNOUNCER: The president sent his $2.2 trillion budget to Congress, but where's the money for a war with Iraq?

Nearly a week after the president's State of the Union address, has he convinced Americans of his case against Iraq?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

Well, as NASA investigators search for the Shuttle Columbia's fatal flaw, the space agency holds another briefing at the bottom of this hour. We'll carry that live from the Johnson Space Center in Texas.

Also in this "Newscycle," NASA officials in Washington say they don't want to jump to conclusions about Saturday's disaster but they are pursuing a leading theory that Columbia's thermal tiles were damaged during liftoff. NASA has expanded the search for debris, which was strewn across an even bigger area of Texas and Louisiana than was previously thought.

NASA administrator Shawn O'Keefe is scheduled to brief members of Congress after meeting with President Bush this morning. In private and in public, Mr. Bush is sending the message that America will return to space.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And while we grieve the loss of these astronauts, the cause in which they died will continue. America's journey into space will go on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: The White House says it is too soon to say how quickly the shuttle program will resume or whether past funding had anything to do with the shuttle tragedy.

Mr. Bush will attend the memorial service for the Columbia crew in Texas tomorrow. I will be part of CNN's live coverage at 1 p.m. Eastern. And we will be live at the Johnson Space Center for tomorrow's INSIDE POLITICS.

Let's go live now to the Johnson Space Center and to CNN's Charles Feldman -- Charles.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Judy.

You know, you mentioned that President Bush will be here tomorrow for that memorial. Well, his dad, former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, came earlier this morning to pay their respects and also to talk with the control room folks that are guiding the international space station, that of course is still in orbit along with its crew of six. They were here this morning.

And now back to the space shuttle itself. NASA released this morning some new high-speed video that was taken moments after liftoff some 18 days ago when the space shuttle lifted off in Florida.

And what it shows is in greater detail either the foam insulation, ice or combination of the two -- they're not sure which -- that fell off the rocket booster. And it's believed that it did hit the lower left wing of the orbiter craft.

But still not clear to them whether that had anything to do with the shuttle's disintegration when it reentered the earth's orbit. Although there is some thinking and some exploration about whether or not the impact of that foam or ice -- the foam insulation or ice may have damaged some of those heat resistant tiles, some 20,000 of them that protect the shuttle from the intense heat.

Now we go back to you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Charles Feldman. Thanks very much. At the Johnson Space Center.

Well, with so much shuttle debris to study, a second collection site has been established in Fort Worth, Texas. In addition to the one at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

The remains of some of the astronauts have been taken to Barksdale for investigation. An independent investigative team met there today.

And you can go to CNN.com/shuttle for more details on the Columbia disaster, including a detailed map of where the debris scattered.

Joining us now from the Johnson Space Center, former astronaut and CNN analyst Dr. Norm Thagard.

Dr. Thagard, all the focus now seems to be -- or most of the focus does seem to be on something coming off the shuttle as it took off on January 16. Does that seem to you to be the correct, the logical direction to look?

And I'm sorry, Dr. Thagard, I'm going to have to interrupt already. We want to take you to Sabine County, Texas, where the sheriff and authorities others there are talking to reporters about their findings.

BILLY TED SMITH, SABINE COUNTY EMERGENCY COORDINATOR: And they will respond to the east Texas area. And over 400 guardsmen are in the area, assisting federal and local authorities with the securing of debris sites and other duties.

In addition, over 300 Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been activated.

At the present here, we have around 300 personnel searching the area at the various sites, trying to find debris and whatever. And we have -- on the lake we have five sectors set up up there with four boats that are in the water now. Four boats in five sectors. And we had thought the dive team there was there, but they're not there yet.

We've been in the process of expanding our communication system here for all the different agencies. We had a donation of Verizon Wireless for a lot of our cell phones and they're setting up cellular tires for us and this is a donation from Verizon. We're very pleased.

At 3:30 this afternoon we're supposed to receive 280 national guard units. And then also the Environmental Protection Agency is here in town, and they are beginning the task of picking up some of our debris and storing it for us at a secure location.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you made any significant discoveries today?

SMITH: Yes, ma'am. I mean, our discoveries there continue on. Our discoveries there continue on. You know, we found all sorts of things there today. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it true that you found part of the fuselage?

SMITH: Don't know. I mean, that hadn't been totally identified yet. Have found -- some large pieces. Some large pieces. And hopefully there at our evening briefing, you know, we can bring that up to date.

As it is right now that, has not been confirmed. They have been recovered but what it is just hasn't been identified yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Were you able to talk to the witness who saw the debris fall into the reservoir? Did you locate and talk to him?

SMITH: Yes, we located him and he gave us the -- he had gave us the location of where he saw it and we've got people in that area now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Divers?

SMITH: No divers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boats with sonar?

SMITH: Yes. The boats are working the coves in that area. And that's the area where he had located.

WOODRUFF: We are listening to the sheriff of Sabine County and emergency officials in Sabine County, Texas. This is the eastern-most county on Texas right on the Louisiana border, as you can hear them describes the results of the search today. They are going to talk to reporters later today in a little more detail about what they've been finding.

I want to turn back to Dr. Norm Thagard, former astronaut, now consulting with CNN.

Is this theory about something coming off the shuttle at launch, possibly hitting the wing, hitting what's called the thermal protection seal, does that make sense to you as a logical focus right now?

DR. NORM THAGARD, FORMER ASTRONAUT: Judy, that -- something coming off the shuttle could have damaged a tile or a set of tiles is certainly plausible. Whether or not the thing that was seen on the photograph is such an object is not known.

It seems pretty clear that it was a thermal problem and drag problem on the left-hand side, but no one knows yet what the cause is. And it would be speculation to say.

WOODRUFF: Sure, sure. And we don't want to get too far down this road.

But I do want to ask you, a number of people asked me over the weekend, they said what is this foam exactly that we keep hearing about? Can you describe for us better exactly what it is? Is it like insulation? Or you know, people think of a Styrofoam case, for example. What is this foam?

THAGARD: It is exactly that. It is insulation. I heard Miles describe the external tank as a giant thermos bottle, and it is that, in effect.

You've got cryogenic materials, liquid hydrogen, 400 degrees zero, liquid oxygen, about 280 degrees or 78 degrees below zero. And if you didn't have this thermal insulating blanket around it, it would not stay cold and also, you would accumulate lots of ice. So that is the purpose for this lightweight foam material.

WOODRUFF: But something that lightweight could have done real damage?

THAGARD: It doesn't seem to me that it could.

Now, I was on five shuttle flights and on three of them I actually rode up front. And you see the stuff coming off. It's white. It sometimes marks the windows, but it just does not appear to us on board to be substantial enough to cause the damage that would have had to take place.

WOODRUFF: So you're still looking beyond at that?

THAGARD: Well, if indeed that was foam material. Now there's another possibility that it was ice. And as you probably heard, they inspect the shuttle tank for ice before each flight and they are very, very cautious about letting the shuttle launch with any accumulation of ice on that tank.

WOODRUFF: All right. Dr. Norm Thagard, who is advising CNN during this period after the Columbia disaster, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

Well, in the tough days ahead, there will be many tough questions about the future of America's space program and they're going to be asked by members of Congress.

As our congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl reports, lawmakers are preparing for hearings amid tributes to Columbia's crew.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate stands adjourned under the previous order as a mark of further respect to the astronauts who lost their lives in the Columbia shuttle mission.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESONDENT (voice-over): With those words, Senate business was put on hold until after Tuesday's memorial service. But before adjourning, Senate leaders passed a resolution honoring Columbia's crew.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: They were and are heroes, role models, committed Americans, patriots and pioneers. We thank them.

FRIST: I join all Americans in expressing our deepest sympathy for the events that have occurred and extend our deepest sympathy to the families.

KARL: The next step? A series of investigations into what went wrong and what it means for the space program.

As chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, John McCain will start hearings next week.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think first we have to find out what happened, what caused it and how we prevent reoccurrence.

Then, of course, we're going to have to look at the overall policy. America is committed to space exploration. The question is, are we doing it in the most safe and efficient fashion?

KARL: McCain plans to look at the impact of budget cuts on safety. But he says for the last several years, Congress has given NASA almost all the money requested under the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Whether NASA requested enough is another matter.

MCCAIN: The very burning question as to whether any safety program was reduced for budgetary reasons that could have had any impact on this tragedy. That's going to be a very key and fundamental question.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KARL: Although the space program continues to enjoy widespread and deep support on Capitol Hill, the Columbia catastrophe is triggering a reevaluation of NASA's priorities.

One key question is the future of the international space station, which had already been criticized up here on Capitol Hill for going about $6 billion over cost -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, I just want to make sure I understood Senator McCain and your point.

When he said that -- or you pointed out that Congress had given President Clinton and President Bush most of what they asked for for NASA, that any cutting back might have come from within the agency itself, how could that be? I mean, one would think the agency would ask for everything it needed.

KARL: Yes. And John McCain showed me a list of the budget requests over the last several years, how much was requested by the administration and how much was finally appropriated by the Congress.

And in some years Congress might have appropriated about 2 percent less, some years less than a half a percent less. But by and large, it was 98 percent or more of what was requested by NASA through the administration. So, you know, it's a question of were those budget requests, those initial requests, up to what NASA truly needed? Obviously, as an administration puts together its budget, it's under its own internal pressures. So the question is, you know, NASA could have been forced to request less because of an overall, you know, need of administration.

WOODRUFF: And the very powerful office of management and budget in every administration.

KARL: Absolutely. Yes.

WOODRUFF: All right, John. Thank you very much.

Well, stay with us for live coverage of the next NASA briefing. That is expected to begin at the bottom of the hour.

Also ahead, is the shuttle program worth the high price in terms of lives as well as dollars? I'll talk to a key senator, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.

Also ahead, I'll ask White House budget director Mitch Daniels about priorities in the president's spending plan and the swelling deficit.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington. Our report on the state of President Bush's poll numbers after his big speech to Congress and the nation last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The space program will go on. I thought President Bush really did a magnificent job making the statement to that effect today, that they should not die in vain. And I was very impressed with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Another senator had heart surgery today. Majority Whip Mitch McConnell underwent successful coronary artery bypass surgery. A doctor at the National Naval Medical Center said the Kentucky Republican should recover completely.

Florida Democrat Bob Graham, who is contemplating a run for the White House, is recovering from heart surgery last Friday.

Coming up: Should the shuttle program be grounded for good? I'll speak with a senator who keeps a close eye on NASA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Members of the House and Senate are among those who are vowing to continue their support for America's space program.

With me now from Capitol Hill is Kansas Senator Sam Brownback. He chairs the subcommittee on Space, Science and Technology.

Senator, I know you are already looking into this. You were just telling me you're having meetings today. We know hearings are coming up.

Did you have any concerns at all about the safety of the shuttle program before this?

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK (R), KANSAS: There's always concern from the standpoint that this is a dangerous operation. When you're putting somebody up into space, the reentry point, this is a dangerous operation.

But I think we had been, overall, as a country somewhat lulled into just thinking, well, this is a very routine issue and we don't need to really look at it. As we were planning, we were looking forward, what is it that we need to do to take the next step forward for space exploration, prior to what took place on Saturday.

WOODRUFF: As we now begin to look back over the hearings that were held in the last few years related to NASA, we're now finding a pretty well-documented record of people concerned about tight budgets, that not enough money was being spent, safety concerns here and there. You're not going to lack for information, I assume, as you start to set up hearings.

BROWNBACK: We're not going to lack for information, and we're not going to lack for comments and we're going to dig into all of it. We will cooperate and work with NASA on their internal and external investigation as to why, but then we need to take the step in moving forward as to now how do we proceed on forward.

I think there's strong support, strong bipartisan support to continue, aggressively, manned space flight. Now we need to look at how we're going to do that and how we make safety the premiere issue. It has been in the past. We've got to reemphasize it now again.

WOODRUFF: But what about the shuttle program itself, Senator? Are you personally persuaded right now that the shuttle program is worth the risk that it poses to human life?

BROWNBACK: We're tied into it at this point in time. The international space station, we really can't operate presently without the shuttle program, taking people and payload to and from the operation.

We can get the three astronauts, the two astronauts and cosmonaut, down without the space shuttle, but it really can't continue to build on forward without the space shuttle.

I think the question is, we've got to make it as safe as we can now and then really ask the tough questions of how do we proceed forward in the future with a robust space program but that's as completely as safe as we can make it, recognizing this is an inherently dangerous, risky operation.

WOODRUFF: There is -- We know now that there are people who were fired from what was called the NASA Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel. At least they say they're fired.

There's another side to the story. There are others saying, well, they were just stepping out at the natural end of their term.

Are you going to be talking to those people? They're saying they were fired after they raised safety concerns.

BROWNBACK: We're going to be talking with everybody about this. This is the sort of thing that we really have to look thoroughly into.

I just don't want to leave the impression, though, that people are walking away from space. We're going to continue that commitment and just as after the Challenger episode, to really examine what was taking place at that time.

We're really going to examine now, as well, to see how we proceed forward as safely as possible.

WOODRUFF: But it sounds like, just to be clear, Senator -- You're not saying that we are absolutely certain at this point that the shuttle mission going forward is worth the risks that we've seen?

BROWNBACK: I think we have to go forward at the present time with the space shuttle missions, at some point in time, or else you have to give up on the international space station, as well.

But what I'm saying is at you look on down the road several years and remember, these things, these programs, the space shuttle, a space plane, take years to develop, years to fund, years to build. I think we're locked into that space shuttle program for a period of time until we can move forward to the next set of technologies.

WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Sam Brownback, we thank you very much and we'll be talking to you as those hearings get underway.

BROWNBACK: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Well, the White House today disputed a published report that President Bush has been largely indifferent to America's space program. A spokesman pointed to several White House meetings with previous shuttle crews, including this event with an Atlantis crew in 2001.

Today's "New York Times" reported that Mr. Bush has never visited the Johnson Space Center, even when he was the governor of Texas. The White House says that report is wrong. Mr. Bush, aides say, visited the space center in 1995 or '96.

We may learn more about the Columbia tragedy in just a few minutes. The next NASA briefings is scheduled for 4:30 Eastern. And of course, CNN will have live coverage.

But first, Wall Street honors those lost in the shuttle disaster. Rhonda Schaffler joins us live now from the New York Stock Exchange with details.

Rhonda? RHONDA SCHAFFLER, CNNfn CORRESPONDENT: Judy, it was a somber trading day here on Wall Street as investors paid their respects to the Columbia astronauts. At 11 a.m., the New York Stock Exchange paused for two minutes of silence to honor and remember the seven shuttle crew members.

The tragedy had little impact on trading overall.

A pair of positive economic reports took center stage today. The manufacturing and construction sector showing some modest growth last month. That was enough to help Wall Street kick off February with some modest gains here.

Let's bring you the closing numbers. Dow adding 56 points, NASDAQ edging slightly higher.

We did see defense and aerospace stocks under pressure, though, in the aftermath of the Columbia tragedy. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Alliant Techsystems are all key suppliers to the space shuttle program. Boeing gets about $2 billion a year from NASA projects. Alliant depends on NASA for about 18 percent of its total revenue.

That is the very latest from Wall Street.

Coming up, seeing red. The president's new budget is hot off the press and it's already breaking records. We're going to hear from the White House budget director about your taxpayer dollars, next on INSIDE POLITICS.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Picking up the pieces and piecing together the mystery. NASA officials are expected in front of microphones in a few minutes for the latest on the Shuttle Columbia tragedy. CNN will, of course, carry the news conference live. That's coming up.

(NEWS ALERT)

President Bush's proposed 2004 federal budget has been delivered to Capitol Hill and lawmakers are just starting to read the fine print.

The White House projects the $2.2 trillion spending plan would produce a record deficit of $307 billion next year. That's slightly more than the estimated deficit for this year.

The budget includes a $15 billion increase in military spending and $2.5 billion more for homeland security. But it does not include funding for a possible war with Iraq.

Let's talk about the numbers now with White House budget director Mitch Daniels.

Mr. Daniels, if it doesn't include the war and it's still a $300 some odd billion deficit, how much does a war add to that? MITCH DANIELS, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: Judy, first of all, let's all hope earnestly there won't be a war. Saddam Hussein can prevent one any day he chooses just by complying with the requests the world has made of him now for 11 years.

If there should be some decision by the president, we could move fairly quickly after he and our military leaders had told us what to expect in terms of the nature and duration of the conflict. We would then go to Congress quickly with a good faith estimate.

WOODRUFF: So you don't even have a ballpark figure that you're working with?

DANIELS: Well, we have a very wide range and that would depend, as I say, on decisions not yet made and decisions that we still hope won't have to be made.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about the deficit. We're certainly hearing from Democrats, but we're also hearing from some Republicans in the Congress, including conservative Republicans like George Voinovich of Ohio, saying this deficit is -- there's as much red ink as the eye can see.

You're not so concerned about it, I gather. I listened to your briefing this morning and you said, relatively speaking, it's not a big deal.

DANIELS: It's true that, relative to deficits we've seen in the past, it's much smaller. Doesn't mean it's not a subject for concern, and the president shares that concern.

But the deficit is one priority among many. And those who would make it our top priority will have to step forward and say what they wouldn't do. Would they not prosecute the war on terror, would they not build homeland security? Would they not act to try to generate more economic growth in this country and so forth?

Those are legitimate points of view, but the president has chosen to make it a high but not our highest priority.

WOODRUFF: Well, certainly, one of the things the Democrats are talking about is they wouldn't extend the tax cut package that the president is proposing. And even some Republicans are critical of that.

But let me ask you about something from Senator Kent Conrad, who's a ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee. He says the Bush plan would burden us and our children with trillions of dollars in new debt, will drive up interest rates, retard economic growth, and create massive problems for the Baby Boom generation.

Let's just take the interest rate piece of that.

DANIELS: Let's do. We have the lowest interest rates in 40 years right now. And they have stayed low, even though we did move from surplus to deficit. A look at the history of interest rates shows no correlation between deficits or surpluses and their movement. This is not to say that it couldn't at some point, at some level, begin to have an affect. But we've not seen it, and there's no reason to expect to see it at the levels of the deficit we have now.

Particularly, as the budget suggests, we can begin moving it back in the right direction.

WOODRUFF: Mitch Daniels, in the wake of the Columbia tragedy, I want to ask you about the NASA budget.

You all are proposing a three percent increase overall for NASA. We know that after the Challenger disaster in 1986, the NASA budget went up something like 20 percent. Are you open to a much larger increase for NASA, given this terrible thing that's happened?

DANIELS: I'm sure the president will be open to new ideas. You know, it's important to note that under his administration, after, as many have noted, a decade of cuts, the NASA budget went up. The shuttle budget went up. And the shuttle's safety and maintenance budget, in particular, went up. And another increase is proposed for next year.

What this tells us, Judy, is that the somewhat tired and I'm tempted to say lazy Washington viewpoint that starts and stops with dollars just doesn't always tell us the story. What's really important is how well our program is being run.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe that funding could be an issue in the safety of the shuttle program -- could have been an issue in the safety of the shuttle program?

DANIELS: I'll leave that for the investigation. I'll just mention that the shuttle safety, maintenance, life-extension program got a very large increase in the president's first budget and has grown steadily since. So, again, sadly, dollars really don't tell the whole story and can't always head off trouble.

WOODRUFF: But you're still keeping an open mind, you said?

DANIELS: Well, of course.

WOODRUFF: All right, President Bush's director of the Office and Management and Budget, Mitch Daniels, good to see you.

DANIELS: Yes, ma'am.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much.

And INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DANIEL SALTON, LAUREL CLARK'S BROTHER: ... after she got to see what she had been dreaming for, for years now. She had been working towards that goal of getting up there. And I'm thankful she at least got to do that. And I just wish I could have had a chance to actually hear back from her what it was like. And we're going to miss her.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Remembering astronaut Laurel Clark.

We want to you know that we've just gotten word from NASA that the briefing they had scheduled for 4:30, update briefing, has now been pushed back to 5:00 Eastern. CNN, of course, will carry it live when it gets under way.

In the meantime, the shuttle tragedy leads the headlines in our "Campaign News Daily." Senator Joe Lieberman canceled a weekend campaign trip to Iowa because of the Columbia accident. A spokesman for the senator said Lieberman decided to postpone his visit out of respect for the shuttle crew.

Senator John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, campaigned Saturday for her husband in New Hampshire. Senator Edwards issued a statement on Saturday saluting the Columbia astronauts. The Columbia crew -- quote -- "had the right stuff that made our nation a great beacon for mankind, made our hopes for the future soar, made opportunities for a better world come true."

Well, President Bush broadly outlined his budget priorities in the State of the Union address. Reviews of the speech are still coming in.

But our Bill Schneider is here with all the latest poll numbers.

Bill, did the State of the Union give the president any kind of boost?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Judy, let's see.

Before the State of the Union, President Bush's approval rating was 60. Now it's 61. No big change. Actually, the speech did have a mixed impact. The president spent a lot of time talking about domestic issues like Medicare, energy and the economy. But his ratings on those issues didn't change. The number of Americans who say the president is not paying enough attention to the economy actually went up after the speech to 60 percent.

The public sensed that what the president really wanted to talk about was Iraq. And the speech did boost President Bush's ratings on world affairs. Did President Bush make a convincing case for military action in Iraq? The answer is, well, yes, sort of. Before the speech, 49 percent felt he had made a convincing case. Now 53 percent do. The momentum had been going against the president on Iraq. The State of the Union speech stopped the slide. But, you know, there's still no evidence out there of war fever.

WOODRUFF: Well, Bill, of course, the other thing that has happened now, in addition to the talk of war and whether there's going to be a war, is the terrible tragedy on Saturday, the Columbia disaster.

The president is now playing a somewhat different role. He's commander in chief, but he also -- in his speech to the nation on Saturday, he'll be speaking tomorrow at a memorial service for the astronauts at the Johnson Space Center -- in effect, he's consoler in chief. What about that role that a president has to play from time to time?

SCHNEIDER: It's a very important role for presidents. It's a relatively new role because of the terrible tragedies the country has experienced.

President Reagan really set the pattern of mourner in chief after the Challenger disaster back in 1986. Then, of course, President Clinton, it was very important for him politically. The Oklahoma City disaster was his real chance to come back after the setback of the 1994 midterms. He stepped up. He spoke for the country. He felt our pain when millions of Americans were feeling pain.

And that was the beginning of his political revile, that, and later the Columbine tragedy. And for this president as well, after 9/11, he redefined himself as president when he became the nation's mourner in chief after that catastrophe. So, it does give the president another chance to define himself in a way that is above partisanship at a time when the nation wants to unite behind the president.

WOODRUFF: And a very different face, in effect, that the president is presenting to the American people.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly.

WOODRUFF: All right, Bill, thank you very much.

Next, we will go live to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where tourists there are expressing their grief over the shuttle Columbia disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATTY RAGAN, HUSBAND FAMILY FRIEND: He put himself into everything he did with a full heart. And whatever was necessary to achieve his goals, he was willing to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Once again, to let you know, NASA telling us that that briefing that had been scheduled for 4:30 Eastern will now take place at 5:00 Eastern, bringing us whatever new information they have come up with in the last day.

America's sense of loss after the Columbia disaster is evident at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida today.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is at the visitor's center there.

Gary, and I gather people are showing up.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Judy.

Over the last two-plus days, thousands of people have come here to the visitors center to pay tribute to the astronauts who died this past Saturday. We've just been informed here at the Kennedy Space Center. We've all know there is a memorial service in Houston at the Johnson Space Center tomorrow. We've been told there will be an employee ceremony here at Kennedy Space Center on Friday that will actually take place on runway 1533. That is the north-south runway where the space shuttle Columbia was supposed to land 9:16 Eastern time on Saturday.

The ceremony will take place right around 9:16 Eastern time on Friday. There will be planes flying over the runway to commemorate the time the seven astronauts should have landed safely. Behind us is the Memorial Wall. This is the Astronaut Memorial Wall with the names of all the astronauts who have perished in the service of the United States of America; 17 names are up there.

Seven of the names are astronauts who died on test plane crashes before they ever went into space. The other 10 names are the astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986 and the three astronauts who died in the launch pad flash fire in 1967.

We want to give you a look. In addition to the tourists who have been coming here, we want to give you a look at what was just brought here a short time ago. You see the wreath to the left of the seven astronauts aboard the Columbia. That was just brought here by the director of the Kennedy Space Center, Roy Bridges. And, on the wreath, it says, "Forever in our hearts, your NASA friends, Kennedy Space Center."

It was brought here by Roy Bridges, the director of the Kennedy Space Center, also, his deputy director, Jim Kennedy, and then the president of the Astronauts Memorial Foundation, Dr. Steve Feldman. They brought that wreath here. It was notable because this area has been populated by the public over the last 2 1/2 days. We haven't had any officials here. But they felt the desire and the need to come here.

They didn't make any comments. They looked very sad, as you might imagine, very somber, and delivered that in honor of their fallen brethren and sisters who died aboard the Columbia. We told you that there are 17 names on top of this wall. The seven Columbia astronauts' names will be put up here shortly. We're told, in the next few months, those names will be brought on the wall.

We want to talk to some of the people who are going to be coming here.

We'd like to this gentleman right over here.

Sir, can you tell me where you're from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm from New Mexico originally. And now I live in Orlando.

TUCHMAN: Tell me what made you decide to come here today to the Association Memorial Wall?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just wanted to remember the astronauts. And it's just so incredible what the space program has accomplished, and yet what a tragedy.

TUCHMAN: How do you feel when you come up here, look at the wall, look at the pictures of the seven astronauts, know their names will soon be up on the wall, and realize what happened Saturday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. I'm still in shock, I think, from the fact that the shuttle blew up. So, I think it would be great to see their names there just in recognition of what they've accomplished.

TUCHMAN: Final question I want to ask you, sir. We've done polling, CNN, "USA Today" and Gallup. It shows most Americans want to see the space shuttle program continue. Your opinion?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. I agree.

I think that that's the only logical thing that should take place, that it should continue on, in light of what these people have sacrificed.

TUCHMAN: Sir, thanks for talking with us. We appreciate it.

I want to show you one more thing that people have been doing while they've been here. You can see the two folks over here. They are signing condolence books.

And excuse us for getting in your way. We're getting in the way of some people today, which we hate to do, but we want to show our viewers what's going on here.

And the people sign their condolence books to give messages to the family members of those astronauts who were lost. The young lady who was just here, I hope she doesn't mind if I read what she wrote. But she said: "Your courageous family members have not perished in vain. We will continue space exploration in their honor." And it's signed by Lisa Malone. And she's obviously a NASA employee.

That's an important point. We've had a lot of members of the public here. But, today, the first weekday since this happened, a lot of the NASA employees have been coming here to pay honor also -- Judy, back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Gary, thanks very much.

We're all struck by the fact that, just a few days ago, many Americans weren't even aware that the shuttle had taken off or that it was coming back and now everyone is aware and full of heavy hearts. Thank you, Gary, very much.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIEZER WOLFERMAN, FATHER OF ILAN RAMON: I can't believe it's happened. He was -- I was so happy for him. I got his e-mail. It was the top of his life, and that's what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: One more reminder: That NASA press conference briefing will begin in just about 12 minutes from now. It's scheduled for 5:00 Eastern. NASA told us a little while ago that they were pushing it back to 5:00 Eastern. And, of course, CNN will carry that live.

Well, the eyes of many Americans were glued to their television sets on Saturday about 2:00 in the afternoon, when President Bush came before the cameras at the White House to say the Columbia astronauts are lost. It is a role that a president is called on to play at a time like this. Tomorrow, the president will be speaking again at a memorial service in Texas for the astronauts.

But, as our White House correspondent John King reminds us now, the president is still very focused on the crisis, if you will call it that, John, with Iraq.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Judy, one of the challenges facing any president is to deal with a tragedy such as this, while also going ahead with the business on your busy plate before you.

The president will travel to Houston to the Johnson Space Center tomorrow, first lady Laura Bush with him. Aides say the president is worried most of all right now about the families of the lost astronauts, making sure everything is being done to comfort and console them. The president, obviously, in his remarks will try to do that as well. The president is also concerned, aides say, about the overall morale at the space agency.

And he will make clear his commitment to the continuation of manned space missions, even though there is a question now as to when shuttle flights might resume and perhaps about the future of the shuttle program down the road.

But the planning when it comes to Iraq goes forward. White House aides say there was no consideration at all to delaying Secretary Powell's presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. That is viewed as critical. They did flip the president's schedule a little bit. He will meet tonight with the king of Bahrain here at the White House. That meeting was scheduled for tomorrow around the same time as the memorial service. Bahrain doesn't get too many attention, with all the focus on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, other countries in the Gulf region, but it is critical, the home base of the U.S. Naval resources in the area, White House officials saying the president can deal with the tragedy and the planning when it comes to Iraq all at once, a very busy time -- the budget out today as well, Judy.

So, the administration says the president is very businesslike. Obviously, this is an emotional moment, but it's something he simply has to deal with, on the one hand, trying to comfort the nation, on the other hand, pressing ahead with a very short timetable to make key decisions when it comes to Iraq.

WOODRUFF: John, I want to pick on something that Bill Schneider said just a minute ago about, in a time like this, presidents probably get some advantage because they are seen as being above partisanship at a time of national tragedy, when presidents play the role of mourner in chief, if you will. To what extent is the White House aware of that?

KING: Well, they certainly understand that dynamic, Judy, but they say they can't count on anything like that and they say the president has to treat each issue as a separate issue.

When it comes to the Columbia tragedy, of course, the president is given quite some slack and viewed as a nonpartisan figure as the commander in chief, as the consoler in chief, in many ways. If you look today at the reaction to the Bush budget, you see no such delay, if you will, on the part of the Democrats, some quite harshly critical statements coming out about this president when it comes to the deficits, about his domestic spending priorities.

So, even as all Democrats pay tribute to the president's kind words over the weekend and consoling words over the weekend when it comes to this Columbia tragedy before us, the Democrats are not being hesitant at all when it comes to making their criticism known about the Bush budget. So, I don't think they can count here at the White House, either allies overseas or critics of the Iraq policy here at home, of being silent, at least beyond a day or so, just because of this tragedy.

WOODRUFF: Well, I know my e-mails have been filling up all day long, hearing from Democrats and others with some concerns.

All right, John King at the White House -- thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Well, the Columbia investigation and the threat of a prolonged shutdown of the entire shuttle program could mean the demise of the International Space Station, if it went on long enough.

CNN's Charles Feldman has more on NASA's future and the tough decisions that lie ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Booster ignition and lift-off.

FELDMAN (voice-over): The primary mission for the remaining three space shuttles is to ferry astronauts and heavy equipment to the international space station. The 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: 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 till June. They already have a life boat, 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 multi-billion 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, whose potential will be unrealized.

FELDMAN: To pay for billions in 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've put too much incentive into saving money as opposed to incentive into saving lives.

FELDMAN: Ground the shuttle fleet will likely trigger debate over how important manned flights are to begin with. 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 ferry astronauts and equipment back and forth, is important for science and 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. Advocates see political and diplomatic payoffs from involving other countries. FUHRMAN:. Using this as a bridge with the Europeans, with the Japanese and with Russia now, that made this, 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 humankind's biggest dreams.

Charles Feldman, CNN, Houston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: All of which we will continue to look at in the days and weeks to come.

Once again, we are about five minutes away from a briefing that NASA has scheduled at the Johnson Space Center. And we will carry that live just as soon as it gets under way.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: On INSIDE POLITICS tomorrow, I will be live from the Johnson Space Center in Texas with a full report on the memorial service for the Columbia crew and the latest on the investigation of what went wrong.

That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



Always; Memorial Service to be Held Tomorrow for Columbia Crew>


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