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Memorial Service Held in Houston to Remember Crew of Columbia; Powell Prepares for Address to U.N.

Aired February 4, 2003 - 16:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Remembering the Columbia seven. Family, friends and colleagues gather to share their grief and to praise the courage of those who were lost.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They go in peace for all mankind, and all mankind is in their debt. America's space program will go on.

ANNOUNCER: The president tries to comfort a nation in mourning. A call to remember, and to look to the future, to continue America's mission in space.

Secretary of State Powell prepares to present the U.S. case against Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are betting everything that Colin Powell is going to be able to convince the world that we've actually got the goods on the Iraqis.

ANNOUNCER: The challenge of shaping world opinion. We'll remember a past crisis and a U.N. showdown over U.S. evidence.

Live from Houston, this is a special edition of INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff.


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us on this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

I'm reporting from the Johnson Space station. About two hours ago, NASA wrapped up a moving tribute to the seven Columbia astronauts. In a touching memorial service, the families of those killed in Saturday's tragedy were joined by thousands of friends and co-workers, along with millions of television viewers around the world.

The Columbia crew members were remembered for their professionalism, their courage, and their passion to explore the unknown. NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe vowed to continue their mission and to discover what caused their tragic death. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Our duty now is to provide comfort to the brave families of the Columbia crew. The families who take so much pride in their loved one's remarkable accomplishments. We also have the tremendous duty to honor the legacy of those fallen heroes by finding out what caused the loss of the Columbia and its crew, to correct what problems we find and to make sure this never happens again.


WOODRUFF: The president and first lady led a Washington delegation that included retired astronauts John Glenn and Neal Armstrong. Mr. Bush praised the astronauts as examples to all Americans, and he offered words of comfort for their families, especially the children.


BUSH: And to the children who miss your mom or dad so much today, you need to know they love you and that love will always be with you. They were proud of you. And you can be proud of them for the rest of your life. The final days of their own lives were spent looking down upon this earth.


WOODRUFF: That was the service. Well, as many NASA workers stopped to remember the Columbia's crew, elsewhere in Texas, the work continued in the hunt for the scattered debris of the space shuttle. Among the latest discovery, a large section of the shuttle's nose cone. Searchers also report finding a seat from the shuttle, along with two tanks and a syringe from an on-board experiment.

Joining me now is CNN's space correspondent Miles O'Brien who has been part of our coverage from the very begin on Saturday morning.

Miles, bring us up to date before the talk about the service today, on the investigation.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, first of all, many of the key people were at the service. This wasn't a day of real active number crunching. This was a day to pause and reflect on the crew. There were some things going on. First of all, that nose cone, that piece, while important, is not the key piece that a lot of people have been saying.

Just to tell you, that nose cone right up here at the front, this is designed to take the harshest attack of heat as the space shuttle comes in. It's reinforced carbon carbon it's called. No surprise it survived. It and these gray portions on the leading edge of the wing are designed to withstand 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

As we know from all of the data we've heard so far, the failures were going on here, somewhere inside this left wing. There was some problems, a breach, some rough tiles, missing tiles, whatever the case may be, which caused all kinds of temperature readings to spike in this area. Caused the shuttle to tilt this way and try to right itself. So while it's interesting to know where that nose cap end up because it tells you a lot about how it broke apart, as one investigator told me, the real key to this problem may watch up on a beach in Malibu and someone walking along might hold the real key.

At the Malibu point there is a floatability test going on right now at the Kennedy Space Center. There are members of the team who are taking pieces of the shuttle they have there, dropping them in the water to see what floats, what sinks, how it reacts in the water to learn a little bit about where to look in these bodies of water underneath this West Virginia-size debris path. So, that's all part of what they are doing today. We're not going to get a technical briefing. In about a half hour time we'll hear from Washington. They'll give us a sense of the logistics of the hunt for all the pieces. Now more than 12,000 pieces gathered, but who knows how many are out there.

WOODRUFF: It has to be so hard, Miles. As you say, these people charged with the investigation did take some time out today to remember their fallen colleagues.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting. When you think about most crash investigations, the NTSB comes in and it's kind of a dispassionate thing in the sense that they weren't friends of the pilots or people on board those airplanes. They are able to detach themselves in that sense.

These are friends, colleagues, loved ones that were on board that spacecraft and they are charged with finding out what happened to them. So it's got to be incredibly poignant. You really have to keep that focus and realize that what's most important to honor their legacy is to find out what happened. I think that's what Sean O'Keefe said today. That's what the president said today, that focus is what this place is all about.

WOODRUFF: We'll tell you, I never fully appreciated, until now, just how close this NASA family is.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, hearing it today, I mean, a lot of us quite frankly, shuttle missions have become somewhat commonplace. This is the 113th mission. It's not like the old Mercury 7 days where they were larger than life characters. These people are people who do a job. Now we know more about the humanity.

WOODRUFF: Well, thank god for that. I am embarrassed to tell you I am one of those who didn't even know the shuttle mission was under way until the awful events of Saturday morning.

Miles, thank you so much. We appreciate all of your coverage.

High above the earth today, an unmanned Russian cargo craft docked with the international space station, delivering food, water and fuel to that three-man crew. The docking was described as normal with no problems reported. The delivery was all the more critical given the sudden grounding of the U.S. shuttle program.

Shuttles often ferry replacement crews to the space station, along with a heavy supply shipment. Officials say the space station crew now has enough supplies to last until the next supply mission in June. You can find more on the space station, the shuttle program and the Columbia tragedy at our website,

Today's service here at the Space Center was reminiscent of other somber events in recent years. A president forced to put aside his role as a political and military leader, and instead required to console, to comfort those who are hurting.


BUSH: Their mission was almost complete and we lost them so close to home. The men and women of the Columbia had journeyed more than 6 million miles and were minutes away from arrival and reunion. The loss was sudden and terrible. And for their families, the grief is heavy.

WOODRUFF (voice-over): For all the State of the Unions, national party convention speeches and Oval Office addresses, it is speeches such as this, designed to comfort and raise the spirit that are perhaps the most memorable.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) Roger, Challenger.

WOODRUFF: Who can forget Ronald Reagan's beautiful eulogy for the crew of the Challenger.

RONALD W. REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us in the manor in the way in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of god.

WOODRUFF: Or Bill Clinton's words following the Oklahoma City bombing, a speech that touched Americans so profoundly, it is often credited with turning around his presidency.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To all my fellow Americans, beyond this hall, I say, one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil.

WOODRUFF: But unforgettable words are not always written ahead of time. So carefully crafted.

BUSH: I can hear you! I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!


WOODRUFF: Three days after September 11, 2001. Well, today's service was held at the same site as the Challenger memorial back in 1986. A different time, but a similar message of hope and comfort from the sitting president.

The latest on the showdown with Iraq straight ahead, including the discovery of an empty chemical warhead north of Baghdad. The news comes just as the secretary of state gets ready to unveil the U.S. Evidence against Iraq. We'll have a preview.

Also ahead:

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider. As Colin Powell heads to the United Nations tomorrow to present the case against Iraq, for many Americans, the man may be as important as the message.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Bruce Morton. This won't be the first U.N. showdown featuring American evidence against another country. I'll have the story of a past crisis over weapons of mass destruction.



JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... he will speak for about 90 minutes. Administration officials tell us he will do this in a public presentation to the Security Council. What he hopes to achieve is nothing less than turning the tide, if you will -- changing the politics of the Security Council debate and trying to get France, Russia and other countries to publicly come around to putting on the table the prospect of military action in the near future.

How will he achieve that? Secretary Powell, we are told, will present detailed U.S. intelligence. We are told it will include satellite photographs showing evidence being moved by Iraqi officials just before U.N. weapons inspectors show up in Iraq. We're told it also will include intercepts of conversations in which Iraqi officials talk about hiding things from the inspectors and talk about coaching scientists on how to mislead the inspectors.

We also are told it will include evidence that U.S. officials say shows that Iraq, even in the past month or so, has been importing banned weapons materials into the country, even while those inspectors are on the ground. Now the administration has not yet firmly committed to speaking a second resolution in the Security Council, but the goal is, through the Powell presentation, to create enough support for a resolution that would set one final deadline for Iraqi compliance. No hard date settled on yet, but administration officials say a deadline within the next several weeks and they want that resolution to give the U.N.'s blessing in advance for military action if that deadline is not met.

As part of the diplomatic effort, Secretary Powell already up in New York, preparing to make the presentation. President Bush spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin today. U.S. officials are increasingly confident in the end, they say still work to do, but in confident in the end they will have Russia's support. Prime Minister Blair of Great Britain lobbying the French President Jacques Chirac, Mr. Chirac saying he still believes inspectors should be given more time. So France remains a problem from the White House perspective.

And Judy, a lot of grumbling on Capitol Hill in recent weeks that key members of Congress saying they are being left out of this process. President Bush and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will have a breakfast here in the morning with the leadership and all the chairmen and ranking members of the relevant committees and they will offer a preview of the presentation that Secretary Powell will give to the council.

WOODRUFF: So the Bush administration now going along with the British proposal that there be a second resolution at the U.N.

But John, after Powell's speech, no matter what the reaction is, what is the next thing that the administration feels it has to do?

KING: Well, I should I note, Judy, the administration is seeking consensus for a second resolution. It has not publicly committed to supporting one just yet. They want to get a sense of whether the votes are there.

As for what comes next, the next key date at the Security Council is February 14. That is when Hans Blix returns to give his interim update to the Security Council. White House officials say between the presentation tomorrow and the 14, they will take the test if you will, of support within the Security Council and senior administration officials are telling us, within a day or two of the Blix presentation, we should have a good sense of whether this president believes he can get a second resolution, a tough new resolution and continue to work through the Security Council or whether Mr. Bush will say that the window for diplomacy is now shut, and that he will operate outside of the United Nations.

WOODRUFF: OK. John King, thanks for that clarification.

John mentioning the French and we should tell you that French President Jacques Chirac says a war with Iraq, he says, would be the worst of all solutions, and he wants the U.N.'s weapons inspection program in Iraq to continue. Mr. Chirac refused to budge from that position today during a summit with president Bush's key ally in the showdown with Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The French president says Iraq should be disarmed, yes, but he does not believe war is the answer. France has veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Well, as the two leaders were meeting in France, anti-war protesters were on the march in Britain. Activists with Greenpeace broke into a military dock at Southampton in a bid to stop military hardware from being loaded on to ships bound for the Persian Gulf.

Saddam Hussein has told a retired British lawmaker in a television interview that Iraq has no ties to al Qaeda. Hussein said that if that Iraq had such ties, and if it believed the relationship -- believed in the relationship, it would not be ashamed to admit it. The Iraqi president spoke with Tony Benn, a British anti-war activist and former parliament member. He also denied that his country has weapons of mass destruction and he accused the United States of looking for a pretext to launch a war so that it can control Iraq's oil preserves.

All eyes, as you've been hearing, will be on the United Nations tomorrow. Next, we will look back 40 years when another administration went to the U.N. to make its case.



WOODRUFF: As the Bush administration pushes its case against Iraq before the United Nations, there's also another concern to worry about, the opinions of Americans. Here's our senior political analyst Bill Schneider with the latest on what the polls are showing.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Are the American people ready to go to war? Not quite. There's one question they need to have answered. Why now?

Almost all Americans believe Iraq poses a threat to the United States. But fewer than 30 percent believe it is an immediate threat. More than 60 percent call Iraq a long-term threat.

They want to know why, when the nation has so many pressing problems, President Bush feels it's necessary to act now in Iraq. In fact, there's evidence that people are concerned the president is a little too gung ho for war.

About half the public believes the Bush administration is likely to present evidence it knows is not accurate in order to make its case against Iraq. Fifty-eight percent believe it's likely the administration would conceal evidence that goes against the president's position.

Implication? The American public does not entirely trust the Bush administration on Iraq. Except for one man. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Asked, who do you trust more when it comes to U.S. policy on Iraq? Bush or Powell? The response is dramatic. Powell by a landslide.

Which means the administration picked exactly the right person to make its case to the U.N. this week.

KENNETH POLLACK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: They're betting everything that Colin Powell is going to be able to convince the world that we've actually got the goods on the Iraqis.

SCHNEIDER: What goods? GEN. AMER AL-SA'ADI, HUSSEIN SCIENTIFIC ADVISER: We do not expect Colin Powell to come up with evidence of a smoking gun.

SCHNEIDER: But a lot of Americans do. The issue is, where does the burden of proof lie? Iraq claims it lies with the inspectors. The Bush administration claims it lies with Iraq to prove it is disarming.

What do the American people think? They are split. Nearly half the public believes Powell has to come up with a smoking gun. He has to convince them he doesn't need one to make the case against Iraq.

(on camera): Powell has to persuade Americans to look at the inspectors as auditors. They are to verify that Iraq is disarming, not as detectives looking for incriminating evidence. It may not be so easy to do that. This is, after all, a country addicted to TV shows about crime scene investigators.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: Numbers worth thinking about there.

With a showdown with Iraq brings to mind another crisis that played out on the world stage, and that was the Cuban Missile Crisis four decades ago. CNN's Bruce Morton looks back at those dark days and the evidence presented then by the United States to force the hand of then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.


MORTON (voice-over): Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and sought ties with the Soviet Union which sent him troops and weapons. In September 1962, President John Kennedy confirmed what the Soviets had sent defensive missiles to Cuba. But the missile crisis came the next month in October, when Kennedy told America the Soviets were installing offensive missiles in Cuba, which could hit the U.S.


JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western Hemisphere.


MORTON: The unmistakable evidence was aerial photos, which were unmistakable only if you knew how to read them. Robert Kennedy said later that without the labels, it looked like nothing more than clearing a field for a farm. But they trusted the experts.

America's U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson showed the photos there, demanding an answer from the Soviet Ambassador Valerian Zorin in a famous exchange.


ADLAI STEVENSON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no.

VALERIAN ZORIN, USSR AMBASSADOR TO U.N. (through translator): You will have your answer in due course.

STEVENSON: I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that's your decision.


MORTON: But the U.S. did not wait on the U.N. Kennedy anxious to avoid war imposed a blockade on Cuba.


KENNEDY: All ships of any kind bound for Cuba from whatever nation or port, where they're found to contain cargo of offensive weapons be turned back. Shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile, launched from Cuba against any nation in Western Hemisphere, as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.


MORTON: Several ships bound for Cuba changed course. The Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who complained privately that "Castro wants to pull us into a war with the Americans," and Kennedy, negotiated.

In the end, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles, and did. The U.S. agreed not to invade Cuba, unless it committed aggression against some other country in the Western Hemisphere, and the U.S. quietly withdrew missiles it had in Turkey aimed at the Soviets.

Most people think it's the closest the two sides in the Cold War ever came to hot war.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And how grateful we all are that the Soviets did back down.

Just ahead, President Bush's policy on Iraq is in the "CROSSFIRE."

We will hear what Paul Begala and Bob Novak have to say when they square off in our "Taking Issue" debate.


WOODRUFF: We take you quickly to Washington, D.C., where NASA officials are briefing reporters.

This is Michael Kostelnik.


WOODRUFF: Michael Kostelnik, NASA official, talking to reporters, facing some very tough questions, even on the day that the seven Columbia astronauts were memorialized.

A little bit of news appears to be coming out of this briefing from Mr. Kostelnik. Among other things, he's saying that there are credible reports that -- not just in Texas and Louisiana, but now in the states of California, New Mexico and Arizona, credible reports that debris, possibly from the Columbia, has been spotted.

And with me now, our correspondent, space correspondent Miles O'Brien.

You and I were just saying...

O'BRIEN: It's big news.

WOODRUFF: If that's what it is, it's big news.

O'BRIEN: That is big news.

He did not bury the lead. What that means is, as you know, Columbia was coming in west to east. And the breakup, as we know, or at least the indications that there was serious trouble on the orbiter began to come in just as the orbiter was streaking over California. There are also a series of reports we've been getting from amateur observers.

We've seen some of the tape, showed you some of the tape, which clearly indicate that things were falling off the orbiter at this point. So, somewhere out there are some very key pieces of evidence. If in fact there are some pieces that landed there, these would the ones that would be right at the top of the list for the investigators to look at.

WOODRUFF: How lucky it would be for them, in terms of trying put this investigation together, trying to understand what happened, if they were able to identify those early pieces.


WOODRUFF: Off the shuttle.

O'BRIEN: And the thing about these pieces, these tiles, they all have serial numbers on them. They are unique to their location on the orbiter. And if you get that number -- and the number is designed to survive, after all, 2,000-3,000 degrees -- they are tiles, after all -- if you get that number, you'll know precisely where it was.

WOODRUFF: And, Miles, he said that he's gotten some e-mails. They appear to be credible, the sources. He also delivered that familiar, by now, warning that, if anybody sees anything that looks like it could have come from the shuttle, don't go near it.


This could be a lucky break for NASA. It could be a dead end, too. But we'll watch it closely.

WOODRUFF: Just one other quick thing I wanted to can you about was that he was asked if that piece of foam or whatever that came off the shuttle, he was asked, is that the largest piece ever to -- that they think has ever come off? And they said, they think so.

O'BRIEN: Well, the thing they would consider here is how you analyze it, too. The assumption that it's a piece of foam may be a bad assumption, too. Was there water in it? Was there ice? The assumption that it was 2.67 pounds means that they're considering it to be just foam.

If there was ice on it, it might have been much heavier, might have caused much more damage. And I should tell you, I was looking back at the mission report for STS-1, the first mission of a shuttle, Columbia, April 1981. They had all kinds of foam falling off then.

WOODRUFF: And here we are 113 missions later.


WOODRUFF: All right, Miles O'Brien.

That does wrap up our coverage for now from the Johnson Space Center, again, this briefing on the day that we remember the seven Columbia astronauts.

I'm Judy Woodruff in Houston.


Columbia; Powell Prepares for Address to U.N.>

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