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CNN BREAKING NEWS

NASA Scrubs Today's Launch of Space Shuttle Discovery

Aired July 13, 2005 - 13:33   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now in the news, change is afoot at the Department of Homeland Security. Chief Michael Chertoff says he'll make structural changes to make the gigantic department more nimble and decisive. When he inherited the post in February, Chertoff took over a post overseeing 182,000 employees.
Dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured in Pakistan after three passenger trains collide in a horrific nighttime accident. The chain-reaction crash happened after a conductor allegedly misread a signal. Many riders were sleeping and awoke amid a bloody tangle of medal, glass and bodies. At least 127 people were killed.

Residents in the Caribbean are bracing for some nasty weather. Tropical Storm Emily is baring down on Winward Islands before moving toward Barbados. The fifth named storm of the hurricane season is already packing up to 60 miles an hour. By the time Emily clears the island, the storm could become a hurricane.

President Bush commented that he has no comment on the evolving drama involving Karl Rove. Mr. Bush only said that he'll withhold judgment about Rove until a federal criminal probe is complete, calling it a serious investigation. But those remarks were made before "Time" magazine reporter Matt Cooper emerged from testifying in front of a federal grand jury and revealed that Karl Rove indeed had given him permission to name him as a source.

CNN contributor Bob Barr joins us from New York to talk about a story that's turning into quite a political football. And since we've talked, Bob, we heard from Cooper. He did come forward and say Karl Rove was indeed his source. But there has been so much focus on the journalists. Judith Miller now in her eighth day of being in jail. You've got Matt Cooper who now spoke out publicly. Do you think at any time prosecutors were now looking at Karl Rove from the very beginning.

BOB BARR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It would be amazing if they weren't, Kyra. And I think have you to keep in mind, as I think you're indicating, that a probe like this is very time consuming. The prosecutor has to be very careful, very meticulous in what he or she pulls together, because the underlying possible offense, and I think we ought to emphasize the word possible offense here, is a very difficult one to prove. So it's very important for the prosecutor not to jump ahead of himself or herself. They have to go to the reporters in this case, which is the ultimate source of the printing of the information regarding the identity of the CIA employee and be very careful, be very detailed about who said what, exactly what was said and exactly when and how it was said.

PHILLIPS: All right, Bob, you worked for the CIA. You have a law degree. You are an attorney. And You also were a congressman. So let's look at all the implications here. And did Karl Rove break the law, if you look at it from a legal-political standpoint?

BARR: It's very difficult to say at this stage until we learn more about exactly what was said. And one really has to get into parsing the words here, and it's not just a political...

PHILLIPS: What more do we have to learn? What more do we need to hear?

BARR: We need to know exactly what the status of Mrs. Plame, Valerie Plame, was at the time.

PHILLIPS: As in was she indeed an undercover operative at the time this was leaked.

BARR: That is very important from a legal standpoint.

Now in addition to the legal aspects of this and whether or not there was things said that identified a CIA employee undercover at the time with the intent to identify them publicly, one really has to look at...

KAGAN: Bob Barr, hold that thought for one second. I'm sorry. I apologize to cut off, but we're just getting word that the launch has been scrubbed. This is just coming to us from Kennedy Space Center. The thunder clouds that have rolled in over Kennedy Space Center have definitely made an impact in what was supposed to take place today. We are now being told it was a faulty fuel tank sensor, is that correct? Is that what you just told me? So there was the issue of the weather. Forecasters had come forward, and said I think there might be a 60 percent chance of a no-go for this launch due to the clouds over the liftoff sight.

Now we're getting word that the launch has definitely been scrubbed due to a faulty fuel tank sensor. Now what exactly is a faulty fuel tank sensor? I will admit to you now it's not my expertise, but I know we're working to get Miles O'Brien -- we got Miles now. Miles, we got you hot via telephone. Tell us why -- we now got him live. He's in front of a camera. Fantastic. Miles, tell us about the faulty fuel tank sensor. Explain this.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, all right, this faulty fuel sensor -- I'm going to get my expert here Jim Reilly, and ask the astronaut lace up here to the microphone as quickly as possible if we could. We don't care so much about his IFB, Kevin. Let's just get a microphone on him right now so he can tell us what's going on. He's got some information for us, Kyra.

But as I understand it, this is a sensor that detects when the fuel is running out in the main engines. And this sensor, it is a redundant sensor, is that correct? But nevertheless, one of four. It is a very important piece of equipment that's inside the main engines. All right, can we hear Jim Reilly now? If we can get him on the air, he's got the information for us. Jim Reilly, astronaut who has been with us all day. Tell us what you know.

JIM REILLY, NASA ASTRONAUT: OK, what we've got right now is we've had one of the four low-level cutoff switches in the hydrogen side of the tank, and those things are designed to sense when we get to a low-level cutoff, so that if we get to a low position of the propellant, it will start to spin the engines down. So you don't shut them off catastrophically.

O'BRIEN: You don't want a quick shutoff.

REILLY: Right.

O'BRIEN: Now this is a device inside the orange fuel tank, right? Isn't that what you're trying to tell me?

REILLY: That's what we have right now, is that we have low-level cutoff switches that are in each one of these two tanks, the oxygen and the hydrogen side.

O'BRIEN: Hydrogen down here. Oxygen down there.

Each of them have those switches. Two in each?

REILLY: There's four in each is my understanding, and we're still working to get some information on that. But what we had is at least one of the four that's in the hydrogen side was the latest information that we've gotten was one of these four has failed the test, and we have to have all four working for that to be a launch to make criteria, meet the requirements.

O'BRIEN: So it has to be backed up three times essentially in order to fly? Is that critical a device?

So what do we know about access to it and fixing that kind of a thing. That's the big issue.

REILLY: I don't know that yet. We're busy looking at that. The mission-management team is looking at what it's going to require to repair this, what work rounds (ph) it might, what repairs are required.

We understand that -- the latest information, they are going to have to de-tank, and they will have to remove the propellants from the tank, and then they'll be looking at what it takes to replace this one faulty switch.

O'BRIEN: So we don't know for certain if this is something that can be done at the launch pad, correct?

REILLY: That's true. They are planning a mission-management team, will have a news conference shortly that will go into the engineering details at the fix what that they're looking at with and what it will require. And of course, more importantly, how long of a turnaround will it take for us to get ready to go back and fly.

O'BRIEN: OK, and that is the key question here. What we're talking about, Kyra, and to remind the viewers, is NASA wants to launch to the space station under daylight hours. And that poses a limitation because they can only do it at certain times of the day, obviously, to meet the International Space Station. And by August 1st, they're running out of daylight for this go around of launches, of five-minute launch windows each day. If they can't get the shuttle in the orbit before then, they're going to have to wait until September to do that. Do we know yet if this is something that could take that long? I guess not at this point, right?

REILLY: We don't know at this point and we're just waiting to hear what the engineers have to tell us about what it will take to fix it.

O'BRIEN: What's your inkling on this? Did you ever run into this kind of problem before?

REILLY: They have had a similar issue on a previous flight, but it was able to cycle itself, is my understanding. So, but we're waiting right now to really get the experts to tell us what they think it will require.

O'BRIEN: All right. And so we're past the point where this is something that can be recycled. They've obviously tried to do that and that hasn't worked that.

REILLY: They've actually -- yes, this crew is coming out of the vehicle right now. So we're not going to fly today.

O'BRIEN: OK. I am sure that's very disappointing for a crew. You've been through a few scrubs yourself, I know. And that -- what goes through your mind at this point?

REILLY: At this point -- Charlie Camarda is in the mid-deck with his hands up, you know. So, of course, they are all very disappointed. They were ready to fly. The weather was finally cooperating with us. Everything was looking good. And then we have this one thing. But the nice thing about it is that we're doing the right thing, as far as seeing these things and stopping the count. Because it's not in a -- what we consider to be a minimum configuration for launch.

O'BRIEN: It just goes to show you, all morning long we talked about the weather. And we should be reminded this is an incredibly complex vehicle, the most complex vehicle ever devised. A million parts. The fact that they all work well enough to launch ever is pretty amazing when you think about it. So many possibilities.

REILLY: And it's been such a clean flow right up to this point. Everything was looking good. So I'm sure they are very disappointed. But they'll be coming back to crew quarters this afternoon. And of course, the mission management team will be giving us more information here very shortly. O'BRIEN: All right, Jim Reilly with the information there. There you see -- there goes the astro van, the three-and-a-half mile drive out to the launchpad to pick up the crew as they make their way out of the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Just to recap for our viewers who might just now be tuning in, all day long we've been talking about the possibility of bad weather. And as it turns out, it's a bad valve or a switch or what would be the correct term?

REILLY: What's called an ECO or an engine cut-off switch or an LCO, or a low-level cut-off switch.

O'BRIEN: A cut-off switch, which I guess would cause a valve to stop for the engines. And as a result of the problem with that, they have stopped the count. No launch today. The seven-member crew of Space Shuttle Discovery will now start making their way down from the 195-foot level, the white room as they call it here, down to the ground, back to the astro van, back to the astronaut crew quarters while engineers and the mission management team huddle to try to figure out what their options are for getting at this problem, which is in the orange fuel tank.

Live pictures now in the white room as the so-called cape crusaders, the close-out team there, help the astronauts off and, you know, doffing their suits and so forth and getting a little more comfortable as they make their way back. It's got to be a huge disappointment for NASA today, but having said all of that, after two- and-a-half years, you want to do it right.

REILLY: Exactly. It's just like launching an aircraft. You've got to have all the equipment that you need to fly, and this just happens to be on that list.

O'BRIEN: All right -- Kyra. Yes, go ahead.

PHILLIPS: Miles, I got to -- I'm sorry. I didn't know, I don't want to interrupt your conversation there. We were having -- I have a question for you. The boat can -- Reilly, can both of you hear me? So I can throw this at both of you?

O'BRIEN: He's not laced up, but I'd be happy to relay for you.

PHILLIPS: OK, here, well, you -- I'm sure you can answer this, too. But as soon as you mentioned and as soon as Reilly mentioned the fact that it was this low-level cut-off switch, talking about the fuel -- you don't want the fuel to run out of the main engines. When you hear fuel or anything related to that, do you think that engineers look back at the damage to the heat resistant panel on the Columbia and then what happened there, that piece of foam, the insulation from the shuttle's external fuel tank that hit the left wing of the Columbia, you know, during lift-off. Of course, we saw what happened after that. I can just imagine there's a lot of sensitivity when it comes to the fuel tanks and these low-level cut-off switches.

O'BRIEN: Well, there is sensitivity to just about every part that is in the critical path toward flight, I think it's safe to say, Kyra. What Kyra's question is, in the wake of Columbia, with all the concerns that were generated out of that, is there a higher level of sensitivity, a higher level of concern than would be normal here for a launch? Or is this just the way they've always done business?

REILLY: This one has been on the list as being something that's required for flight every time.

O'BRIEN: OK. So this is not a new criteria that they came across, right?

REILLY: No, it's just -- my understanding is, this is the same criterion and the same fashion that we've had for all the launches. And the thing that's really good about what we're doing right now is the mission management team, which is charged with evaluating these, is already on top of it. And we'll have some information on it very shortly.

O'BRIEN: OK. So, I guess, Kyra, the answer is, this has always been a critical part and critical parts have always been the focus. The thing that's interesting about -- when you look back to Columbia is, no one really viewed debris, falling foam, to be a critical part. So it was kind of mischaracterized. In this case, this is a problem that has been viewed as a serious problem all along. So a slightly different scenario, I guess.

PHILLIPS: It sure points out the importance of detail when it comes to something like this. I mean, there's just no room for error at all.

O'BRIEN: No room for error. Boy, I think I think that's an understatement. Wouldn't you say, when it comes to aviation and space, it is a very unforgiving game, Jim Reilly?

REILLY: It really is. And our margins are pretty narrow. So you want to have as much as you can possibly get.

O'BRIEN: I suppose the safest shuttle is a shuttle that is on the launchpad. And the Discovery remains on the launchpad, Kyra, for now. We don't know the full answer yet as to how quickly it can be fixed. I'd be willing to hazard a guess. We're not going to see another attempt tomorrow. I think -- but you never know.

These people out here do wonders. There are people that can crawl around inside these orbiters, inside the tanks. There are amazing ways to get into access panels. They truly are contortionists at times. And they do amazing work here under tremendous pressure to get these spacecraft off the ground. I know you have -- share in that admiration of the work that they do here all the time.

REILLY: Indeed. These are the best. In fact, the people that work on these orbiters are the best in the business. And you can't ask for anybody to do a better job than these folks here at the Cape.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Kyra? PHILLIPS All right, Miles. So do you think we'll hear from NASA and find out? I mean, you basically have made the point that there's no way that this mission will take place today. But do you think we'll hear from NASA? Is there a possibility this could -- we could see things play out tomorrow?

O'BRIEN: Yes, well, there's always that possibility. I have been hearing a few rumblings that it might take a little longer to fix this thing. And that could involve something more serious to get access to it. Here -- one of the issues, as I should point out to you, is that access is very important. This side of the orbiter, you don't have as good an access. It's kind of the exposed side, the side you don't see, it's toward the ocean. And this side have you a lot of access because they have this thing called the rotating service structure. It's like a big clam that closes over the entire structure. And they can get into places that they wouldn't be able to get into otherwise. Am I right, Jim?

REILLY: That's true.

O'BRIEN: So it depends on how you have to get at it. And if it's one of those places that is just inaccessible at the launchpad, what you're talking about is rolling the vehicle back.

PHILLIPS: We were talking about all the checks and balances that the crew has to go through. It wasn't the crew, but the engineers that noticed that the low-level cut-off switch wasn't working right, is that right? So is there a -- I would imagine -- a tremendous checklist for all the engineers, as well? Right, Miles?

O'BRIEN: Yes, it's -- really, if you think about it, as the shuttle is on the launchpad and quite frankly, while it's in flight -- and Jim Reilly, bear me out on this, the crew knows enough, just enough to do their job. But there is so much more information that streams out by telemetry, by radio signals and various other ways to the ground controllers. And you have just an army of people, each of them with a little subsystem that is their direct responsibility.

There's just no way the crew could keep track of all the things that need to be kept track of. And so, in this case, in going through the countdown, the launch control team here, the people who are probably responsible for those very valves -- it's probably their thing, is to watch that -- said, hey, this is just not working. We tried to cycle it. We recommend a scrub. Jim, you want to bear me out on that?

REILLY: That's correct. In fact, the people that are in the launch control center right now are the ones that would have been looking at all the telemetry. Because everyone -- you're correct -- there would be no insight into this system, as far as the switch at this level for the crew on board the orbiter.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you can imagine, Kyra, when you're talking about something with a million parts total, how many gauges and switches you'd have to have on the flight deck...

PHILLIPS: No doubt.

O'BRIEN: ... in order to keep track of all that. You can't do it. So there is -- it's a team effort all the way.

PHILLIPS: Well, speaking of team, OK, now the crew -- they have been excited. We've seen the live pictures, holding up the various flags and things they were getting ready to take with them. And getting strapped in. Now they have to completely unstrap. And what happens next? Do they all go back and sit in a room and talk about how bummed out they are? I mean, what's the next step? Or do they have to keep refocusing on the next day, the day after?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, I think a lot will depend on what comes out on this news conference, that they tell us what the plan of action is to the fix. But I do think that there is -- certainly there is tremendous disappointment. But this is a crew -- some of them have been together approaching four years now. There was a little crew change after Columbia. But Eileen Collins and Jim Vegas Kelly and I think Steve Robinson were there for the original part of this crew and then there was a slop-out. So they've had four years to get to this point. And I guess you could say...

PHILLIPS: What's another day or two?

O'BRIEN: -- what's another night. What's another day? But on the other hand, Jim Reilly, when you get to that point, and you've gone this far, you want to fly, right?

REILLY: Yeah, you're ready to fly. When you're out on the vehicle and you're laying on the back, and you're ready for the count to begin, you're ready to go today.

O'BRIEN: Yes. By the way, we have Jim set up here. He can hear you, Kyra. We've got -- we have the technology now.

PHILLIPS: Outstanding. Well, Jim, that was going to lead me to my next question. When you -- finally, when it comes to the day, after all those years of training, and you're in there and you're strapped in, and you have those few hours, if not more, to wait and think before the actual moment happens and you are at liftoff, what is going through your mind? What do you think about? I mean, besides going through your checklist, there's a lot of thinking time that takes place in that period, isn't there?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, it turns out he can't hear you. What she was saying -- I'm going to pass it along here. What she was saying was you are going through the checklist, you're strapping in, you have a lot of tasks. But then when you get done with that and you are strapped on your back there's that time there, there's that kind of okay, now I have time to think about it. What goes through your mind then?

REILLY: At that point, you are still thinking about your job. I mean, most people would be sitting there thinking about exactly what happens in the sequence, because the next landmark, the really big one is the T minus 31 seconds. And that's where it goes from the ground launch sequencer on board. And when that happens, you know you are going to fly that day. And that's the big point that everybody starts thinking about what is going to happen next.

M. O'BRIEN: So he's talking about when that point, at 31 seconds, when the computers on the ground hand over the thing, and it kind of becomes, except for rare occasions, when they've had problems with main engines and hydrogen leaks, but very rarely -- and that's actually called a pad abort; that's a pretty serious scenario -- but basically at that point, you're off to the races. But it is a time to kind of reflect, I imagine, on what it took to get you there. You know, I mean, I guess -- in other words, how philosophical can astronauts be at that moment?

REILLY: I can tell you what I was thinking about on the first flight. And at that point I was realizing a dream, something I had wanted to do all my life. And so, imagine that Charlie and Soichi are probably looking at that the same way, and sitting there thinking that this is what they wanted to do all their lives. And Eileen and "Vegas" and the rest of the crew are all probably looking at it now and saying, you know, they were ready to go. And we're already mentally all the way into orbit. You know, by that point, you're already thinking about what are you going to do next.

M. O'BRIEN: So that's what it is. It's kind of each step, it's kind of an incremental thing. I think somebody told me once, Jim -- tell me if you bear this out -- that the closer you get to launch, the shorter your time horizon becomes. In other words, you know, when you get assigned it, it's a four-year time frame. And by the time you get up to launch day, it's about a four-second time frame that you care about. That's your world, that moment.

REILLY: Yeah and then it starts expanding on the other side. You know, as you're counting down to solid rocket booster ignition, you're right, I mean it starts going to that event, and then all of a sudden it's expanding out the other side. And at some other level of your mind, you're thinking about, okay, once that happens and we're gone, what is going to happen? You know, two minutes, 17 seconds, the solids come off, and we're going to be looking for this. And then at six minutes, we're looking for this. And when we get to eight-and-a- half minutes, we expect the main engines to cut off, and we're going to look at our velocities and make sure we got the right altitudes. You know, so you're thinking about all that while you're sitting there, during the holds particularly, as everybody is going through all their checks on the ground.

PHILLIPS: Miles, does he ever get nervous?

M. O'BRIEN: Did you ever get nervous? Are you hearing her now? Oh, excellent. We have the communication.

PHILLIPS: I love it. We got our comms. We're all communicating.

M. O'BRIEN: Houston, we don't have a problem. Go ahead. Did you get nervous? REILLY: Actually, no. It was actually a big surprise. I was expecting to get nervous on the first flight. And as it turns out, I wasn't. Because the one thing that really helped out was the night before, one of the guys out on the pad came up and said we're going to give you 100 percent safe bird tomorrow. And he was speaking for everybody in the program when he said that. I never knew who that guy was. I never got a chance to thank him. But he was speaking for everybody in the program. So when it came time to actually get on the bird the next day, it felt -- I was really calm, very relaxed. It felt just like another simulation at some level, and a realization of a dream I'd had since I was 8 years old at another level.

PHILLIPS: Eight years old. Jim what we're you doing at 8 years old when you realized this is what you wanted to do?

REILLY: Surprisingly, I was sitting in a dentist chair.

M. O'BRIEN: Really? I want to hear that story.

REILLY: The dentist was a big fan of space flight. John Glenn was on his first flight, and had just gotten approval for his third orbit, and the guy turns to me and says, would you like to be an astronaut? And I thought that was better than what I was doing right at the moment.

M. O'BRIEN: I should say so.

REILLY: So from then on I became one of those kids that wrote to NASA and followed all the flights and all the crews.

M. O'BRIEN: Really? So you really were the ultimate space junkie growing up, weren't you? And there are many astronaut who would tell you that tale, right?

REILLY: And it turns out that I'm not different from a lot of folks that are in our program. They're all very similar.

PHILLIPS: Jim, I remember talking to Captain Jeff Ashby, I know a friend of yours, he's very fond or you. And he told me he was a dishwasher -- he was a young boy as a dishwasher, and he remembers turning up and looking at the TV and watching Neil Armstrong, you know, make that step. And he said, at that point, it was a story just like your story. He knew that's what he wanted to do.

REILLY: Yep. Yeah, it's amazing. And I kind of took the long way around to get here. But eternally grateful that I'm here.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, just to recap for our viewers, though Kyra, we should remind everybody, there it is on the screen, the shuttle has scrubbed. It is not the weather, which was our concern. As a matter of fact, the weather right now remains go for launch, sadly. And instead, is a switch that shuts off fuel flow to the main engines. The main engines of the space shuttle, as you know, Kyra, are at the back end of the shuttle, they're actually on the orbiter themselves, the orange fuel tank is what feeds it with about 500,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. I think it sucks up about the volume of a swimming pool every 20 seconds. And so you don't want that to end quickly. And so -- or end catastrophically -- and so what happens is, the switch, and there are four of them total, are designed to cause that to shut off in a graceful way. I guess that's probably the term. That's probably not the engineering term, but essentially to shut it off in a way (INAUDIBLE)

PHILLIPS: All right. We lost audio there with Miles. We will try and reconnect with him. A little bit of technical difficulties. While we're figuring that out and working that out, I guess I mentioned his name, he heard that we were talking about him so he called in, Captain Jeff Ashby, another NASA astronaut. We got you on the line now?

CAPTAIN JEFF ASHBY, NASA ASTRONAUT: Hi, Kyra. How you doing today?

PHILLIPS: Great. Thanks for calling in. I'm assuming you have been watching the coverage and you have seen Jim Reilly there with Miles O'Brien at Kennedy Space Center. And of course, you and I were going to talk as launch time was getting closer. Now it's been scrubbed. What a bummer. You know how it feels when that happens, don't you?

ASHBY: Well it's very disappointing in a sense. But there's also a sense from the crew, I think, that the right thing was done, and it's always nice to know that people are looking out for your own safety.

PHILLIPS: Well, now, let's point out to give a little background, context. You are mission commander for Atlantis. You were also aboard Columbia previously, and also -- what was the third mission that you did?

ASHBY: I've flown two missions to the space station. But probably the most relevant one is that my first mission I flew with Eileen Collins on her first mission as commander aboard Columbia.

PHILLIPS: Oh, wow. And, of course, we have been talking a lot about her today and seeing these live pictures. It's pretty amazing to be able to watch everything go down from inside the shuttle to the outside, Jeff.

ASHBY: Well, I'll tell you. It's very exciting for me, even sitting here watching your news channel, as I prepare to do my job out here in Colorado Springs.

PHILLIPS: Well, let's talk about that. Because this is a very important mission, too, and that's air defense. And that's keeping the skies safe, of course, so the shuttle can lift off without any type of threat, airborne threat. Why don't you describe to our viewers about the NORAD mission and how it plays a part with NASA. Give you a chance here to talk about the dual mission.

ASHBY: NORAD, and the effort they make in ensuring the security of the airspace is just one part of the Department of Defense contribution to shuttle launches. DOD also provides other forms of security, as well as all the range control for shuttle launch. And I think the message here is that there are a lot of people around the country that participate in the shuttle launch from sites other than Kennedy Space Center.

PHILLIPS: All right now, be honest with me. Do you wish you were a part of this crew? It must be hard to watch all the action.

ASHBY: You know, I do wish I was a part. I do hope to fly again some day in space before they retire the shuttle. But it's also really neat to see them, and especially the rookies getting a chance to go fly in space and really culminate a life-long dream that I'm sure they've had.

PHILLIPS: Jeff Ashby, stay with, please, us on the line. We are hooked up with our Miles O'Brien again. Mile, Jeff heard us talking about him with Jim Reilly, so he called in.

O'BRIEN: Well, I'm glad that he did. Jeff Ashby's a good guy and certainly is well aware what it's like to go through a scrub like this. We just got a little diagram. I'm not going to try to show it to you on the air, because it's a little bit hard to do it, but what it does confirm for us is that this sensor -- and Jim, bear me out on this -- is down right at the very base here. Do you know off hand how hard it is to get access to that part of the orbiter, the very base of the external fuel tank?

REILLY: Yes, I have no information on that all.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

REILLY: I have no idea of what kind of access problems they might have or what fixes they can -- they can effect on this. But...

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, it's...

PHILLIPS: What about maybe Jeff, Miles? Let's ask Jeff Ashby.

O'BRIEN: Hey, Jeff...

PHILLIPS: Go ahead, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Do you know about access -- you know, we're talking about getting access down here, is where this particular switch is, Jeff. And I've always -- and my impressions has always been that this side of the orbiter is hard to get to stuff because you don't have the rotating service structure on it. Do you know if it's possible to do this work on the pad?

JEFF ASHBY, ASTRONAUT: Well, I think your impressions are probably very accurate, Miles. And, in fact, I am not an expert on the maintenance of that tank, and I'd be crazy to try and speculate at this point.

O'BRIEN: OK. Agreed.

I tell you what. What they're doing, Kyra, right now, is they want Jim Reilly and all the other astronauts to gather and get a briefing, which I think would help us all immensely at this point.

PHILLIPS: All right.

O'BRIEN: And we're going to insist that he comes back right away and helps us out and gives us some information on what's going on.

PHILLIPS: Fantastic.

So Jim, while you get briefed, we'll look forward to you coming back and telling us what's happening, and if, indeed, this will possibly maybe reconvene tomorrow.

Miles, I know you're going to stay with us, too, as we watch these live pictures via NASA. We're seeing the crew actually -- they have all -- I guess they're all unstrapped and they're out, Jeff, is that right?

ASHBY: Well, it looks to me from the pictures like they do have the crew out, and they're probably coming down the elevator now from the 195-foot level to get in their little van and drive back to crew quarters.

PHILLIPS: And what happens at crew quarters at that point, Jeff?

ASHBY: Well, I think there will probably be debrief. There will probably be a telephone conference with launch control and mission control in Houston to let the crew know what happened and to debrief anything -- this was essentially a practice session for what will hopefully be a successful launch in a day or two. And there certainly are things that always can be done better. And we usually debrief after each attempt.

PHILLIPS: And Miles was talking about just all the intricacies and all the various crews, not just the crews inside the shuttle, but the engineers on the outside. And when it comes down to something like a low-level cutoff switch, this faulty fuel sensor that we've been talking about, the reason why the liftoff has been scrubbed, because fuel could start running out of the main engines, which, of course, would not be a good thing, tell us about -- are there actual groups that are working, say, just on the switches or just on the fuel sensors?

ASHBY: Well, I believe those switches -- those switches are part of a bigger system, which would be the propulsion system. And there is a very large team of experts that work that. And the switches are just one little detail out of a jillion different parts and pieces that have to work right for each of those systems.

PHILLIPS: Jeff Ashby, a NASA astronaut. Stay with us, Jeff.

Miles O'Brien, Jim Reilly took off to get debriefed on what's going on. And possibly in the next day or two we could see a liftoff?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's hard to say. It really is.

Once again, the key issue here, Kyra -- and as you look at the launch pad here, maybe I can telestrate over this. I don't know if we've got that rigged up for that. Probably not.

But if I could give you a sense in a little bit -- boy, that's -- if you could take that shot we see down there, look at the crew looking up at the orbiter there, kind of taking it all in as they make their way back.

PHILLIPS: And taking pictures, Miles.

O'BRIEN: I would love to -- yes, I know. I would love to be a fly on the wall right there. Wouldn't you? And look at the -- say cheese, guys. This is scrub number one. And anyway...

PHILLIPS: Maybe Jeff might be able to give us a sense. Jeff, what do you think they're saying?

ASHBY: They're certainly talking about the -- you know, the experience they just had. And there probably is a lot of laughter and levity as they -- as they reflect on the fact that they're not going today. And their focus and concentration can be broken for a little while.

PHILLIPS: Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting, because I think you sort of expect this as part of the game. And any astronaut who's been through it -- I -- Jeff, do you know of a single astronaut who's ever not had a scrub? I mean, everybody's lived through this one time or another if you've flown in space, right?

ASHBY: Well, you know, Miles, you're probably correct, although, you know, like everything, there's probably one or two that have come through clean.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

ASHBY: Most of us have flown -- flown more than once, so I believe has gone through at least one scrub. And there's folks that have gone through more scrubs than flights.

PHILLIPS: Hey, Jeff, can you -- can you give us a sense -- I mean, Miles has been talking about it so much, about how important this mission is. First time in a couple years, of course, since what happened with the Columbia. But can you put into perspective, emotionally, personally, professionally, what a huge moment this is for NASA, and why this liftoff is so important, considering what happened a couple years ago?

ASHBY: Well, I think it's important for several reasons. One, on an emotional level, is that it gives us the confidence that we're flying again and that we've been able to make the required fixes and get the orbiter flying.

On another level, the president and NASA have developed a vision for space exploration which will take humans back to the moon and onto Mars in the next decade or two. And the first step of that is to return the shuttle to flight and finish the International Space Station. So this is really getting on with the first step of our vision to send humans to Mars.

PHILLIPS: Wow. Well, let's talk more about that. Miles, of course, once again, has done a number of special reports on that vision.

Miles, are you still with us?

O'BRIEN: I sure am, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: OK. Did you catch that last part of what Jeff said? I mean, that takes us to a whole other level here when it comes to the future of the space program and what more we can look forward to and learn about. And it's not just about liftoff today, but it's about a vision for the future.

O'BRIEN: Well, yes. I think, Kyra, what people have to realize here -- and I'm not sure it's really settled in and sunk in with people yet. But this -- what you're looking at is the beginning of the last chapter of the space shuttle program.

The shuttles will be retired within five years. And it's anybody's best guess as to how many flights they'll be able to squeeze into those five years, a dozen, maybe 15 flights. And the reason that it's being retired is this is at the direction of the president for NASA to retire the orbiter.

In the wake of Columbia, it was determined that it is time to do that. And I think a lot of smart people in the space business agree on that.

And along with that, come up with the next vehicle, something that isn't as complicated, something that's more reliable, something that has a crew escape capability, which the space shuttle does not. And something also that will get to you to a destination, not just orbiting the planet, but take people to the moon again.

And maybe, if we can get a lot of answers to a lot of questions that remain, maybe missions to Mars before too long. And I think that when you look at the space shuttle and the complexity of it, and that has a lot to do with what we're seeing here today.

This was a vehicle that was designed in the mid '70s, first flew in 1981. And there are a lot of new and different ideas about how to do it, how to create a vehicle that is much more focused on a specific mission, carrying people as opposed to carrying cargo and all the other things that the space shuttle was supposed to do and do it in a reusable manner.

A lot of what you see here, a lot of the complexity of the space shuttle, the desire is to get away from that and to make it more simple, and to enter a new era where there is more reliability. The term "safe" is a relative term. No one would ever tell you what we're seeing here today is safe. But making it safer is the goal, and coming up with a destination that really gets people engaged is the other goal -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: Jeff, let's talk about what Miles just said, looking forward to the next vehicle. Not just -- not just talking about in orbit, but talking about a destination and this mission to Mars.

Can you give us a sense for the talk and the feelings and the emotions and the thoughts within NASA and among you and your fellow astronauts about that vision, and your thoughts? Is there a lot of excitement about that? Are you already gearing up and studying about that in a pretty intense way?

NASA: Oh, yes. The vision is something that we've wanted for a long time. And it's very exciting now to have it.

We are very much focused on the first step of that, which is getting the shuttle flying again. But engaged in a lot of discussion that are just at this time developing an architecture or planned architecture for what our new vehicles will look like and what the requirements will be that will enable us to use them to go beyond low Earth orbit.

PHILLIPS: Well, Miles, I don't know if you know this, but this is something I found out about Jeff. And we even have a picture of it. I don't know if we'll be able to get it together and get it on the air, but did you know about Jeff Ashby and his bell up there at the International Space Station -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Oh, the Navy ship's bell that he put in?

PHILLIPS: Yes.

Tell our viewers that story, Jeff. It's one of my favorites.

ASHBY: Well, on Navy ships, the arrival and departure of distinguished visitors is marked by the ringing of a bell. It lets the crew know what's going on, and it lends an aura of respect to the environment aboard the ship.

We felt that would be a good thing to have at the International Space Station because it is much like a ship. And early on in the program we took up a very small bell which is used to mark changes of command aboard the International Space Station, and special events for people, and also the arrival and departure of both Soyuz and space shuttles.

PHILLIPS: So, in a way, I guess, Miles, we see how these guys definitely keep their sense of humor in boosting morale no matter where they are, whether it's up at the International Space Station or strapping in and getting ready to go.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting, because the analogy between a ship at sea and a space station in orbit is a good analogy, because you're talking about long voyages after all. And I think that that is what the future is as well.

You know, the whole idea that when a ship sets out, you don't know what sort of things you are going to come into, and you have to be prepared for all kinds of things that you couldn't have possibly conceived necessarily on the ground. It changes the way you think about space flight.

I mean, a trip to Mars is something that would take, with the current propulsion we have, many months, six to eight months. Well, you can't predict everything that's going to happen along the way. So it really is a lot like Captain Cook's ships which sailed the seas and made great discoveries. And, of course, one of those ships was Discovery, on which this particular vehicle, this space shuttle, is named. And so I think that that has changed the mindset.

PHILLIPS: And Miles, too, a lot of viewers not really up on the background of NASA or what it takes to become an astronaut.

Jeff, you know, tell viewers that are fascinated by the space program that the Navy does play a very big part, an important part when it comes to becoming a NASA astronaut. So many strike fighter pilots that I talk to, you think that's the ultimate job, but a lot of them will say, no, it's a Navy test pilot. You know, they want to be an astronaut.

And that's exactly what you did. You flew jets in the Navy, and that was just part of your journey to become a NASA astronaut.

ASHBY: Well, the best thing is to do both. I'm fortunate enough to have done that.

All of the U.S. military services contribute people to the astronaut corps. And the Air Force and Navy primarily contribute the pilots. They're split about evenly, along with the Marine Corps supplying some. But all the services provide some of their very best people to go represent their services and complete the work in orbit.

PHILLIPS: All right. Finally, we did rack up the picture. Here you are, if you're still able to see the -- our screen, Jeff, where you are there at NORAD. But this is when you installed the bell up at the International Space Station, right?

ASHBY: Yes, it sure is. And along with it is a set of rules on when you can and can't ring the bell.

PHILLIPS: Oh, well, give us the rules, please.

ASHBY: Well, I can't give you all the rules, but I can tell you, you know, we didn't want the Air Force guys ringing the bell for dinner. So we had to restrict that. Actually, everyone has really taken to it, I think. And it does -- it does exist as a means to mark special events in a special way.

PHILLIPS: Well, also, let's just talk about -- I've got a couple other shots of you, too, on one of your missions. And we were talking about this earlier before we got you on the line, but tell our viewers about your journey to get to where you are now.

It was all -- it goes back to when you were how old? A dishwasher at what age? And you saw Neil Armstrong make that step. ASHBY: Much like Jim Reilly's story of being in the dentist chair, I was actually a dishwasher, a 15-year-old dishwasher at a Colorado restaurant and was called to the dining room to watch Neil Armstrong walk down the ladder. And Jim Reilly said it right. You know, I thought, that job looks better than the one I'm doing right now.

PHILLIPS: Yes, it's quite a difference.

ASHBY: But it starts a dream, and really which eventually becomes a goal. And if you work very hard -- it took me 30 years from that day, almost to the day, to do my first flight in space.

PHILLIPS: That's a fantastic story. And it's also been quite a pleasure getting to know you.

Captain Jeff Ashby, NASA astronaut. We'll ask you to stay with us as you're manning your post there at NORAD just to make sure the skies are safe as the shuttle was getting ready to launch. But if you've just been tuning in, the word right now is that that launch has been scrubbed due to a faulty fuel-tank sensor, a risk that NASA just cannot take.

We're waiting to hear from NASA to see possibly if this liftoff may happen tomorrow, maybe the day after. Our continuing coverage on the shuttle launch from the Kennedy Space Center continues with Miles O'Brien, Captain Jeff Ashby, right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PHILLIPS: Our breaking news continues from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If you're just tuning in, a faulty fuel sensor aboard discovery has forced NASA to scrub its first attempt to launch a shuttle after the Columbia disaster.

You know we've had our eyes on this live picture for a few hours now, waiting to see if indeed it would launch. Crew members, though, now that were all aboard the orbiter when the announcement was made are now in the process of exiting the shuttle. They've actually already exited the shuttle, and they've gone down the elevator and are headed to the debriefing room, hopefully to discuss plans for a possible liftoff tomorrow.

Our Miles O'Brien, of course, live from the Kennedy Space Center. Also on the phone with us, NASA astronaut Captain Jeff Ashby.

Miles, I know that Jim Reilly, your pal and astronaut, went to a briefing to try and find out more information. Anything new yet?

O'BRIEN: Well, a couple things. First of all, those fuel depletion sensors are there. They are designed, Kyra, so that the tanks -- or the engines, I should say, the main engines of the space shuttle, don't run dry in a very sudden way.

And so it's very important that that doesn't happen. Let me just show you what I'm talking about here. There are four of them in all, two near the top. This is where the liquid oxygen is. Two at the bottom, where the liquid hydrogen is. OK?

What these -- this tank does is, through some pipes that are attached here, it feeds these engines here, the main engines of the space shuttle. And these are reusable engines that get taken out and refurbished each time around.

And while the solid rocket boosters here do about 80 percent of the heft of getting into space, they're an important part of getting into orbit. And obviously those sensors are very important, because you don't want them to stop catastrophically, perhaps causing some sort of explosion.

Now, what we have heard is the mission management team is trying to figure out how to best fix this problem. What kind of access to do you have to this particular location is the key here.

They're going -- they're actually having their meeting now. They're going to have a briefing for us, they say, no earlier than two hours and 10 minutes from now. That's 4:30 Eastern. And at that time, they'll say exactly what the course of action is.

But one of the things that was perhaps a little bit ominous as I listened to the launch commentators talking about the crew going back was whether -- how soon they would make a decision on whether to go back to Houston, which would indicate a relatively long period of time for them to fix it if the astronauts were thinking about flying back home to Houston.

So that's all I know for now, though. We're going to find out soon enough how easy it is to get to these particular sensors and change them out.

PHILLIPS: All right. Miles working what's happening there at Kennedy Space Center with regard to why the liftoff will not be taking place today.

NASA astronaut Captain Jeff Ashby on the phone with us there from his post at NORAD. He was actually watching this from afar while monitoring air defense, of course. And that surrounds the safety of this liftoff in that the skies are clear and safe for a liftoff.

But that has been clear. However, Jeff, it's technicalities here, this low-level switch, this faulty fuel sensor that's not working.

The human side of things, you were telling me how many -- well, first of all, how many years it takes to prepare for a liftoff like this, for a launch like this. And finally you get in there, and you're strapped in, you've got a number of hours inside doing your checklist, and then you get the call.

You don't here the T minus 31 seconds, so you know you're not going to lift off. You find out it's been scrubbed. Kind of give us the -- what happens from there? It's a bit frustrating, no doubt.

ASHBY: Well, often, you kind of have an inkling that there's going to be a scrub, because your listening to the chatter of the launch control center as you lay there. And so you're waiting for the team to make their decision. And as I said, it's comforting in a way to hear a conservative decision being made and knowing that people are so concerned about your safety that they're willing to scrub a very visible launch.

PHILLIPS: And as you are lying backwards, strapped in and just thinking about your checklist, you're also thinking about a lot of other things. I mean, what do you remember, let's say, from your last launch, when you were -- we're looking at some file video now actually of you.

You know, what's going through your mind as you're getting ready to go? I mean, do you start the -- no doubt you're thinking you want everything to go perfectly. What else is going through your mind?

ASHBY: Well, there's a little bit of work you have to do, but you lay there for about three hours with just a few switch throws to make and a few actions to take, so you have a lot of time to relax and think. Some people actually fall asleep.

I find myself, though, kind of doing a life review and thinking about all the people that helped me get to that spot at that time from my teachers, parents. I think a lot about my spouse, and I know others think about their families and children.

And I reflect on all those people and how they've influenced my life. And I get this great feeling that they're sharing it with me. And many of them are standing out at the viewing site, and others are watching on TV. So it's a very comforting feeling to know that I'm sharing this experience with all the people that helped me get there.

PHILLIPS: Captain Jeff Ashby, NASA astronaut. Truly getting a sense of not only what it takes professionally for something like this, but just the emotional side of things.

And what you do for all of us, too. You talk about everybody that makes this happen for you. Well, you've made a tremendous impact on all of us through what you've done in the Navy and in NASA.

We're going to ask you to stay with us.

Once again, we're continuing to cover the liftoff that has been scrapped there at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Live pictures via NASA.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with our rolling coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to our coverage.

Breaking news today. The shuttle launch is scrubbed. The Space Shuttle Discovery will not fly today, may not fly for a some time to come.

If you sort of get a sense of what's going on here, there's meetings under way right now. But just to backtrack a little bit, in the midst of this countdown it was determined by -- at the launch control center by the engineers trained on those gauges, dials and panels that one of the engine cutoff sensors at the base of that orange external tank, which is designed to allow the main engines of the space shuttle to shut off not catastrophically -- in other words, not suddenly, because that's not something you don't want to do. You want to do it in a way that will allows it to shut off in a fuel-rich way -- in other words, lean it out gradually -- that particular sensor failed.

There are four of them in all. Two on the top, two on the bottom, I believe.

Is that correct for a total?

I'm joined my Michael Cabbage, who is the aerospace editor of the "Orlando Sentinel," and has been working on this as well.

And this is a very critical piece of flight hardware, isn't it, first of all, Michael? Tell us about it.

MIKE CABBAGE, SPACE REPORTER, "ORLANDO SENTINEL": There's no questions about that, Miles. There's four different sensors, as you mentioned, for the liquid hydrogen tank on the shuttle's external fuel tank. And the danger that you run is that if these sensors show the tank is dry when it's not, then the engines could shut down early and you might not make it to orbit.

O'BRIEN: OK. So that's -- that's a big problem. And also, you want to make sure those sensors are working in such a way that you don't have that kind of catastrophic shutdown either on the other side of it. So this is an important thing.

CABBAGE: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: And this is not going back to the unusual -- not unusual because of the accident, but we saw it because of the questions about the redesign of the fuel tank, tanking tests that occurred here not long ago, a similar problem cropped up. Tell us about that.

CABBAGE: Absolutely. This not a new problem, Miles.

There was a test of the new improved external fuel tank here at Kennedy Space Center in April, when several what NASA calls anomalies, problems cropped up. And this was one of them they saw then.

There was two sensors on the tank at that time that did not work correctly. And they brought the tank back to the vehicle assembly building here at Kennedy Space Center. They switched tanks, they went back out to the pad, did a second test with a new tank in May, and they didn't se a problem then.

O'BRIEN: OK. And at that point, it was determined that that was something unusual to that other tank which had been swapped out. Is that correct?

CABBAGE: That's absolutely right. And I think at that point, they probably felt pretty good about not having an issue there.

O'BRIEN: OK. Now, when something like this crops up, you have to start putting -- connecting some dots here and say to yourself, what is going on that is causing these sensors to be a problem. Are they bad sensors? Is there some other issue inside the tank or something to do with the tank design that is causing this?

CABBAGE: Well, and that's the question NASA must be asking itself right now. This is something that they call an unexplained anomaly, which basically is a way of saying they haven't figured it out. And when they had the flight readiness review a couple of weeks ago to determine whether or not Discovery was ready for flight, this was an issue that came up.

And they talked through it. They couldn't figure out what the cause was then. But because it didn't repeat itself in the second tanking test, and because they couldn't reproduce it, they thought that they were OK to fly.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, this is definitely in the category of second-guessing. But when you consider all that's happened here, and all the history that has brought us to this moment, there'll be a lot hard questions that will be asked about this, I think.

CABBAGE: I don't think there's any doubt about that. You've got to wonder if this was a problem that they saw on a tanking test a couple of months ago and they couldn't figure out way to fix the problem and they couldn't fully understood it and, then, of course, it comes back to haunt them again on launch day here. It raises a lot of questions about what the process is for resolving those sorts of issues.

O'BRIEN: Well, and it raises questions and it goes back to that buzzword that we've talking about, so much about, NASA's culture, NASA's way of doing business. While foam striking the wing is what brought down Columbia, the back-story is, it was the way the decisions were made. Foam was falling off for years and years. Foam was falling off and causing damage. And yet, time after time, they let it go. They decided this was something that wasn't a problem without really looking at the problem. Can we put two and two together here and say that that culture is still in there, in some respects?

CABBAGE: I think that's a little premature. I think we need to find out a little bit more about exactly how this decision was made, the data that NASA had access to when they looked at these sort of things and exactly the decision-making process that was involved here. O'BRIEN: We're also joined, Mike, by Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator. She's in Washington today. Lori, I don't know how much you've had to get yourself in the loops, as they say in this business, on what happened today. But any time you come this far and have a scrub like this and have a technical issue to work, that's kind of frustrating, isn't it?

LORI GARVER, FMR. NASA ASSOC. ADMINISTRATOR: It is frustrating, Miles. But as you know as well as anyone, it happens more often than it doesn't. I think where Mike has been discussing the April tests where they already found this problem is what's really going to cause the most frustration -- is why we haven't looked at it since April. And it does look like we're probably going to have a longer delay than just the 24 hour turnaround.

O'BRIEN: Well, I guess, you know, if you really think about it here, if you've got two tanks that exhibit the same problem, that really leads you to a lot of -- opens up another can of worms, doesn't it? Lori, you first on that, because then it can't be explained away. You can no longer say unexplained anomaly, can you?

GARVER: Well, you can say unexplained anomaly because we don't understand it. It's an anomaly. It's a problem and NASA's not going to fly until they understand it this time, I feel quite sure. These things do happen and crop up and NASA is being extra careful. Even, I think, before the Columbia accident, however, something like this would not likely have been waived. I think NASA's record of going on time the first time schedule for launch has to be less than 50 percent, especially when you have something like a five minute window that this orbiter had. So NASA's going to have to really do a good job at understanding this, then explaining it and figuring out how fix it before they go back and try to fly.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I guess I sort of misspoke. What I'm saying is, unexplained anomalies that are sort of dismissed out of hand, Mike, is what we're talking about here. Because that does happen at times, because you cannot recreate the problem or it just appears to be a completely unique scenario, set of events, and you move on, right? You have to at times, right?

GARVER: That's it. I mean, if you go back and you do more tests and try to do everything you can to figure something out and you try to reproduce the set of circumstances that cropped up in the beginning and you can't do it, then you really have no other option, other than to say, we can't figure this out, but we don't think it's a problem, or not fly again.

O'BRIEN: Lori, let me ask you about that. I mean, looking at this whole thing sort of from the big picture here, the space shuttle in general. We've been talking a lot about the fact that it's an older technology and this is sort of the beginning of the last chapter of the shuttle, because it's such an old and complex vehicle. Is this just sort of one little piece of evidence that we can put in -- one more data point to prove that point?

GARVER: If you've been counting data points since the very first Columbia launch, yes. I mean, I think the Admiral Gehman CAIB report said it best, that this has always been and always will be an experimental vehicle. If you look at military flight vehicles that have flown each less than 30 times, they're still test vehicles. This is a test vehicle and these problems are going to crop up.

I think it does -- you have to look at the fact that it's older technology. Censor technology, no doubt, has come a long way since the 1970s. And they will look to incorporate all these new technologies in a replacement vehicle. Then again, flying another at least dozen to 15 times over the next five years, while it's challenge, I think the NASA people feel they're up for it. And I certainly assume we will get to the bottom of this one and launch successfully on another day.

O'BRIEN: Well, surely, Mike Cabbage, they're familiar with this incredibly complicated machine, that is the shuttle, the most complicated machine ever devised. And they know how to work the problems, so to speak. But a lot of it is selecting which problems to work. And this is -- I think this point -- this situation underscores that. They didn't work this problem when it cropped up before, for some reason.

CABBAGE: There's no question about that, Miles. And the other question I think that it raises, too, is have some of the other changes that they've made to the external fuel tank and other parts of the shuttle -- has that in some way created this other problem? Is sort of the law of unintended consequences that they talk about.

O'BRIEN: And I don't know, have done the research? Did we -- has there ever been a failure of this particular part prior to the redesign of the tank? Do you know if that has occurred in a launch -- a countdown test? It's a long history of the program. I'm putting you on the spot, I know.

CABBAGE: I think there have been random failures, but I think they have been single failures. And you have to have two of the sensors fail at the same time or be failed at the same time, as I understand it, to cause one of the engines to shut down.

O'BRIEN: Lori Garver, you were on the inside of NASA, now watching it from the outside. And as we talk about these issues and what problems to go after, how the decisions are made, it gets right down to the issues which, in the Columbia accident, investigation board really spoke to, which is NASA communicates, how problems bubble up from the bottom all the way up to the top. Do you have a sense of it that NASA has really gotten the message here?

GARVER: Oh, I think most people at NASA Have gotten the message. I know the leadership has. The people who are flying this orbiter and the shuttle engineers want this to succeed more than anyone. Obviously, after the failure, they took it very personally. And I think they're doing everything they can. I remember in April when they decided to change out the tanks. It seemed like an odd fix at the time.

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