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NEWS: Investigator Criticizes Shuttle Report
Investigator Criticizes Shuttle Report
Columbia Investigator Says Report Did Not Go Far Enough, Making Extra
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON Aug. 27
The Columbia investigation board did not go far enough in its
recommended safety changes, one of the investigators says in a
supplemental report that urges NASA to strengthen shuttle inspections
and correct mechanical problems that were unrelated to the disaster
but could cause another.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Duane Deal said Wednesday he felt compelled to
highlight these issues after they ended up being buried, downplayed or
dropped from the final report of the Columbia Accident Investigation
"I feel an obligation that if I know of something that could cause the
next accident that's waiting to happen and I didn't bring it forward,
that's when I wouldn't be able to look myself in the mirror," Deal
said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Deal stressed that his 10-page supplement, which will appear in an
upcoming volume of appendices, is not a dissenting opinion. It started
out as a minority opinion a week ago, he acknowledged, but many of the
12 other board members jumped on board.
"We are all very proud of this report," he said of the recommendations
made public Tuesday. "We think it does, in fact, what we wanted it to
"Some people think it ought to do more, some think we're too blunt.
But I think there's almost universal agreement that our 207 days of
work were good."
But given NASA's reputation for ignoring reports, Deal said he was
skeptical the space agency would fulfill all 29 recommendations in the
full report, let alone the ones referred to as observations.
Deal, for example, worries that NASA will give short shrift to the
report's 10th chapter, titled "Other Significant Observations." The
observations include corroding shuttle parts, brittle bolts that
support wing panels, failures in the system that releases the shuttle
from the pad at liftoff and weakened rings attaching the fuel tank to
the booster rockets.
The chapter also touches on crew escape and survival but makes no
recommendations. Instead, Deal urges NASA to come up with ways to
better protect the crew cabin in an emergency.
A small amount of additional insulation between the inner walls of the
cabin and its outer shell might provide the heat protection needed for
it to retain its structural integrity, Deal wrote.
"I believe in this one set of circumstances, more insulation may have
helped" the Columbia astronauts survive the Feb. 1 breakup of their
ship over Texas, he said.
Instead of observations, some of the items should have been
recommendations, he wrote, and one the need for an independent
bottoms-up review of Kennedy Space Center's shuttle safety inspection
document should be a recommendation carried out before the next
shuttle flight. As it is now, inspectors must justify to managers why
certain critical parts should have mandatory checks rather than
justify why they should not, he said.
Out of more than 230 interviews with space shuttle employees conducted
by the board, Deal said he conducted a third of them and was
disheartened to learn NASA's shuttle inspectors were forced to buy
their own tools and prevented from making spot checks. The inspectors
also were not inspecting some critical shuttle parts, using hopelessly
outdated equipment, and being trained by the contractors they were
supposed to monitor.
"I heard this first hand from all these different levels, from the
technician up through management and we cannot ignore that," he said.
"When they say this could be the next accident waiting to happen, I
just have the conviction that this has to be a recommendation and
brought a little bit more out in the light instead of buried somewhere
else" in the formal report.
Deal said in the push to release the report by the end of August after
nearly seven months of investigation, "maybe someone made a mistake or
maybe someone made a conscious decision they didn't tell me about.
Some things were deleted or diluted or recharacterized."
Retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman Jr., the board's chairman, said Deal
is the only member to present a supplemental report. The Air Force
brigadier general has taken part in about a dozen investigations into
military aircraft and rocket accidents.
"He did the industrial safety part and he has more to report on than
we put in the report," Gehman said. He noted that the final report
started off with 1,000 pages, was edited down to 400 pages and ended
up being 248 pages, and so many things had to be deleted.
Also on Wednesday, NASA's boss promised to change the tainted space
agency culture that led to the destruction of Columbia and the deaths
of seven astronauts, assuring accident investigators and the rest of
the world: "We get it."
Administrator Sean O'Keefe also accepted responsibility for the flight
schedule pressure that the investigation board said may well have
prompted space shuttle managers to bypass safety before and especially
during Columbia's doomed flight.
O'Keefe said that "without reservation," NASA will comply with all 29
of the investigation board's recommendations. Fifteen, all technical
in nature, must be implemented before space shuttles fly again.
O'Keefe declined to say when that might happen, but did not rule out
the space agency's launch target of next spring.
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