NASA STS-121 Post Flight Readiness Review Briefing (Transcript)

Status Report From: NASA HQ
Posted: Monday, June 19, 2006


2:40 p.m. through 3:30 p.m., EST
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Kennedy Space Center



BILL GERSTENMAIER, Associate Administrator for Space Operations
WAYNE HALE, Space Shuttle Program Manager

[Moderated by Dean Acosta, NASA Press Secretary]

Briefing charts (PDF)


MR. ACOSTA: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Post Flight Readiness Review press conference. I am Dean Acosta. We are here to talk about the last days and talk about our launch date, and we will get started with that shortly.

To my left is the Administrator of NASA, Dr. Michael Griffin; to his left, Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier; to his left, we have Shuttle Program Manager Wayne Hale; and to his left, we have NASA Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

We will have some opening remarks, and then I will ask that we go around the room and have some questions and answers. I ask that you identify yourselves and who you are asking your question too, and also at the end of the press conference, that that will be the end of the press conference, and ask that you respectfully not come up and continue the press conference, so appreciate that.

All right. We will go ahead and start with opening remarks from the administrator.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: Well, thanks, Dean, and thanks all of you for being here today.

We had fully 2 days of a very intensive Flight Readiness Review for STS-121. I am sure you knew that it would be and that it would be a very intensive and spirited exchange, and that is what we had, of course, following last year's mission when we had certainly an unplanned loss of a large piece of foam and we've spent a year since that time almost getting ready for this flight, trying to understand even better what caused this foam to come off and how we can keep it from coming off.

You will hear that there were many different viewpoints on the issue of whether we were ready to fly or not. We have decided that we are. Gerst will tell you all about that, but it was one of the most open and yet non-adversarial sets of discussions that I have seen since returning to NASA. It is the way we should function, and it is the way we did function. I am very proud of the people who pulled all this together, and I am very pleased that I was able to be part of it.



Again, it was a tremendously good review in the fact that we were very thorough in all the subjects we covered and talked about.

I think you will tend to want to talk more about the foam and some of the ice/frost ramps and other things, but I think it is important to realize that we spent a lot of time in this review talking about a lot of other issues to make sure that we are really ready to go fly.

Sometimes it is the things that we think we understand that we really don't understand that can cause us the most problems. So we were really careful in this review to make sure that we talked about everything as thoroughly as we could. We reviewed everything as much as we could to make sure we are really ready to go fly, and I think we just had a very, very good discussion with all the folks involved.

Obviously, the ice/frost ramps was one of the vigorously debated topics. In the end, in the poll, we had essentially two members, safety, and the chief engineer who very similar in the last ice/frost ramp discussions were both no-go or the recommendation was not to fly from their position, but they do not object to us flying, and they understand the reasons and the rationale that we laid out in the Review for Flight, and I think we are good to go with that. Again, they understand the position. They understand where they are, but from their particular disciplines, they felt that they wanted their statement to be no-go, and they put essentially a little written statement in their go criteria of what exactly they meant by being ready to go launch.

I think the other thing that came out very strongly during this is we really have a mission to go do with the Space Station. It is going to be exciting increasing the crew size to three. We talked a lot about the criteria of what we would do to leave the third crew member on board Space Station. We would look forward to the other Shuttle flights to make sure we have a ride home for him in return. We have contingency plans in case the Shuttle flights slip or delay. We reviewed that in a lot of detail.

We also spent a lot of time looking at the contingency Shuttle crew support capability. That is the ability to keep crew on board Station if there is a problem with the Shuttle, and we have plenty of overlap. The Station is in very good shape from an oxygen generation standpoint, a carbon dioxide removal standpoint. The most critical consumable on Station is oxygen, but it looks very good, and we look very good having a good, sound, and solid Launch on Need.

We also reviewed the tile repair techniques, and those have made great progress since the last flight on STS-114, and I think we also spent a lot of time looking at the models and the transport of debris potentially back into the orbiter, and again, those models have also been dramatically improved.

I would like to show you two slides, if I could right now, if we can call those up.

First of all, this is the external view of the external tank. You will see on this view where the ice/frost ramps are. There are 13 up on the LO2 side. There is 7 on the intertank region, and there is 17 down at the back. The little numbers next to them are the stations. Each one of them may be slightly different than the others. They are not all created equal, and they run up and down the tank.

Next chart.

This was what we have seen in the past in terms of the Top Ten LH2, and that is the lower portion of the tank, ice/frost foam ramp losses. This is fully what we expect to see, potentially on STS-121 when we get some of our external tank photography back. We expect to see losses in these regions, pretty much similar to what we have seen here. We have designed to these, plus some margin. So we have good capability to accept what we have seen in the past historically, plus a margin, but this is what we expect to see.

So, when we see this in flight and you get this data down, we should not be surprised. It is a function of when the foam comes off. It is a function of the mass, and it is a function of the area. So, again, I just wanted to kind of set the precedence of where we are setting overall with what we expect to see on STS-121.

Again, it was a very good review. We have an awesome team working together, and lastly, we set the launch date of July 1st, and we are ready to go for July 1st.

And, Wayne?

MR. HALE: Well, I guess I wanted to just make a comment on the human element here. As I was sitting in the Flight Readiness Review, thinking how different this has been from Flight Readiness Reviews that I went to before the accident, there was so much engagement from so many people.

There were folks that perhaps in the old days, maybe not them personally, but their organizations would have never asked questions, would never have participated in discussion, would have gone out in the hall after the meeting and said, "Well, I don't get why it's okay to go fly. I really didn't understand the rationale for that."

We had everyone engaged. It was a huge room full of people. I think that room holds about 250 people. It was full. There was overflow rooms provided, and I think we answered questions from all comers.

Now, at the end of the day, some people still had reservations, and they expressed those reservations, and I think that is a great step forward from where we were sometime ago in the past.

So I think that those folks that were concerned about the culture change in the Space Shuttle program or NASA in general ought to take heart because of this huge change in the way that people participate and are willing to ask questions, and I am pleased to say the folks that those questions are asked to are willing to engage and respond with a discussion that's understandable and not just some short comments.

So I think the agency has really changed. I think maybe it has gone back to the way it was a quarter century ago or more, and that bodes well for the future.


MR. LEINBACH: Okay. Thanks, Wayne.

I would like to report a little bit on the processing of the vehicle now. Out at the launch pad, Discovery's processing is going extremely well. We are not tracking any technical issues at the current time that would prohibit launch.

We have two major activities left to go before we get into our launch countdown. One is our ordinance installation which we will pick up Sunday, tomorrow, and conclude on Monday. Then we begin closing out after the orbiter, preparing for launch countdown. The launch countdown starts on Wednesday the 28th, leading to a T-zero on July the 1st of about 3:43, Eastern Time, afternoon. We have 5 days of contingency left in that schedule. So, from a processing perspective at the launch pad, things are going really, really well. We see no reason we couldn't get to July 1st from our perspective.

Meanwhile, over in the orbiter processing facility, everything on Atlantis' processing goes well, in the event we needed to call her up for a rescue mission, no issues over there. That flow is being paced by the external tank processing, but the tank is going well. We should mate the tank the first week in July. So we are in good shape on Discovery at the pad and in good shape with Atlantis as well. Everything is going fine.

MR. ACOSTA: Thanks, Mike.

That will do it for opening remarks. We will start with questions and answers, and we will go to Jay Barbree to start us off.

QUESTIONER: This is Jay Barbree for NBC for whoever wants to take it.

I understand that some doctors, flight surgeons raised a question about Thomas Reiter for his accumulation of radiation, and there was some talk about possibly removing him and put into backup. Did any of that come up today or anyone know what I'm talking about? Wayne?

MR. HALE: That's not one that I'm familiar with.

MR. GERSTENMAIER: There was no discussion in the FRR, and Thomas Reiter is fully ready to go fly.

QUESTIONER: Okay. Thank you.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Next question. Let's go to Bill.

QUESTIONER: Bill Harwood, CBS.

One for Wayne and one for the Administrator. You said at the DVR news conference that in your personal opinion, the ice/frost ramp should be probable catastrophic on the integrated risk matrix. Did it stay there, and can you define that for us, wherever it ended up?

And for the Administrator, if you had some dissent, which you are encouraging in this environment, but if you have a system that some folks think about whatever definition standards you have in place is potentially catastrophic, how do you explain to people why in the aftermath of the CAIB report and all that, that you are good to go fly?

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: I will let Wayne go, and then I will answer your question.

MR. HALE: Let's see. My observation coming out of the Debris Verification Review, that there was considerable uncertainty on the failure mechanism.

We understand that these cracks that are caused by the thermal mismatch of thick foam on top of the underlying foam can cause debris to liberate. That clearly was the cause, proximate cause of the PAL ramp loss we saw on the last flight, and it's intuitively obvious that that can lead to debris.

What we don't have a really good handle on is the connecting the dots and the physics to understand exactly why and how that comes off. So our folks that have been studying on that for sometime now and run a number of tests, dissected inch by inch, actually eighth-of-an-inch by eighth-of-an-inch, the foam on the one tank that we had down here and loaded twice last year, have come up with a pretty good understanding, but we still can't connect all those dots. So any numbers that you might hear or analysis that you might hear has got a considerable uncertainty band on it.

In my mind and I think in almost everybody's mind, this is dealing with the foam that surrounds the ice/frost ramps because it has the propensity to do some of these activities that Bill showed you the pictures of.

It's got to be our number-one item to take care of, and in fact, I have turned on a tiger team to go design in rapid, but thorough fashion, a fix that will eliminate that hazard, and it is not ready now, and for reasons that I think I have explained a couple times before, we're going to go fly anyway.

So I put those right at the top of our risk chart, which means that I feel as program manager, those issues needed to be elevated to senior NASA management, agency management, for their review and disposition. I believe that they are in an unacceptable level for the program manager to take that risk on by himself, and that is what I understand when I recommended that we put those at the top of the chart. It is certainly something that from an agency level, I think is an acceptable risk.

I recommended to the Administration and to Bill Gerstenmaier that even though we did rate these very high, I think it is acceptable for a number of reasons to go fly for a limited number of flights where we come up with a redesign. So that is where we rated it.

I will tell you that it was an interesting discussion, and engineers can argue over words more than English majors can. I was reminded of Dr. Diane Vaughan's book when she talked about how process-oriented engineers are. The argument about the process and the definition of words and exactly how you do this has gone on for probably 6 weeks now and culminated in our discussions today.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: I guess the way I would answer the question or the question you addressed to me is that I am not concerned with what box in the matrix we're in because that's a matter of terms and definitions. In point of fact, I don't agree with the way that we have categorized that risk as being probable because, if it's going to be probable, then that means that over some reasonable span of flights, I would expect to see evidence of that behavior.

We can as statisticians go off and argue about what percentage of the time you would expect to see it, but if we say probable, we mean that over some reasonable span of activity we should see it, and I won't at this point refine it further.

Now, in fact, we have 114 flights with this vehicle, with these ice/frost ramps under our belt, and while we have had two loss of vehicle incidents, they have not been due to ice/frost ramps. So I have a great deal of trouble believing that a statistically sound statement would be to say that this is a probable event to be seen over the next 16 flights. I just have trouble with that.

Now, without regard to the label, so getting past the label, the concern then is do we, in fact, think that if we fly this ice/frost ramp the way it is for some very small -- not 16, but some very small number of flights, a few, until we have a better design, and let me be the first to lead the parade in saying that we would like to have a better design, but we want to know that it is a better design, and we want to take our time with it.

So the question is can we fly a few times with this ice/frost ramp without probably incurring a hazard, and based on the data that I have seen, I believe that we can.

I believe that our models are quite conservative. I believe that our models have a huge variance in them. We really don't know as much about these phenomena as we would like to because, if we believed our models, we would believe that we had a worse problem than our flight data is showing, which is a red flag to indicate that we don't understand as much as we would like to understand, and as Bill likes to say, we need to continue to be hungry. We need to continue to dig out the information that the vehicle is telling us, but we need to fly it to dig it out.

So how do I justify that? With as much uncertainty as we have, I would admit to you that I don't know how the decision would come out, but I certainly would have to think harder about putting a crew on this vehicle if I thought we didn't have the Space Station safe haven, the CSCS option and the Launch on Need option and, for that matter, if push came to shove, the availability to call up Russian Soyuz spacecraft for rescue.

I do not see the situation we are in as being a crew loss situation. If we are unlucky and we have a debris event on ascent, it will not impede the ascent. The crew will arrive safely on orbit, and then we will begin to look at our options, whether those include repair, Launch on Need, extended safe haven on the Station, asking our Russian partners for help, maybe some or all of the above.

We would have decisions to make, but we would have time to make those decisions. We are not in the situation that we were in with Columbia where we didn't know that we had a problem. We know we have a problem. We are electing to take the risk. We do not believe we are risking crew.

There is a programmatic risk, without a doubt. If we have another major incident in launching a Space Shuttle, I would not wish to continue with the program.

We are going to use this flight and the subsequent flights to complete the Space Station. That is what we want to do with the Shuttle over the next 4 years. We are going to complete the Space Station. We believe it is possible to do so, but if it is going to be possible to do so, we are going to have to take some programmatic risks because the Shuttle will be retired in 2010. This President's budget will not carry funding for vehicles, Shuttle vehicles, beyond 2010. So, if we are going to fly, we need to accept some programmatic risk and get on with it.

Again, I will point out for me to accept programmatic risk to do this, in the spirit of answering your question, it is not the same as accepting a crew risk, which we believe we are not going.

Thanks. That was a good question.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Let's go with Mike Schneider.

QUESTIONER: Mike Schneider, Associated Press.

I have a question for Dr. Griffin. What were the specific objections to the members from the Safety Office, and also what did you tell them to try and sway them, if you did, and if it was a hand poll, how close was it when you went around the room polling everybody?

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: Well, I will answer my part. I am going to let Gerst answer about the polling. I wasn't actually keeping track.

First of all, I didn't try to sway anybody.

Let me make another point that seems to have been lost over the years. NASA gets lots of advice. We get a lot of external advice. Advisors advise. The Administrator, whoever he is and whatever era, has the obligation to decide. That is what I do.

We get a lot of advice internally to NASA to the program. The program and the Mission Director Bill Gerstenmaier have to at some level decide, and at some level, if the issue gets big enough, it comes up to me.

Our staff offices, Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and Office of Chief Engineer and, indeed, our entire engineering and flight safety organizations, have the right, have the obligation, have the utter necessity to tell us exactly what they think, but all of that is advice.

The Chief Engineer, the Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance, no one else except for the Administrator is the Administrator, and fortunately or unfortunately, in this particular time, that is me. So I am not trying to persuade people. I am trying to listen as carefully as I can to everything that is being said to me.

I try to integrate it all as best I can. I make a decision, and then I explain to people what the rationale for that decision was because, if I have any holes or flaws in my logic, I want to hear about them. In fact, I desperately want to hear about them.

The discussion that you heard earlier about that since the day I walked into this position, I have said that we need to regain a culture of openness and a culture of willingness to engage in technical discussion on the merits without it having an adversarial component to it. We did that. If there was anybody in that room who didn't get to have their say, you are going to have to go and search them out because it was a great 2 days, and at the end, I have to decide, and you have our decision.

QUESTIONER: Bill, are you going to answer the polling question?

MR. GERSTENMAIER: Yes. I guess in terms of the polling, I polled all the Flight Readiness Review board members, and with the exception of the two I mentioned, they were all go for flight with the understanding of where we are.

I think if you kind of boil down to where we are, it is a difficult situation because we have data that shows we have potentially cracks underneath large foam or foam that is put on top of other foam. Then we have a flight history that doesn't show that we lose a lot of foam.

I mean, I showed you the pictures. The looked dramatically not very good, but in reality, those are not a real threat to the orbiter, what we see in those history pictures that I showed you.

So the dilemma is how can we not rule out that at some point in the future, we are not going to have some larger foam loss with this underlying problem, and therein lies the debate.

We can't figure out the theory that can explain to us why we haven't had larger foam loss with this underlying crack. There is obviously something we think that is protecting us physically in the physics of the situation, but we don't know what that is, and what we discussed as an engineering team is what the pros and cons of that are. We looked at statistical models. We looked at transport models. We discussed all of this as a team, and it was a great discussion.

I got to listen to all the guys explain to me how the models work, where our physics-based model works, how we understand, what we don't understand. Folks would bring up differing points. There wasn't a united engineering position on this. I mean, it was very varied, depending on who you talked to in the room, and in fact, it is very inappropriate to say all engineers agreed with one position and all managers agreed with another. That was not the case. It was a very, very good discussion, and then as Mike said, we laid out our rationale for the decision to go fly, and really no one objects with the decision to go fly.

Both the Safety Office and the Chief Engineer, their point was they recommend being no-go, but they don't object to us going to fly.

So, again, I think it was a good discussion overall. It was healthy, and it is a difficult situation to be where we are. If we knew a better fix, if we could put a better fix on this tank, we would all put a better fix on this tank and go. The problem is without understanding this underlying failure phenomena that I described to you, any fix we put on has some risk associated with it of losing foam or generating ice. We can control that as much as we can through design, but we can't eliminate that. So, in a sense, we almost need to go fly to gain some more data.

Now we have non-destructive evaluations of the ice/frost ramps. We know there are some defects in those ice/frost ramps to begin with. We will get a chance to see how those perform. We have some new cameras which, if we get lucky during the first 120 seconds, will capture some foam potentially coming off.

That will give us release time, which will allow us to go back and add to the failure mode analysis, and then once we know more what this failure mode is, then we can target a better design, so the next time we can come around with a better ice/frost ramp design. If we don't and we don't get this data, we are just kind of making a change to make a change, and yeah, we think we did it right, but we know the transport from these regions is not good, and you don't want to make a change lightly in these regions. You make a change and you guessed wrong and you have ice or you have foam, you could be very much worse than you are today.

So, in a lot of words, that kind of summarized a lot of the discussion that was occurring amongst the team members.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: Some of that is what I said earlier. We want a better design, but we want it to be a better design, and in this program and in every other spaceflight program that I have ever been associated with, there has darn sure been times where we thought we had something locked down. We were sure that the change we were going to make was better, and then we had egg on our face. So we are trying to avoid that here.

MR. ACOSTA: All right.

QUESTIONER: David Waters from Central Florida, News 13.

You were talking about the redesign there. How close are you to a redesign? What is the status of that?

And then also, Mr. Gerstenmaier, when you walked over, you said there were other big issues brought to the table. Walk us through what some of the other issues were there today.

MR. HALE: Let me take the first part of that, the redesign question.

Steve Cash at the Marshall Space Flight Center, who is the deputy manager for the propulsion organization there, is the designated leader of the ice/frost ramp redesign team. They have come forward with three options. They are doing some testing this month. They hope by the end of the month to down-select to their lead option. Then they are going to put that in the wind tunnel and some other test fixtures to make sure that we have a good design that won't come apart.

You will remember we tried this before, and we put it in the wind tunnel. We were not as successful as we wanted to be in terms that the foam came off that one. These designs have much less foam; in fact, no foam in some areas.

So we hope to have a design down selection about the time we fly Discovery that we will put into the second level of tests and analysis, and hopefully, we can start implementing that on tanks in the fall. So that is kind of the game plan here.

Of course, I hasten to add that if we find out significant information on this flight, we will fold that back into the design.

MR. GERSTENMAIER: I am going to give you a couple of the other items we talked about. We have the trailing umbilical system reel on board Space Station. You will see it on the ICC (Integrated Cargo Carrier). It sits over on the right side of the cargo bay.

We looked at that to be able to withstand landing loads, and we ran, I think they told me, 678 million stress cases to go look at that, to certify that it is ready to go land. So, if you say we were focused on other issues and we didn't spend quality time with some of these issues, this is one we clearly spent some quality time with.

We still have a little bit of work to do. They still have to finish some of the final paperwork analysis, some of the final signature stuff, and that should occur next week, and we will see that. That was one of the items.

Also, as I said in the opening remarks, we talked a lot about the planning for increasing the crew size on board Station to three and what is the criteria of when we do that and when we wouldn't do that based on what we see during imaging and what may happen on the Shuttle side.

We talked a little bit about a pyrotechnic cutter that can cut a cable on the SSRMS (Space Station Remote Manipulator System) or on the OBSS (Orbiter Boom Sensor System). Again, a drawing review identified for us some fasteners were not the appropriate length in that location, and we have done some testing to show that it will perform the way it is supposed to go perform. So that is okay to go fly.

Another issue was talking about some other fasteners that sit on some racks that sit in a multi-purpose logistics module, and we made sure that those are all okay.

We reviewed in detail the main engines for this flight to make sure that their performance levels are acceptable from what we have seen before, that all the testing on those main engines is consistent with what we have seen on the ground. We reviewed the solid rocket motors to make sure that they are all ready to go and support the mission. We reviewed the tank, the pressurization valves that will occur. We talked about our wonderful ECO sensors, the engine cut-off sensors. Those are just the topics, and I could probably go on for another half hour here, giving you topics, but I will save the pleasure of a Reader's Digest version of the meeting.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Next question. Let's go over here to Todd, third row.

QUESTIONER: Todd Halvorson of Florida Today.

I guess for Gerst, I am curious about what the position of the External Tank Project Office in Marshall was vis-a-vis the ice/frost ramps, and I am wondering if you could elaborate a little bit on the written statements that were filed by Safety and the Chief Engineer. What exactly did they say, for the record?

MR. GERSTENMAIER: I guess, first of all, from the External Tank Project at Marshall, they were go for this flight. Again, they would like us to change the ice/frost ramps, like we all would, as soon as we can, but it was basically a go with the contingent upon we redesign as soon as we can on the ice/frost ramps.

In terms of the other two statements, basically there is a form we sign, and they essentially said for this flight, from their technical positions, they were no-go, but they didn't see -- they didn't have any objections to us going ahead with the decision we made.

So, in other words, they understood the decision that we made as a board and as a team. They accepted to an extent our rationale and didn't disagree with our rationale, but from their discipline and their position, they felt they were no-go.

So, again, just as we talked about, allowing others to voice their opinion without restricting it, this is an excellent way to go do it. "Opinion" is probably the wrong term, but it is to express their position from their engineering discipline without the regards to the bigger program, they were free to go do that, and that reflected in a no-go piece, but then they recognized the broader discussion and our broader rationale for the flight, and they can understand that, and they didn't have an objection to us going to fly. And that is as straightforward as I can give it to you.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Let's go to the next question. Let's stay right here.

QUESTIONER: Tariq with and Spacenews, and I think I have a question for Bill Gerstenmaier.

Yesterday, Commander Steve Lindsey kind of walked us through what he thought you would be talking about in terms of choosing July 1st or a few days later, based on what they would see on the tank with the photographer. I am curious how that actually did play out today and did you basically decide it is not going to be worth it, depending on what you get on orbit.

MR. GERSTENMAIER: Basically, Wayne and the PRCB had looked at this issue in a lot more detail than we did in the Flight Readiness Review, and what happens on July 1st -- and Wayne can help me here a little bit -- is there is a little shadow that comes off the 17-inch ox feed line that can shade some of ice/frost ramps back on the hydrogen side of the tank. The other ice/frost ramps up on the intertank and up on the oxygen tank are very visible in this lighted condition, but that is a function of how the tank separates from the orbiter with, I think, no tip-off rate. If there is a little bit of a tip-off rate, then that shadow may move to another location.

Wayne and the team looked at it, and we agreed as a Flight Readiness Review board that it wasn't worth waiting a couple of days for that shadow to move to a different location because then, if we got unlucky and we got tip-off rates in the other direction, then we thought we were doing something good, and then the shadow drifted right back to where we didn't want it to be. So we determined the thing to do was to go for the beginning of the launch window, even though the analysis of minimal tip-off rate shows a little bit of shadow, and we will accept that on those ice/frost ramps.

MR. HALE: The only thing I would add to that is you have got to understand this photography is not guaranteed. We have got new cameras here, and they worked great on the last flight, but we have had experiences in the past where cameras didn't work right or the attitude -- there was an attitude. I don't want to say upset, but maybe we were at the corner of our attitude control box, and there is a number of things that can cause the pictures not to come back.

We really want to get these pictures. There is no guarantee any day in the launch window that you are 100 percent going to get these pictures.

We have, in the judgment of everybody that reviewed it, a really good shot at getting them on July the 1st. We talked very briefly about June 30th, and then that probably is just a hair over the limit that we want to try to get.

The other thing we found out looking at the shadows, of course, is that it is not, as the analysis would indicate, a pure black thing in the shadows. There is reflected light, and you can see quite a lot in some of these shadowed areas. So you roll all of that together and you say is it worth waiting until the 2nd to get just a fraction more percent chance of guaranteeing those pictures. No. July 1st is a good day, and we recommended to go fly.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Next question. Let's go right there.

QUESTIONER: Dan Billow from WESH TV.

I don't know which of you has been to the most FRRs, maybe Mike, but for any of you, how many times, if any, have you had an FRR where there were recommendations like you had today that were no-go and then, in fact, you went ahead and did set the launch date and go fly?

And then a second question, if I can, for Bill Gerstenmaier, how many more times in the future will you expect to have a Launch on Need or a back-up Space Shuttle ready to fly in case you need it?

MR. LEINBACH: I will take a shot at the first one.

I have been to quite a few FRRs in my career, going back to the mid '90s, really the early '90s. I mentioned to the Administrator walking over here today, this was the best one in my perspective, from the perspective of people speaking up and speaking their mind.

You hear it over and over from us. I can tell you, from my perspective, it really truly happened. Engineers, managers who had issues to present did so. They were listened to fully and fully discussed among all team members, and then decisions were made.

In the old days, people would have been more reluctant to stand up and speak their mind. We have a different culture now since the Columbia accident. You heard that a lot in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, the culture of NASA. I can tell you, it has changed, especially in the FRRs and the Launch Readiness Reviews that we do locally, Wayne's PRCB, lots of discussion in today's environment. We are not blowing smoke. This really happens. It was a great FRR today.

QUESTIONER: Have you had any others where you have had no-go recommendations?

MR. HALE: You know, I can recall at least one other occasion, and I haven't been to nearly as many FRRs as Mike Leinbach has, but I can remember at least one where we had a no-go recommendation from a subsystem manager that we should stand down and fix things, but I think that was much less frequent than we had today. So this has really been interesting.

MR. GERSTENMAIER: To your question about how long we are going to have orbiter Launch on Need, it looks like we can keep it around fairly easily in the manifest, and I think that is a smart thing to go do so. We are going to keep it around for a fair amount of time and keep it in the program.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Next question. Let's go back over here to Bill.

QUESTIONER: Just two quick ones from me for anybody, really.

First of all, the statements that you were talking about that these guys signed, is that an exception to the culture? Is that what you are talking about? There is no waiver involved here. It is just an exception. Is that right?

MR. GERSTENMAIER: Yeah. They actually annotated on the Flight Readiness Review forms their own words. So we gave them, again, the freedom to write it how they wanted to write it. So they printed right on the form, right above their signature, that says we are go for flight, what they meant by their signature.

QUESTIONER: Okay. I guess for Mike, maybe, if I had to distill this news conference down to an editor in New York who doesn't follow the Shuttle, the statement that everybody would hear is they recommended no-go, but they are okay for flight. How do you explain? I mean, just take another crack at explaining that where my next-door neighbor would possibly understand what you are saying because it doesn't come out that way if you don't have context.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: Well, sorry. Let me try again.

Some people -- and NASA has many different disciplines that are required to be pulled together to execute a flight. We have senior. We have junior people who work those disciplines, and we have senior people who are in the end responsible for those disciplines, and then we have all levels in between.

Some of the senior NASA individuals responsible for particular technical areas, particular disciplines, expressed that they would rather stand down until we had fixed the ice/frost ramp the way that -- something better. Whereas, many others said no, we should go ahead. So we didn't have -- did not have unanimity. Therefore, a decision had to be made.

Now, one possible way of making decisions is that unless everybody feels we should go, then we will stand down, in which case I don't think at least for Shuttle flights or any other flights we don't need an Administrator. All right? We don't actually make decisions. We just make sure that no one is unhappy. That is not the method that we are using.

We enunciated a careful rationale for flying, and I gave you a piece of it in your earlier question, that I believe mitigated the concerns that were expressed by the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and by the Office of the Chief Engineer, and, in fact, they agreed with that, and the rationale fundamentally consists of what I said earlier.

We have -- I don't want to say and I don't want to be quoted as saying there is no ascent risk on the Shuttle. There is plenty of ascent risk on the Shuttle. Debris shed from the tank does not pose an ascent risk for the Shuttle. Okay? It poses a risk for entry, but since we have inspection methods, we are beginning to converge on some rudimentary repair methods which may be useful. Since we have Station for a safe haven, since we have the possibility of -- in fact, we evaluated quite carefully. We have an excellent capability for Launch on Need, and we have the Russian partners. So we have a number of mitigation strategies should the unlikely occur and we have a debris strike.

Subject to those conditions, Chief Engineer and Office of Safety Mission Assurance were okay with launch. Looking at their specific discipline area, they would recommend that we stand down, but there are larger considerations.

If we stand down, now we back up Shuttle assembly flights -- sorry -- Station assembly flights for Shuttle. One of the areas that was surfaced during the CAIB investigations was the issue of schedule pressure on NASA.

Now, schedule pressure for us is a fact of life, but it has to be balanced. I do not want to make decisions today which are going to result in having all of the schedule pressure in creating Station assembly in the last year or two. I don't want to get us into a situation where by being more cautious than I think technically necessary today, we wind up having to execute six flights in the last year or something. That is not smart.

So I am willing as Administrator, looking at the whole picture. I am willing to take a little bit of programmatic risk now, and you will notice that I did not say crew risk. I am willing to take some programmatic risk now in order to prevent an excessive build-up of programmatic risk later on. This is, in fact, what you pay me to do.

The Chief Engineer and the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance are not paid to worry about schedule risk 4 years in the future. They are paid to worry about what is the situation with this particular flight.

We had their input. In fact, both of them are long and valued friends of mine and people whom I have nothing but the greatest technical respect for. I mean, I think that goes without saying, but I cannot possibly accept every recommendation which I am given by every member of my staff, especially since they don't all agree.

Bill, I don't know how to say it any more clearly. I'm sorry. I'm really doing the best I can here.

MR. GERSTENMAIER: I think, again, simply the Flight Readiness Review board as a whole was go, but then within that go, there were differing opinions about what that go really means, and again, the important thing was the discussion, that everybody got to understand everybody else's opinion, and then as a collective group, this is what we are going to go do.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Next question, let's go to Jay.

QUESTIONER: Dr. Griffin, your rationale is well understood, and I am sure that if you could fix everything that needs fixing on the Space Shuttle within 6 months and make it absolutely 100-percent safe, you would do it, but that is a job that obviously cannot be done 25 years after this machine has been flying.

I want to go back to what you said a while ago. God forbid if we have another loss in these last 16 or 18 flights. Is that, cut and dry, the end of Shuttle, and then we go on to Constellation?

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: Leaving aside the issue of crew, we are trying, of course, to protect crew, and I made that quite clear, and I don't believe we are taking a crew risk. If we were to lose another vehicle, I will tell you right now that I would be moving to figure out a way to shut the program down. I think at that point, we are done.

I am sorry if that sounds too blunt for some, but that is where I am.

Now, we are trying to navigate some very difficult waters for the next 16 flights to get the Station assembled. I think it is worth doing. I have stated that on multiple occasions, but we know it is not easy.

MR. ACOSTA: If there are any questions, then we will go with Mike.

QUESTIONER: Getting July 1st --

MR. ACOSTA: And there doesn't have to be any questions. I don't want to prod you guys.


QUESTIONER: -- does this improve the likelihood of the third space walk, and do you think it will happen?

MR. HALE: Let me address that. I think that we have got the second tank here at the Kennedy Space Center. It is in the VAB. We are, as you know, changing out our famous engine cut-off sensors to make sure we have good sensors there, and it is going to be a little tight for us to get that guy ready to go at the end of August, but I think we are going to make it, and we are certainly going to make a run for it. We have a little bit more than a 2-week launch window at the end of August and the first part of September.

So, barring a major hurricane in the central Florida area, I think we have a really good shot at getting the second flight off in that launch window.

The third flight, the tank is coming out of Michoud. We reviewed the schedules for the production of that tank. They have been able to find some production efficiencies that brought that schedule to the left, and now it supports the date that needs to be shipped to arrive here to support a December 14th launch.

The orbiter processing will be interesting to watch when they turn Discovery around. Frankly, I think that is going to be a bit of a challenge, but the long pole is the tank, and given that the tank production schedule supports, barring some unforeseen circumstance, I really think that we have a really good shot at getting three flights off this year, and we will be back down here.

Let me see. If we launch on the 14th, that will land right around Christmas, maybe a couple of days after, and we will have a wonderful Christmas in Florida.

ADMINISTRATOR GRIFFIN: It would be my first time.

MR. HALE: That would be great.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. David?

QUESTIONER: David Waters from Central Florida, News 13.

You briefly mentioned the rescue Shuttle. What is the new estimate these days of time between that being called up and being able to launch?

MR. HALE: Well, in fact, on this flight, we have quite a bit of margin. We would call that up about 10 days into the flight if we had problems that we knew potentially earlier, but no later than that far into the flight, if we had problems that we knew would prevent us from returning the Shuttle.

Atlantis is well on track. I think, Mike, it was 47 days after call-up that we could get off, 41? And we have about 82-days capability on board the Station. So --

MR. LEINBACH: Yeah. That's about right. We are showing a Launch on Need launch date of August the 21st if that becomes necessary and if we get the decision in time, and that is well within the CSCS capability of the Station, as I understand it.

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Any more questions before we wrap up?

[No response.]

MR. ACOSTA: All right. Appreciate everybody joining us today. That will conclude today's Post Flight Readiness Review press conference. Have a great afternoon, and we will see you in 2 weeks.

[End of STS-121 Post Flight Readiness Review Briefing.]

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