NASA Vows to Find Reason for Accident

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe said today on ABCNEWS' This Week that all space shuttle flights would be put on hold until officials determine what caused Columbia to break up on Saturday. Following is a transcript of his remarks.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me just begin by offering all of our condolences to you and the entire NASA family.

SEAN O'KEEFE: Thank you, George. We're — it's been a tragic day for the NASA family and particularly for the families of the crew of Columbia, and one that is positively — we have assured them we are going to find out what were the events that led to this particular accident and find out what the causes were for their sake as well as all of the public, as part of our responsibility in this particular case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about that. I want to focus in first on that crucial seven minutes. I guess the Columbia lost — you first saw some problems at 8:53. You saw some of the temperatures start to change on the left wing, and then the Columbia lost contact at 9 o'clock.

What more do we know today about what happened in those seven minutes?

O'KEEFE: Well, we're looking at every possible angle of what could have occurred at that time. There are a lot of different elements that went into this, and we're trying to make sure that we leave none of them unturned. So we're in the middle of developing and looking at all the facts that led to this event and trying to determine the cause of the accident.

We've appointed an independent as well as an internal board of investigation. And the internal board is gathering the evidence now. We're securing all the debris and being sure that we have a full understanding of exactly what could have occurred here. We've frozen all the information that occurred within a half an hour after the landing was to have occurred.

In addition to that, we've also empaneled a independent, objective board led by Adm.l Hal Gehman, who you may recall was the gentleman who presided over the USS Cole investigation three years ago. So he is well versed in understanding exactly how to go about looking at the forensics of any of these cases and coming up with the causal effects of what could occur.

He will be arriving along with a team in Shreveport, Louisiana, later this afternoon. There is a NASA investigation team as well as other federal agencies who are already on the ground and have been since early afternoon, midafternoon yesterday, staging out of Barksdale Air Force Base and along the east Texas area.

So that full process is under way right now. We're going to find out what led to this, retrace all the steps that were involved in all the events from the time we lost communication with them at or about 9 Eastern time yesterday morning, and leave absolutely no stone unturned in that process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: From what you know now, is there anything that the crew or Mission Control could have done to prevent this?

O'KEEFE: There's — we work every single launch as if it was a standalone, single, unique event, and we absolutely looked at every single element that we thought could possibly contribute to a compromise of safety on this mission like we do every other one.

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