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Columbia spouse: Report a prescription for change

Clark:
Clark: "Complacency is something we have to guard against continuously. We need those checks and balances like the board report recommends to carry on."

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A Columbia widower discusses the disaster report.
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BOARD'S RECOMMENDATIONS
•A national commitment to manned space flight
• Adequate funding of NASA's safety system to ensure a higher level of reliability
• Creation of a new overall safety program
•Development of an orbital space plane to replace the shuttle

(CNN) -- NASA has a long way to go before it can safely send another space shuttle into orbit, according to a report released Tuesday on the cause of the space shuttle Columbia disaster.

The report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board had 29 recommendations. The board believes 15 should be implemented before the next space shuttle flight, which NASA had projected possibly as early as March.

CNN space correspondent Miles O'Brien talked about the report with Dr. Jonathan Clark, a NASA flight surgeon and husband of Laurel Clark, one of Columbia's seven astronauts.

O'BRIEN: Jonathon, you had an opportunity along with the other family members to get a briefing Monday night on the report. What was it like hearing that from the members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board?

CLARK: The personal debrief to the spouses of the Columbia tragedy was very, very attentive. They succinctly presented the context of the report, which is obviously a voluminous prescription for change.

We listened to the overview and asked a number of poignant questions. Then we had the opportunity Tuesday to get the actual report itself and go over it in a little bit more detail.

Obviously, it's not nearly enough time to give you a thorough impression of it, but I felt they did a very thorough and concise job.

O'BRIEN: You view the report from a dual role, as a surviving family member but also as a NASA neurosurgeon at the Johnson Space Center. When Admiral Harold Gehman Jr. says he was sure the accident was caused by the foam striking the wing but also that NASA's checks and balances failed, that has to sting quite a bit.

CLARK: It does, and I think anytime something adverse happens like this, you have a chance to really deeply introspectively assess it. You come away with it saying, "Wow, I learned a lot."

You know I think everybody that I know at NASA anticipates that we will have some sweeping changes and change is good for an organization. It revitalizes it. We have a tremendously technologically risky endeavor ahead of us. If we don't adapt to those environments, we won't survive.

O'BRIEN: Admiral Gehman said his concern may not necessarily be the next shuttle to fly, but maybe a year later or even a year beyond that, when the backsliding and the apathy creeps back in. How do you guard against that?

CLARK: Anytime you are in a success-driven organization, it's bound to happen that you become complacent. You focus on things that are problems and then you accept them as normal, the so-called normalization of deviance from the expected, and then you essentially lower your guard. It's a problem in aircraft and other high-risk operations like the nuclear power industry.

So complacency is something we have to guard against continuously. We need those checks and balances like the board report recommends to carry on.

O'BRIEN: As you and the other family members delve into this report, there has to be a tendency to head toward a bit of bitterness and anger toward NASA.

CLARK: It's certainly an outcome that can result when you have lost somebody dear to you. I look at anger as perhaps a wasted emotion. Anger is something you direct toward somebody who deliberately did something evil, like the terrorists in the World Trade Center attack, for example.

I know most of the people that were involved in these launch decisions, and every one of them is deeply suffering from this.

So it is not a factor where somebody intentionally did the wrong thing or tried to cover up something. It was an inadvertent, systematic process failure across the organization. And all of us, every single one of us, from the top of the organization on down, I think, truly wants to change and make NASA a better organization.

O'BRIEN: When you hear members of the board saying they hear and see echoes of the Challenger disaster, that has to be particularly poignant.

CLARK: I wasn't here during the Challenger disaster but I certainly talked to a lot of people who were. And, yes, there were similarities, as Diane Vaughn pointed out earlier in her book ["The Challenger Launch Decision"]. You could almost erase the O-ring problem and put in the tile shedding and put "Columbia" instead of "Challenger."

So I think we are really going to have to look very carefully at what lessons we didn't learn from Challenger and make sure we absolutely learn them this time.

O'BRIEN: If Laurel were here to see the report, what do you suppose she would say about it?

CLARK: I think she would say, "Learn what you can, be as safe as you possibly can, but don't give up space exploration, especially human space exploration."

I think that is my feeling as well. We have to carry on that legacy, and we have to do it as safely as reasonably achievable. We don't just quit just because it's risky.


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