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Could Space Shuttle Disaster Been Averted

Aired February 3, 2003 - 20:00   ET


CONNIE CHUNG, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Connie Chung.
Investigators try to zero in on a possible cause of why the shuttle Columbia never made it back to Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Columbia: The she tragedy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While we grieve the loss of these astronauts, the cause of which they died will continue. America's journey into space will go on.

ANNOUNCER: The investigation: piecing together what happened. The questions: Could the crew of Columbia been saved? Did it have to happen?

The programs: critics say there were warning signs.

The emotion: family, friends and the nation mourn the loss of seven astronauts.

And, two American still in space. What happens to them?

Tonight, Columbia: the shuttle tragedy.

This is CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT. Live, from the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, Connie Chung.

CHUNG: Good evening.

Tonight, the first memorial for one of America's fallen astronauts. We go live now to Racine, Wisconsin where people who knew and loved Laurel Clark are gathering. She was a mission specialist on Columbia, a decorated U.S. Navy surgeon who called Racine her hometown and attended the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church, where tonight's memorial is being held. We'll have more on the memorial, a look at who Laurel Clark, and hear from those who knew her best in just a moment.

But first, less than three days into the investigation, NASA says it is proceeding on the assumption that Saturday's disaster had its roots in a crucial moment 80 seconds after liftoff on January 16.

CNN's space correspondent Miles O'Brien has been covering the story nonstop since we first learned of the tragic news, and he joins us now with the latest on the investigation from Johnson Space Center.

Miles, tell us, the NASA investigators have identified what they believe to be the root problem. Tell us what that is.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's be clear. They haven't ruled out any other assumptions either, but they're willing to lay their cards on the table and say we're going to make this particular assumption the focus of a good deal of attention.

What this goes back to, Connie, is what happened on the launch of Columbia 18 days ago. About 80 seconds after lift off, a rather significant piece of debris -- there's foam that covers over that giant external fuel tank, which is nothing more than a giant thermos holding some super cold rocket fuel.

Some debris flew off the forward portion of it and into the left wing area. Now engineers looked at it and took careful focus on their high-speed, long telephoto films and tried to determine how much damage there was and came to the conclusion that it wasn't a serious problem.

Not is there a link between that and ultimately what happened to Columbia? Well, we do know this: it was the last wing that failed on Columbia first. Is it a coincidence or is it the smoking gun? That's the big question.

CHUNG: What is the connection between the external fuel tank problem and those thermal tiles that were supposedly damaged?

O'BRIEN: Well, the tiles are very sensitive, Connie. They're ceramics. It's a lot like putting china on the exterior of an aircraft. It's very easy to break them. And even something as light as a piece of foam, which might be what we're talking about here, it could be ice. But we're talking about something no more than two pounds, approaching three pounds. But at those speeds, if it hits the tiles just right it could strike them.

Those tiles are what separates Columbia from the tremendous heat of reentry. We're talking about heat that approached 3,000 degrees. Remember, underneath all those tiles, the space shuttle frame and skin is aluminum. Aluminum will melt at about 350 degrees. Now, is there a link between that foam hitting that tile and what ultimately happened? Remains to be seen. We may never know for sure.

CHUNG: Now, Miles, one scientist suggested that there may be a basic flaw in the design. Could that be true?

O'BRIEN: And that is a very, very drastic thing to say.

Ron Dittemore, the shuttle program manager today, saying in making the assumption that the external tank could be part of the cause, the root cause of this, is a drastic thing to consider because what that is saying is that that external tank in its design has an inherent flaw, and that that foam, for whatever reason, is not good enough. So if they go down that route and discover the tank has this fundamental flaw, they're left with a big task that lies ahead.

CHUNG: Now I think one of the more disturbing parts of this investigation that's unfolding is that some internal memos have emerged. And the suggestion is that there were scientists who were concerned about the danger, the potential danger of either reentry or whatever these astronauts might be facing during this period of time that they are in space.

O'BRIEN: Well, a couple of things to consider.

First of all, there's always internal debate over these things. There's always people who feel one way, always a people who feel another way. That's how science, that's how engineering works.

Secondly, these reservations, according to the shuttle program manager Dittemore, never rose to his level. It wasn't like he was hearing voices of dissent and chose to ignore them.

But let me just tell you one of the memos that we've heard said. This particular memo, which came on day 12 of the mission, about four days before landing, said the impact analysis indicates the potential for a large damage area to the tile. And it said also, if it wasn't just one tile that got completely taken out, it could have caused serious damage to a swathe of tiles, 7 by 30 inch. But the conclusion was, in this memo that we've got a hold of, is that this thermal analysis indicates possible localized structural damage, but no burn- through, and no safety of flight issue.

Now Ron Dittemore, sitting at the top of this 17,000 person organization that is the shuttle program, reads that memo and it's his determination it's safe to come back home.

CHUNG: It's a tough one.

O'BRIEN: It is.

CHUNG: Go ahead. I know you have a little sound here coming up, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, well let me tell you a little bit about that.

CHUNG: Ron Dittemore is very curious about finding some pieces of the shuttle that may be outside that swathe. There's a swathe of debris field that's about the size of West Virginia. But if there were pieces that came off in California or Nevada, upstream of all that, that would be crucial.

Let's listen to him.


RON DITTEMORE, SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM MNGR.: We're primarily interested, and certainly if we can find, wing debris, structure, tile. But if we find any tile or structure upstream of Fort Worth, New Mexico, Arizona, if that exists, that is extremely important to us because that's going to be a real key in the puzzle.


O'BRIEN: And in this case, the puzzle might very well have a serial number on it. Connie, there are 27,000 tiles on the shuttle. Each of them is unique to its location on the shuttle. And each of them has a serial number.

So if somebody out there in California picks up what appears to be a piece of the shuttle Columbia they might very well be able to track it to the precise spot it fell off, and learn an awful lot about how Columbia failed.

CHUNG: Miles, you've been extraordinary throughout this coverage and I thank you so much. You make this information easy to understand.

So we'll get back to you in just little bit because we have more questions for you.

Before we go back to Racine, Wisconsin for the memorial for Laurel Clark, the first such memorial for one of the fallen crew members, we wanted to take a look at the astronaut, the doctor, and the mother who is being remembered.

Laurel Blare Salton Clark was just 41 years old. And as her younger brother Dan told us, she packed an awful lot of life into those 41 years.


DANIEL SALTON, LAUREL CLARK'S BROTHER: Laurel was a very intense person who would set goals and would go for them.

CHUNG (voice-over): Those goals included becoming a doctor and serving her country, which she did as a commander in the navy. Clark became a flight surgeon in the Pacific and a submarine medical officer in Scotland.

It was a long way from Racine, the hometown mourning her today. But Clark's goals also included a family, her husband, John, and her 8-year-old son, Ian.

MARGORY BROWN, LAUREL CLARK'S MOTHER: She would much prefer to have been able to help her son become an adult because she was always very concerned that he -- you know, that she wanted him to be as caring and, you know, loving as a human being can be.

CHUNG: Her last communication with her family was an e-mail the day before she died, describing, in her words, lightning spreading over the Pacific, the Aurora Australians, the vast plains of Africa, and the dunes on Cape Horn.

On Saturday, Houston woke the crew with "Scotland The Brave," by the 51st Highland Brigade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was Scotland the Brave for Laurel.

LAUREL CLARK, ASTRONAUT: Good morning, Houston.

CHUNG: Harking back to Clark's service in Scotland, to the life she had lived, and the world she had known.

CLARK: Hearing that song reminds me of all the different places found on Earth and all the friends and family that I have all over the world.

Thanks, and it's been great working with you and all the other folks.


CHUNG: And now back to Racine, Wisconsin. You're looking at a memorial service at a church, a Unitarian church, where she attended. Laurel Clark was a fan of bagpipes and she had them at her wedding, she will have them here at this ceremony as well.

CNN's Brian Cabell has been chronicling the last few days of this town that has known so much pride, now so much grief for Laurel Clark -- Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Connie, as you can see the service now has gotten underway. Our understanding that is none of her relatives is inside. In fact, her only relative still going to this church and living around here is her brother Dan. He has gone down to Houston for the ceremony tomorrow. In fact, the Unitarian minister here has also gone to Houston for that ceremony.

Of course, the Unitarians are less given to tradition, a little less given to ritual than most mainline churches. What we expect to happen here over the next hour is that most -- a number of people will get up and talk about Laurel Clark. There will be expressions of grief, expressions of sorrow. Also a celebration of her life.

One of the songs they'll be singing, we're told, is called "We Laugh, We Cry." It starts out saying, "We laugh, we cry, we live, we die, we sing a song, we dance."

And certainly Laurel Clark's life as we just heard was one that we can celebrate. In her 41 years, she was a highly accomplished, highly talented woman, both personally and professionally. She certainly lived a very fulfilling life. And she died on Saturday doing something that she certainly loved to do -- Connie.

CHUNG: Brian Cabell, thanks. We'll be getting back to you a little later in our program.

One of those Clark had known who the Reverend Tony Larsen, Brian Mentioned, who married Clark and her husband and was the minister at the church where she was being mourned at this hour. He has gone on to Houston for the memorial there, but I spoke with him, the Reverend Larsen, before he left.


CHUNG: Reverend Larsen, you've known Laurel since she was a teenager. How would you describe her? REV. TONY LARSEN, CLARK'S MINISTER: I would describe her as an extremely vivacious and passionate person who is also really kind. And besides being very talented and smart and scientific and all that, she is never pretentious. She was always -- it feels funny to say was, now. But she was always very kind and didn't brag about herself.

CHUNG: She spoke at one of your services and talked about the space program.

LARSEN: Yes. She did. A couple of years ago, she happened to be in town for a little while and she talked about the space program and how excited she was to be a part of it because they were doing experiments and medical tests and things that would help the health of humanity in years to come.

And so she really believed in what she was doing, as a doctor and scientist. She got to be a part of making this a better world. And it was just fun to hear it.

CHUNG: Could you sense her passion about going out to space?

LARSEN: Yes, definitely. She was in the astronaut program at that time. But of course, we didn't know if she would get to go or not. We hoped that she would. We could tell -- she would have been OK either way, but she really wanted to go.

When she spoke, this member came up and shook her hand and said, I'm shaking hands with someone who I think is going to be in outer space and I think that that's really cool.

And it ended up she did go into space. We just wish she had come back. But she was doing what she really wanted to do, and I know her mother mentioned that to me. She said, Laurel really loved what she was doing. And that's great, when you can love what you're doing.

CHUNG: How do you think Laurel wants to be remembered?

LARSEN: I think she probably wouldn't want to be remembered as a, oh, some super hero. I mean I think she had a more realistic view of herself.

She, I think, would want to be remembered as someone doing what she wanted, who believed in bringing people from all cultures together. It was kind of cool that on the space shuttle, she was there with people of different cultures and religions and they were all getting along up there the way we should be getting along down here. She really believed in world community, the goal of world community.

And so I think she'd want to be remembered for that vision. And it's just one of many people who worked for it and enjoyed what she was doing.

CHUNG: OK, Reverend Larsen, I thank you so much for being with us. And thank you for remembering Laurel for us.

LARSEN: Thank you.


CHUNG: We'll go back to the Racine memorial for Mission Specialist Laurel Clark later in the broadcast.

But when we come back, we'll turn our attention to the two American astronauts still orbiting the Earth who thought they would be coming home in March. Now as we go to a break, a live look at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida tonight. Stay with us.


CHUNG: As we've noted, investigators anticipate the debris now being recovered will yield answers to many of the lingering questions about the Columbia disaster. The location of debris, for example, could offer clues to the sequence of destruction. Hundreds of investigators are combing miles of fields, lakes, woods, and developed areas in two states as part of their search and CNN's Patty Davis has that story.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The debris collection picking up steam as hundreds of people search for pieces of the shuttle, as well as human remains, over 28,000 square miles scouring remote areas by four wheel drive and horseback.

A key question is whether the tiles broke off, allowing extreme heat to penetrate the shuttle's structure. Since the shuttle's tiles are numbered, investigators might be able to piece together when they broke off, if they did, and that could prove revealing.

RON DITTEMORE, SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM MGR.: I do know that we found tile in Fort Worth. And so the fact that we found a tile in the Fort Worth-area largely upstream of the debris field, may be significant.

DAVIS: That could indicate the tiles started falling off before the shuttle began to break up.

BILL READDY, ASSOC. ADMIN. SPACE FLIGHT: We want to get every last shred of evidence, whether it be documentation, whether it be witness statements, whether it be physical evidence that may have fallen to the ground.

DAVIS: Much of that evidence may have vaporized in the sky and could hamper the goal of reconstructing the shuttle. What evidence did make it to it the ground, recovery teams are mapping using global positioning satellites.

The FAA has provided radar from the time of the accident to help locate debris.

JAMES KROLL, DIR. FOREST RESEARCH INSTITUTE: By having precise locations of pieces and where those pieces actually came from on the shuttle, they'll be able to literally make them jump back up into the sky and put them back into their place. That tells you a lot.

DAVIS: The debris will be photographed, bagged, cataloged and taken to Barksdale Air Force Base and Carswell Air Force Base.

(on camera): Meanwhile, more remains of the astronauts have been recovered. They're brought here for examination by pathologists and specialists in DNA analysis. The first remains arrived in two caskets, received by a full military honor guard.

Patty Davis, CNN, Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana.


CHUNG: As the nation mourns the loss of the men and women aboard Columbia, many of us wonder, could NASA have done anything to save their lives? Could there have been a rescue attempt?

Joining us, men who know the dangers of space travel. Guy Gardner, thank you for being here.

And Rick Searfoss And former NASA scientist Michael Wiskerchen.

Thank you so much, all three of you.

Sky, since have you here, and since miles was explaining the intricacy of what the investigators are going through, I want you to explain again just one more time. Because I think it doesn't hurt to describe it one more time. Now, investigators are assuming at this point that the problem was the external fuel tank.

Can you explain what happened? The foam fell off on liftoff?

GUY GARDNER, FORMER ASTRONAUT: The external fuel tank, the orange tank, the orange is insulation foam that insulates the liquid oxygen and hydrogen inside. During launch, a chunk of that foam insulation came off the tank, forward of underneath the wing of the shuttle, and impacted the bottom of the space shuttle's wing. When the analysis was done, they thought that would not have damaged the tiles significantly, and now they're suspecting that it did.

CHUNG: All right, let's listen to the NASA flight director, Leroy Cane. Actually, I don't think we have this on tape. It's a graphic which I will read what he said. He said this about the loss of tiles from the impact on re-entry. He said, "Engineers and analysts took a very thorough look at the situation with the tile on the left wing, and we have no concerns and therefore we haven't changed anything with respect to our trajectory design."


CHUNG: So that means he was terribly incorrect.

GARDNER: If it turns out that the foam did cause the tile damage, then that analysis was incorrect, that's right, Connie.

CHUNG: So this is quite disturbing in my mind. Is it not to you?

GARDNER: Well, it means there's a basic flaw in the way we attach the foam to the external tank that needs to be fixed. Similar to the initial tiles being attached to the Columbia before its first flight, and they had to fix that problem. Fortunately that was discovered before it was launched into space.

Let's get to whether or not they could be rescued.

Rick, a question for you. Would it have been possible for another shuttle to have gone up and saved these astronauts?

RICHARD SEARFOSS, JOHNSON SPACE CENTER: Unfortunately, Connie, as much as we would have loved to have had that option, it's not physically possible. With a vehicle not on the launch pad, with the time it takes just to prepare it for launch, it's physically not possible to go do that. And that's an accepted, understood thing by anyone who goes out to a launch. The astronauts as well as the technical community. That once you're up there, you're on your own, in essence, along with the support from the ground technically. But rescue option is not viable.

CHUNG: Could the astronauts have gotten into orbit so they could get to the space station, and get safe there?

SEARFOSS: I'm not sure that was possible. I haven't seen the exact orbit in the orbit calculations that go into that, whether the Columbia was into an orbit that could actually be modified to reach the space station. So until those calculations are done, I'd have no idea whether there would be enough fuel on board to make those kinds of orbit changes.

CHUNG: Guy, I see you nodding -- you are shaking your head?

GARDNER: Michael, the space shuttle was in an orbit less than the 51 degree inclination of the space station, which means there is not anywhere near the fuel required to make that orbital change.

CHUNG: They were in a different orbit and wouldn't be able to change because they didn't have enough fuel?


CHUNG: Would it have been possible for them to space walking and repair the problem?

GARDNER: Connie, unfortunately, that's not possible. Actually, my first shuttle flight on the orbiter Atlantis in 1988, we had a part of the nose cone of the booster dribbled along the bottom of the right wing of our space shuttle, damaging some of the tiles. We had an arm on that mission, we could look at it, and NASA determined that we were OK for entry. It turns out were. But, had we not been, there was nothing we could have done to fix those tiles.

CHUNG: So mike, apparently there was no mechanical arm on this shuttle, and would that have helped? MICHAEL WISKERCHEN, FMR ASTRONAUT: I don't think so. If there was, yes, we could have probably had the arm look and see how much damage was there. But in past missions, as was mentioned before, we've lost tiles. Depending upon the location of the tiles, how the re-entry takes place, things like this, these are all things which would give you some information on whether you could do something different.

In this case, I haven't seen any evidence, and of course I like almost everybody else am out in the public, seeing the news clips and this sort of thing. But I don't see any evidence and data that's coming down yet that would give you any idea of what to do.

CHUNG: Rick, bottom line, would any kind of rescue have been possible?

SEARFOSS: No, unfortunately. As much as we would like to think that's possible, it's just not in this scenario. And there's nothing that can be done about that. I'd like to move aside to talk about the trust that the astronauts have in teams led by people like Ron Dittemore. This business is about trust in the final analysis. And there is no more trustworthy team to uncover every possible thing that humans are able to do that would be a problem before launch. You assume and accept those risks when you go to fly.

CHUNG: I understand. Could it have been possible to abort the mission once it was realized that there was a problem in liftoff?

SEARFOSS: No, unfortunately. Because the data that's coming down from the cameras is not specific enough. They might even see a piece in realtime, possibly, coming off. But they don't have the data where it hit, what happened. You cannot make those decisions without good, solid realtime data. The decision process that happens during anything going wrong in those 8 1/2 minutes of flight is far over and over and over again, scenarios run through thousands of hours in the simulator. It's not something that you can wing, it's not something you can do on the fly.

CHUNG: All right, 10 seconds left, Guy. If there had been an ejection capsule, would that have done it for them?

GARDNER: In this case, I don't think so. Because as Rick so well pointed out, we really would not have known the need to do that until after they were in orbit.

CHUNG: Thank you so much for your expertise.

Guy, Richard, Michael, we thank you so much for being with us.

Much more on the shuttle tragedy when we return.


CHUNG: A live picture from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Even though emotions over the shuttle tragedy are still raw, some sobering questions about the space program are emerging. Is the entire program just too costly, even outdated? And, more specifically, is the shuttle program underfunded? Did a decade's worth of budget cuts endanger the Columbia crew?

CNN's John Zarrella reports.


JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): The Columbia tragedy may turn out to be a freak accident that would have happened no matter how much money NASA had to work with.

MITCH DANIELS, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: If there's a lesson in the last couple days, it's I suppose another sad example that more money alone can't always avoid very sad setbacks.

ZARRELLA: But, clearly, tight budgets have been an issue at the space agency ever since the Challenger accident. And the International Space Station project further stretched NASA's resources.

A recent General Accounting Office report found that development costs for the station had -- quote -- "soared to the point where NASA has had to cut back the program substantially, including reducing construction, the number of crew members, and scientific research" -- end quote.

But even with the scale-backs, NASA, members of Congress say, was diverting dollars from the space shuttle program to bolster the space station project.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: I complained for 10 years when I was on the Science Committee against robbing the shuttle budget to pay for Russian delays in the International Space Station. And the Clinton administration combined the shuttle and the station accounts as a way of hiding these fund transfers.

ZARRELLA: Ever since NASA rebuilt from the ashes of Challenger, its mantra has been to never compromise safety, no matter the launch pressures, never to fly if it wasn't right. But some experts say the space agency has been trying to do too much with too little.

ALAN LADWIG, FORMER NASA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: NASA has been somewhat underfunded over the past decade. The budget had been either declining or fairly steady, didn't keep up with inflation. And we asked NASA to do an awful lot for us in the space program. And it becomes a question: How much can they do with these limited resources?

ZARRELLA: Not since the Apollo days has NASA had a blank check to do whatever it needed.

(on camera): Some space experts and members of Congress say there must now be a national commitment to revitalize NASA, echoing the words that were being spoken 17 years ago after Challenger shook our consciousness. John Zarrella, CNN, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


CHUNG: Joining us from Kennedy Airport in New York, just off a flight from London, is Richard Blomberg, the former head of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel.

Thank you, sir, for being with us.


CHUNG: Just last April, you testified before Congress.

I'm going to read you back your words, because it's really quite an ominous warning. You said: "In all the years of my involvement, I have never been as concerned for space shuttle safety as I am right now. One of the root of my concern is that nobody will know for sure when the safety margin has been eroded too far."

And I know you meant in the future, in years to come. But do you believe that the safety problems that existed, that you had warned NASA about, were in play when this disaster occurred?

BLOMBERG: Well, it's really too early to tell, Connie, but my own opinion right now is that they were not, that this was, as the previous speakers have said, one of those accidents that was part of the processing of the shuttle or the flight of the shuttle, that it likely would have happened.

NASA and its contractors are extremely committed to safety. And nobody would have done anything to jeopardize that safety. I'm absolutely convinced of that.

CHUNG: Then why were you so concerned? What is it that you were expressing last April, then?

BLOMBERG: Well, the real concern was that, with the International Space Station going to be in use through about the year 2020, it needs the space shuttle to service it and to bring up all of the experiments and the supplies.

And NASA and the government were planning on a 2012 time period for replacing the space shuttle. But there wasn't any other vehicle coming along, nor was there any new technology that would make a better vehicle.

CHUNG: So, was it your feeling that the space shuttle was outdated and was not using new technology?

BLOMBERG: There was new technology that we felt would reduce the risk. And we felt that it wasn't that it was unsafe. It was that it could have been more safe, if you put some of this new technology in.

And the reason it wasn't going in was that the argument was, by the time it would get in, there wouldn't be much time to use it. But that was based on a 2012 life for the space shuttle. And with the 2020 life, you'd have plenty of time. It's kind of analogous to...


CHUNG: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

I was about to say, is it like having a car and not changing your tires?

BLOMBERG: Well, that's exactly it.

It's kind of like having a car and saying, I'm going to trade it in, in a month or so, so I can run on bald tires for a while. But these weren't bald tires. These were just tires that were not as safe as they could have been. Somebody had come out with new, better tires. And it would have been worth putting them on the car if you're going to keep it for a long time.

CHUNG: Now, there's a bit of news that emerged from NASA today. And I don't know if you were able to hear it, because you might have still been on your plane from London.

But NASA is now assuming that the problem may very well have been -- and they're just using this assumption to base their investigation on for the moment -- that the problem may have been a problem with the external fuel tank. And that indeed could mean a basic flaw in the design. If that is the case, do you find that quite ominous?

BLOMBERG: Well, obviously, it's ominous for any future flights. And it would have to be redesigned before anyone would be willing to fly again.

The external tank, the foam insulation on it, had come off before. It was thoroughly analyzed by NASA's engineers and by their contractor engineers and was felt to be not a safety risk to the space shuttle. As was said earlier, perhaps that analysis was flawed. But it was certainly done with the best intent and at the state of the art today. So, it's not that anyone was trying to cut any corners, in my opinion.

CHUNG: Do you think that the budget or a lack of money played any part in this disaster?

BLOMBERG: Well, until we know what caused the disaster, I really can't say. It's certainly a possibility. But there are many other possibilities, ranging from, as you say, defective equipment to human error to all sorts of things.

CHUNG: All right, Richard Blomberg, I thank you so much for being with us and for hopping off that plane and so quickly getting in front of our cameras. Thank you.

BLOMBERG: You're welcome.

CHUNG: On the other side of the break, we'll go back to Miles O'Brien at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up: Two U.S. astronauts aboard the International Space Station, are they safe? How will NASA get them home?

CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT returns in a moment.


CHUNG: The day after Columbia dissolved into a shower of debris upon reentry over Texas, another spaceship took off from the opposite side of the world.

Russia launched Progress M-47. The launch of the unmanned supply ship had already been scheduled, its destination, the International Space Station orbiting Earth. Two Americans and one Russian were expecting to come home in March. A homecoming is looking very unlikely today.

And joining us again with what those three astronauts face, once again, CNN space correspondent Miles O'Brien at the Johnson Space Center.

Miles, you know these two Americans. What do you think is going through their minds? And how do you think they're handling what has happened?

O'BRIEN: Well, they've got to be the loneliest people, off the planet, I guess, if you will.

Ken Bowersox and Don Petit, the two Americans, have had lengthy conversations with the head of flight crew operations here, Bob Cabana. And in the course of those conversations, they've expressed their sadness, but also their determination to fulfill their mission, if nothing else, in the memory of their fallen comrades.

It's a tight-knit group and it's a tight-knit family. And what they've told them here at mission control in Houston is: We're going to come clean with you. We're going to tell you everything that we know, so you're not, at the least, isolated up there. At least you will know as much as we know.

CHUNG: Miles, how long will it be before a shuttle is allowed to launch and go pick them up?

O'BRIEN: It's impossible to predict.

But if you go back and use Challenger as your template, it was almost three years. Now, there was a significant redesign as a result of all that, primarily involving those solid rocket boosters, which turned out to be the cause of the problem of the Challenger explosion. But if this particular incident leads to some kind of drastic redesign, you could be talking about something that long.

NASA has got this space station up there. They can't afford to wait that long. So, a lot depends on what the final determination is.

CHUNG: And, of course, there's a risk to their health if they stay too long. How long can they stay up there?

O'BRIEN: Well, the world record for space endurance was set by a Russian. Cosmonaut Polyakov is his name; 14 months, Connie, 14 months. And he's still with us.

So, you can go on for a period of time, perhaps indefinitely. But I would say that, at a certain point, NASA will make a decision that, if there's going to be a long delay, a Challenger-like delay, it will be time to bring the crew home. And they do have a lifeboat there. It's not like the Titanic. There's three seats in the lifeboat. And they can hop on Soyuz, Russian-made Soyuz capsule and come home any time they need to.

CHUNG: So, we do not have to fear that they would be stranded?

O'BRIEN: No, they're not stranded. They always have a way home. And they can turn out the lights and put the station in a kind of a quiescent mode or a mothball mode, whatever you like as a term, and hop in their Soyuz capsule and be home in short order.

So, it's not as urgent as it may seem. And they're willing to stay up there for a while and see how this plays out. Who knows? Maybe they can continue that presence in space, which is important to NASA, building this space station.

CHUNG: Sure. And they would make room, if they came home, for you, which I know you would dearly love to do, Miles.


O'BRIEN: I'm afraid the chances are dimming by the minute.


Thank you so much, Miles O'Brien.

Still ahead: The hours tick down until the U.S. gives the U.N. what it calls proof of Iraq's violation of U.N. resolutions.

Stay with us.


CHUNG: More on the shuttle tragedy in a moment, but first more on the deadly explosion that rocked a major city in Africa.

That tops tonight's look at "The World in: 60."


CHUNG (voice-over): Authorities say they don't know what caused a colossal explosion that killed at least 33 people in downtown Lagos, Nigeria. The blast leveled three apartment blocks and tore through a bank building in the West African nation's commercial capital.

Secretary of State Colin Powell says he will offer proof that Iraq has hidden prohibited weapons from United Nations inspectors. Powell will make the case before the U.N. Security Council Wednesday. In a "Wall Street Journal" opinion piece, Powell calls on the world to recognize that Iraq has flouted the will of the international community.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says there's unmistakable evidence Iraq has failed to cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors. Britain is America's main ally in the push to disarm Iraq. He met with President Bush this past weekend.

Legendary rock 'n' roll record producer Phil Spector is under arrest in a homicide investigation. Police say they found a woman shot to death at his home in suburban Los Angeles today. Spector has produced for such greats as the Beatles, Tina Turner, and the Ramones.



CHUNG: When we come back: The seven astronauts will be remembered tomorrow in Houston, that and a final look at the Columbia crew -- right after this.


CHUNG: Racine, Wisconsin, tonight remembering one of its own: mission specialist Laurel Clark, a hometown memorial that just concluded.

Before we go tonight, CNN's Brian Cabell takes one final look at the crew of Columbia through the voices of those who knew and loved them.


CABELL (voice-over): The mournful sound of a bugle saying goodbye to Laurel Clark at her former high school in Racine, Wisconsin, saying goodbye to all of Columbia's astronauts.

Clark was an adventurous woman, who had explored the seas in submarines and outer space in the shuttle.

MARGIE BROWN, MOTHER OF LAUREL CLARK: I guess, today, I feel that her spirit is right there. I feel she's there. She was just a very, very loving -- maybe loving isn't the right word. Caring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A caring person.

M. BROWN: Very caring.

CABELL: She was a wife, a mother of an 8-year-old son, a big sister to her brother, Dan. DAN SALTON, BROTHER OF LAUREL CLARK: Her smile lit up the room. And seeing pictures of it now on TV and all the coverage, every time I see her smile. She's always smiling.

CABELL: Talk to the people in Racine and they'll tell you Clark may have been special, but she never acted that way.

David Brown was a regular, pleasant guy. You'll hear that a lot about these astronauts.

DOROTHY BROWN, MOTHER OF DAVID BROWN: We're a bit numb right now. It's sort of unbelievable, you see, that he's just gone. But life goes on for all of us, you see.

CABELL: Brown joined the circus briefly while he was in college, but his goal was set much, much higher. He was headed for space.

D. BROWN: His brother, Doug, was is two years older, asked David: Dave, what if you were to die? And Dave just said: This program will go on. It has to go on.

CABELL: Ilan Ramon was an Israeli hero, a fighter pilot from the Yom Kippur War. His father was being interviewed by Israeli TV just before the accident. All was fine. All were happy. Then the family got the horrible news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The only thought that consoles us, really, is that they enjoyed it so much and loved each other so much. And I think you can see this in every broadcast, that, really, they were a group of angels. And they will remain that way.

CABELL: Just two days before, Ramon had sent an e-mail to his family.

ELIEZER WOLFERMAN, FATHER OF ILAN RAMON: He was so happy. And he said that he was so happy that he doesn't want to come back to Earth. And he didn't come back to Earth.

CABELL: Rick Husband was the commander, a boy with dreams.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, my mother talked to Rick in elementary school. And she would come home and tell me about this kid that wanted to be an astronaut. And we all kind of laughed, because who knows what they want to be when they're 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 years old and sticks with it?

CABELL: He stuck with it, a common-sense man with uncommon reach.

ELLEN ROBERTSON NEAL, FRIEND OF RICK HUSBAND: I remember how he welcomed us into his home, how he was not -- he was not arrogant at all. He was certainly the commander of the shuttle, but you would think he was your child's little league soccer coach when you were in his home.

CABELL: Willie McCool, or Cool Willie, as he was known in high school, smart, athletic, good-looking, and humble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he was very oriented towards humanity. And he was actually a very deeply religious young man as well, and just very interested in children. And one of his goals after he finished his career with the military was to work with teaching and working with children, particularly in the area of science.

CABELL: Michael Anderson told friends and family not to worry about him up in space. He was a bright, focused, and confident astronaut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's what he dreamed of doing most of his life. That's what he set his goals to do. That's what he sacrificed to do. And that is what he did. It was not really a dream to him. It was a future reality to him, is how he looked at it. And we knew, when he set his sights on that, that that's what he would do.

CABELL: Kalpana Chawla, she was known as a tomboy in her native India, fun-loving, unconventional, fascinated all her life by airplanes and the sky.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The best part of her was that, even when she reached for the stars, she stayed firmly rooted to the ground. That is what makes her great and that is what makes her stand apart from all the rest. That is how we want to remember her, as a humble, loving, and very nice human being.

CABELL: Nice human beings? Extraordinary human beings. That's what you hear about the seven astronauts, as the lone bugler plays his song.


CHUNG: President Bush will attend the Houston memorial for the crew of the shuttle Columbia. CNN will provide live coverage. That's at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

President Bush is not the first president to lead national mourning for lost astronauts. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger delayed President Reagan's 1986 State of the Union speech. Instead, he spoke about the Challenger crew and told their families what they meant to the nation.


RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your loved ones were daring and brave. And they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy.

They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve. And they did. They served all of us. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.


CHUNG: The Challenger crew never made it into space. The Columbia crew never made it back to Earth. Neither will ever be forgotten.

Tomorrow: full coverage of the shuttle memorial, the remembrances and the ongoing investigation; plus, the mystery surrounded legendary music producer Phil Spector.

And coming up next on "LARRY KING LIVE": a rare interview with Elizabeth Taylor.

Thank you for joining us. And for all of us at CNN, good night and we'll see you tomorrow.


CONNIE CHUNG, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Connie Chung.

Investigators try to zero in on a possible cause of why the shuttle Columbia never made it back to Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Columbia: The she tragedy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: While we grieve the loss of these astronauts, the cause of which they died will continue. America's journey into space will go on.

ANNOUNCER: The investigation: piecing together what happened. The questions: Could the crew of Columbia been saved? Did it have to happen? >

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