Retired Navy admiral who probed Cole bombing will head independent panel on Colombia space accident - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Updated Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

Retired Navy admiral who probed Cole bombing will head independent panel on Colombia space accident

Associated Press Writer
      WASHINGTON (AP) - A retired Navy admiral who investigated the
USS Cole bombing will head the independent probe into the space
shuttle Columbia, drawing on the expertise of military and civilian
aviation experts.
      NASA and a House committee plan their own investigations, and
the Senate will hold hearings about why the Columbia disintegrated
over Texas on Saturday morning, killing its seven astronauts.
      Retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr. went on Sunday to Barksdale
Air Force Base in Louisiana, where the panel was meeting for the
first time Monday. It will search for a cause and offer
recommendations, a federal official said.
      Other commission members include active duty Air Force and Navy
brass, civilian transportation and aviation officials and NASA
leaders in engineering and mission safety.
      "We're going to find out what led to this, retrace all the
events . . . and leave absolutely no stone unturned," said NASA
Administrator Sean O'Keefe.
      He described the commission as "an independent objective
board" and said Gehman is "well versed in understanding exactly
how to look about the forensics in these cases and coming up with
the causal effects of what could occur."
      The chairman of the House Science Committee, which oversees
NASA, said the agency's investigation will focus more on technical
aspects. "We have to be concerned about the policy aspects and
what is the future of human space flight," said Rep. Sherwood
Boehlert, R-N.Y.
      Hearings are expected in the Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee, said Sen. Sam Brownback, chairman of the
subcommittee on science, technology and space.
      "The key issue for us in Congress is why did it happen, how did
it happen, how do we fix it and then how do we project on forward
with manned space flight," said Brownback, R-Kan.
      Gehman, 60, was educated as an industrial engineer. His first
tour of duty was as a propulsion assistant and damage control
assistant aboard the USS English. He ended his career as commander
in chief of U.S. Joint Forces Command, retiring a month before the
Cole bombing on Oct. 12, 2000.
      "This panel is charged with a most difficult task, but I am
confident in their ability, their integrity, and their dedication
to doing what's right," O'Keefe said. "Their findings will help
push America's space program successfully into the future."
      The Cole was refueling in Aden harbor in Yemen when a small boat
sidled up to the 505-foot destroyer and detonated a load of
explosives. The blast ripped a hole 40 feet high and 40 feet wide
in the hull of the $1 billion warship and killed 17 sailors.
      It was the first time terrorists had successfully attacked a
U.S. Navy ship, and the Cole commission said in its report in
January 2001 that the bombers had found a "seam in the fabric" of
the Navy's system of self-protection.
      NASA said the other members of the commission, called the Space
Shuttle Mishap Interagency Investigation Board, were:
      -Rear Admiral Stephen Turcotte, commander, U.S. Naval Safety
Center, Norfolk, Va.
      -Maj. Gen. John L. Barry, director, plans and programs,
headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base, Ohio
      -Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. Hess, commander, Air Force chief of
safety, Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
      -James N. Hallock, aviation safety division chief,
Transportation Department.
      -Steven B. Wallace, director of accident investigation, Federal
Aviation Administration.
      -Brig. Gen. Duane Deal, commander, 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air
Force Base, Colo.
      -G. Scott Hubbard, director at NASA's Ames Research Center,
Moffett Field, Calif.
      -ex-officio member and former astronaut Bryan D. O'Connor,
NASA's associate administrator from the Office of Safety and
Mission Assurance.
      -panel executive-secretary Theron Bradley Jr., NASA's chief
engineer from agency headquarters in Washington.
      In NASA's own review, debris was being brought to Barksdale,
where a team from various NASA centers, the FBI and the Federal
Emergency Management Agency assembled. Other federal agencies were
      Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said some of the
congressional work will go over some of the same issues reviewed
after the 1986 explosion of the shuttle Challenger.
      Those include NASA's budget, its aging work force and the
shuttle fleet.
      (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)
AP-NY-02-02-03 1623EST


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