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Columbia families praise panel’s report

Some relatives of the Columbia astronauts say the investigative panel’s report was “right on the money.” Now they just hope it will mean a lasting change at NASA.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some family members of the seven Columbia astronauts described the report on the shuttle disaster Tuesday as outstanding and “right on the money.” Now they just hope it will mean a lasting change at NASA.

“The hardest part will be the focus on these cultural issues,” said Dr. Jonathan Clark, a NASA flight surgeon whose wife, Dr. Laurel Clark, was one of the seven astronauts who died in the Feb. 1 accident. “Changing that culture, that’s going to be the real challenge.”

He called the report thorough and, “from my perspective, it certainly hits right on the money.”

Change 'Is not cheap'
The report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board said NASA’s organizational culture had as much to do with Columbia as the piece of foam insulation that knocked a hole in the wing at launch. The hole caused the shuttle to break apart in the Texas sky as it re-entered the atmosphere on its way back to Earth.

“I think everybody involved in this understands they need to do better,” said Clark.

One aspect not addressed by the report, he noted, is funding. “To do this is not cheap. ‘Better, faster, cheaper’ doesn’t work.”

In a telephone interview from Las Vegas, Audrey McCool, the mother of pilot William McCool, called the report an “outstanding piece of work” that didn’t stop with mere technical details.

“It will take a major effort to make a total revamping of the cultural environment to implement recommendations over the long term,” she said. She said the agency needs to make employees at all levels comfortable in speaking up about problems.

Spouses given preview 
On Monday, five of the astronauts’ spouses were given a preview of the report by three members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board at Johnson Space Center. A sixth, Lani McCool, was connected by phone line from Guam. (One of the astronauts, David Brown, was single.)

Clark said the questions at the meeting were “very deliberate and well thought out,” and mostly centered on such issues as “how can we prevent this from happening in the future.”

McCool’s mother was upset that she and other relatives who were not spouses weren’t invited.

“We feel rather insulted that we were not included in this,” she said. “We’re not invited to NASA events, not told about NASA events. It has become just an unbearable sore point that NASA doesn’t consider parents, brothers and sisters to be [immediate] family.”

NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said the investigation board decided which family members would be given a preview of the report. Board spokesmen could not be immediately reached for comment about the matter.

The board members who briefed the families were Brig. Gen. Duane W. Deal, physicist James Hallock and Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. Hess.

Rona Ramon, wife of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, was reached at her home in Houston Tuesday, but declined to comment. Other spouses could not be reached.