Columbia Hearings Refer To
Richard Feynman's personal observations on
the Challenger disaster are again being discussed in the recent
Congressional hearing on the Columbia tragedy.
Senator Maria Cantwell from the State of Washington pointed out the need to
have a "Feynman voice"-- an independent scientist -- in the current board
investigating the Columbia disaster. Hopefully an independent panel can be
formed to quickly get to the cause of the accident.
The excerpt below was taken from
the AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News at http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi/2003/027.html, covering the Congressional Hearing held on
February 12 with NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe.
Many House and Senate Members questioned NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe during the four-hour joint hearing. As the Columbia
Accident Investigation Board, headed by retired Navy Admiral Hal Gehman, has just begun its work, the primary focus of the hearing
was not on the cause of the Columbia accident. Instead, many of the questions addressed the composition and independence of the
Accident Investigation Board. "I've become convinced" that the Board's charter must be rewritten, Boehlert stated, expressing a
concern that was echoed by other Members throughout the hearing. "The words of the charter simply do not guarantee the
independence and latitude that both the Administrator and the Admiral have sincerely promised." O'Keefe explained that a
description of the investigation panel had been written into the accident contingency plan developed by NASA following the
Challenger incident, but he expressed willingness to modify the Board's charter and
responsibilities to mollify Members' concerns about its objectivity. "You have our assurance that this
distinguished Board will be able to act with genuine independence," he declared. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) asked whether there was
an independent scientist on the panel to provide "that Feynman voice" - a reference to the role played by physicist Richard Feynman
during the Challenger accident probe. O'Keefe replied that Gehman was considering several scientists for
addition to the Board.