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VOA-TV interview with David McAlary - 2003-02-05


VOA-TV host David Borgida talks with David McAlary, Space and Science Correspondent for Voice of America.

MR. BORGIDA
And now joining us, VOA Space and Science Correspondent David McAlary. David has been covering this since it all began and, surely, from the very beginning. David, where are we on the pace of the investigation now?

MR. MCALARY
NASA officials are not ruling out any cause of the disaster, but the early focus of the investigation has become the left side, specifically, the left wing, which heated up tremendously, much more than normal, during the searing reentry of the atmosphere.

They're reanalyzing data they thought was benign at first. Upon liftoff, apparently a huge chunk of hardened foam flew off the external fuel tank and hit the underside of the left wing. The question on everybody's mind is: Did it damage underneath the left wing, which is insulated by special heat-protective tiles? If so, was that the reason the left side heated up and perhaps damaged the aircraft and sent it to its doom?

They're scouring the country, over thousands of kilometers, for all possible parts. Word came on Tuesday that a possible wing had been found as far west as California, and search teams are on the way out there now, looking at that. That will tell an awful lot.

The earlier the information can be found, the earlier debris, will tell the most about the reason it disintegrated over the United States.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, David, there is already, though, a lot of discussion about this heat tile issue. And we're hearing about memos and recommendations that were made years ago about how dangerous this could be possibly be if they failed.

Does this surprise you at all that already they are focusing in on that, without being sure about it?

MR. MCALARY
Well, it doesn't surprise me, because they have this evidence, a videotape on liftoff, showing that the tiles were hit and possibly damaged. But NASA insists that the tiles have served all previous 112 missions well. No mission has been lost, even though there is some tile damage every time.

MR. BORGIDA
Now, David, missions are suspended for the short term. You have been covering this for a long time. Your assessment, please, on the space program?

We've heard the relatives of the astronauts, urging everyone to continue with the program. Is it your expectation that will occur?

MR. MCALARY
We have one previous experience like this, and that's the Challenger, in 1986, which blew up on takeoff. The program came back.

It launched again two years and eight months later. I expect it will be sooner this time. But we will have a space program. That's no doubt.

MR. BORGIDA
And any concerns, we reported a moment ago, in about 30 seconds or so, about those astronauts, the folks up on the Space Station?

MR. MCALARY
Not immediately.

MR. BORGIDA
If I was up there, I would be worried.

MR. MCALARY
Well, they're willing to stay as long as it's necessary. A Russian supply rocket docked on Tuesday and brought them enough supplies until the end of June. So, they're okay through the end of June. There are all sorts of Russian rockets which can go up there and bring more supplies and also exchange crews.

MR. BORGIDA
VOA's Space and Science Correspondent David McAlary, bringing us the latest on the Shuttle tragedy. Thanks so much, David, for joining us. We appreciate it.

MR. MCALARY
You're welcome, David.

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