Columbia: Accident or Shootdown? and Columbia Investigation Controversies

by Jim Rarey

"I grant blanket approval for anyone to post (reproduce) these articles. The mere posting does not imply my approval of anything else on the site." -- Jim Rarey

When a government agency suffers a catastrophic failure, one of the first reactions is self-preservation. In the case of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Columbia disaster, the cover-up began even before the event.

In the last several years NASA has seen increasing criticism from Congress as an expensive boondoggle with little scientific benefit. This is particularly true with the space station which some see as a financial fiasco that is little more than a PR program to trumpet US/Russia "cooperation" with U.S. taxpayers paying most of Russia's share of the cost as well as our own.

As NASA expanded the number of shuttle flights, improvements in safety features were postponed as scarce budget dollars were reallocated. When a safety panel warned last year of problems, NASA removed five of the nine members and fired two consultants. A sixth member, Admiral Bernard Kauderer, was so upset he resigned from the panel.

In the immediate aftermath of the Columbia crash, attention focused on ceramic tiles that shielded the fragile body of the orbiter from the intense heat of over 3,000 F it experienced when it reentered the earth's atmosphere. Ground readings of heat sensors on the shuttle had shown alarming elevation of temperatures on parts of the body. The logical inference was that the shuttle had lost some of the protective tiles.

It was then disclosed that a piece of insulation on the fuel tank had come loose on liftoff and hit one of the wings. A team reviewed videos of the takeoff and concluded the incident did not pose a safety hazard. This was reported to the staff of program manager Ron Dittemore. While Dittemore told a new conference he accepted full responsibility as program manager, he had not shown enough interest to actually attend the review meeting. He initially dismissed the falling insulation as a cause of the shuttles failure.

Two panels were set up to investigate the national tragedy. One comprised NASA officials and the other an "independent" panel, made up of military brass and representatives from other government agencies (More about the membership of the "independent" panel later.) The so-called independent panel at first was to work under the direction of the NASA Administrator, Bush appointee Sean O'Keefe. However, pressure from Congress and others forced O'Keefe to relinquish control to Admiral Harold W. Gehman, chair of the panel.

In the meantime, a steady stream of articles in the mainstream media, led by the venerable New York Times, exposed a litany of problems NASA has encountered over the last dozen years with both the insulation and the heat-resistant tiles. This in itself is curious as we are used to seeing the NYT and other media make excuses for government failures usual blaming under funding, lack of communication and low-level incompetence.

Veteran researchers know that the New York Times is a transmission belt (mouthpiece) for the elite power structure in Washington and New York. It prides itself as being the "newspaper of record" for the country with its motto, "All the news that's fit to print." A more fitting title is the one given his book by former Times editor Herman Dinsmore, "All the news that fits." At any rate, the news that is emphasized in the Times is what the power structure wants the public to believe, whether or not it is t rue or merely diversionary.

NASA has admitted that, theoretically, loss of just a few tiles could start a reaction that would cause the shuttle to disintegrate. If that is true, it's a wonder in view of the news articles about known problems how they convinced astronauts to make the trips, assuming they were informed of past problems with the tiles.

A total of about 24,000 tiles are used on each shuttle and each one is hand glued to the body. A "wiggle" test is made to see if the tile bonded which experienced technicians can only do properly. If not bonded properly, they are subject to coming off under intense heat. The same is t rue of the adhesive holding the insulation on the fuel tank. The tank contains fuel kept at a temperature of below minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit and formation of ice has been a problem that has come off and hit the tiles. Also, the extreme cold causes the adhesive to shrink once it has been applied.

United Space Alliance is the prime contractor for the NASA shuttle program. It is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin defense contractors who formed the company rather than compete against each other for individual contracts with NASA. It handles programs at both the Kennedy Center in Florida and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The venture subcontracts work out to hundreds of other companies.

A 1995 study showed that 90 percent of all tile damage resulted from foam (insulation) on the fuel tank "debonding" during liftoff and smacking into the craft. In 1997 technicians found about 100 damaged tiles on the Columbia caused by loss of insulation unseen by launch cameras.

Although only one such debonding was reported in Columbia's January liftoff, program manager Dittemore told a new conference that other cameras were "out of focus" and they didn't get a clear view of the entire launch.

The flood of stories reporting significant problems in the program, of which the above is only a sampling, would lead one to believe that the Columbia disaster can be directly attributed to NASA's failure to solve the quality and safety problems endemic in the shuttle program. That is unless the uncharacteristic openness of the government and media is meant to divert attention from another possible cause.

An amateur astronomer/photographer in California may have caught the actual cause of the demise of Columbia on film. The San Francisco man (whose name is being withheld) had set a camera up on a tripod and was shooting separate frames, about six to eight seconds apart, as Columbia streaked across the California sky.

As he shot the five frames, the photographer said he saw several fragments break away from the shuttle. However it wasn't until he developed the film that he saw what has come to be called the "West Coast Anomaly." The film revealed the space shuttle getting zapped by a purplish electrical bolt with an odd "L" shape. Two San Francisco Chronicle reporters, who viewed the photographs, confirmed the description. The photos were taken just seven minutes before the Columbia completely disintegrated over Texas.

The bay area man contacted the Johnson Space Center in Houston and former astronaut Tammy Jernigan was sent to collect his camera and the photographs to deliver to NASA. Her first reaction on seeing the picture is quoted as "wow." Jernigan is currently a manager at the Department of Energy's secret Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The University of California, under a contract to the Dept. of Energy, runs the lab.

NASA is also interested in analyzing a video shot by Jay Lawson of the Fleischmann Planetarium at the University of Nevada at Reno. His video shows a burst of light at the shuttle just moments before NASA's timeline shows heat sensors recording an unusual increase in surface temperature on the orbiter.

Before any analysis had been done, a NASA spokesman advanced two possible explanations for the phenomenon on the San Francisco photo. Although on a tripod he said the camera might have been jiggled while snapping the picture. Alternatively the apparent electrical charge could be what NASA calls a "sprite" which is an electromagnetic phenomenon in the upper atmosphere that jumps from clouds to the ionosphere or in the reverse direction. It is little understood (at least by NASA) although an expert in the field discounted that possibility from the description and the fact that the clear sky was cloudless at the time.

Regardless of source, such a blast of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) energy would do considerable damage to the shuttle perhaps destroying tiles or at least loosening the adhesives holding the tiles and insulation in place. The consequence is eerily similar to the effect of EMP weaponry developed by the U.S. Military in the general category of directed energy.

In that vein it may be instructive to examine the backgrounds of the seven-member "independent" panel appointed by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe (who also appointed all members of the in-house NASA panel). Aside from two civilian safety experts from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aeronautics Administration (FAA), the other five are top military brass.

Chairman of the panel (of which the official title is, "Space Shuttle Mishap Interagency Investigation Board") is Rear Admiral (Ret.) Harold Gehman. Gehman was the first commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command. His last assignment before retiring in 2000 was a dual one. He was Supreme NATO Commander, Atlantic and Commander of all military forces in the continental United States.

Gehman also headed the military investigation of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, competing with the FBI investigation headed by anti-terrorism chief John O'Neill. The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, felt O'Neill was getting cooperation from Yemeni officials that the military was not and eventually declared O'Neill persona non grata and he was sent back to New York.

O'Neill retired from the FBI after clashing with FBI Director Louis Freeh over the bureau's failure to investigate Saudi Arabia's support of terrorist activities. Shortly after he took the position of Security Director at the World Trade Center, O'Neill died mysteriously in the 9/11 attacks. He had successfully evacuated the first tower that was hit, where is office was located, but his body was found under a stairwell in the second tower.

Rear Admiral Stephen Turcotte is commander of the U.S. Naval Safety Center at Norfolk, Virginia.

Major General John L. Barry is director of Plans and Programs, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio UFO researchers will recognize the base as the home of the notorious top-secret "Hangar 18" where relics from the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico. "UFO incident" occurred.

Major General Kenneth W. Hess is U.S. Air Force Chief of Safety, Kirtland AF Base at Kirtland, New Mexico. The base runs the Directed Energy Directorate of the AF Directed Energy Laboratory located 140 miles north of the base at the northern end of the White Sands missile range. The Directorate's charter is to improve the Air Force's ability to track missiles and then destroy them with laser energy through the atmosphere.

Last, but certainly not least, is Brigadier General Duane W. Deal. To insure no bias is inserted by this writer, a portion of General Deal's official biography is reproduced verbatim from the Air Force website.

"Brig. Gen. Duane W. Deal is Commander, 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. The Air Force's largest wing geographically and organizationally, the wing consists of a work force of more than 6,000 officer, enlisted, civilian and contract employees. This work force provides missile warning and space control for combat forces and the governments of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom through its 35 units operating 14 space weapon systems at 20 worldwide locations in six countries spread across 10 time zones."

That should put to rest any controversy over whether or not the U.S. military has operational anti-missile weapons in space.

According to a Feb. 6th article by Dan Feldstein in the Houston Chronicle, "A piece of debris classified "top secret" is somewhere among the thousands of shards of the space shuttle Columbia spread across Texas." He is referring to a telecommunication device that handles encrypted messages between the shuttle and ground.

Although DOD payload specialist David Hess said the device was not used in the lone Defense experiment on the shuttle (an AF miniature satellite threat reporting system) might it be used to cloak the entire investigation in secrecy under the rubric of "national security?"

We shall have to wait and see if the openness so far displayed by the government and media extends to the analysis and explanation of the "West Coast Anomaly."


If the conclusion in the Columbia tragedy is not controversial, the investigators themselves will more than make up for it. What with NASA spokespersons contradicting each other, theories being put forth, then dismissed only to be postulated again and finally admitting to the obvious, if the public isn't confused, they aren't paying attention. And this doesn't even involve the so-called "independent " panel appointed by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe.

Early on the first hypothesis was that tiles had come off that were damaged on takeoff. Then, that was dismissed since that had been investigated a day or two after liftoff, using projections and simulations. A few days later that theory was put back on the table since no better theory arose. That is, no theory they were willing to consider.

Two photographs, one taken in California and the other in Nevada, showed the shuttle being hit by significant electrical discharges of some kind. NASA's first reaction to the California picture was that something may have been wrong with the camera or it was jiggled (although on a tripod) when the photo was snapped accounting for the lightning-like streak that appeared to hit the Columbia.

However that theory died when the camera manufacturer tested 1.000 identical cameras (which were digital contrary to initial reports, thus not requiring film to be developed) and could not duplicate the phenomenon.

That was before the Nevada photograph surfaced. Then the theory was advanced that the bolt of electricity could have been a "Pixie" a fairly common phenomenon where, in certain weather conditions, electrical discharges jump from clouds to the Ionosphere and vice versa.

That was immediately discounted by outside scientists and meteorologists (who are also scientists, before I get any hate mail) pointing out that there were no clouds or adverse weather conditions at that time. NASA has on several occasions delayed shuttle re-entry to avoid storm conditions. Since then, NASA and the media have been doing their best to ignore both images.

Then NASA officials pointed to the fact that, up until then, no debris had been found west of Texas, which didn't support the eyewitness who said he saw pieces breaking off the shuttle over California.

However, yesterday (Wednesday) NASA finally admitted the obvious. The shuttle started to break up over California. Of course any first year physics student, or even common sense, would tell one that pieces coming off an object traveling at 21 time the speed of sound at an altitude of more than 43 miles, would not touch down anywhere near where they came off. NASA also pledged that any further information would be released through the "independent" panel.

The NASA charter for the panel has already been revised three times in incremental efforts to give the perception of independence from NASA. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has made all the appointments. In this writer's article of Feb. 8, it was pretty much established that the panel, as it was constituted then, was loaded with military brass with connections to the Air Force directed energy weapons programs.

It has been acknowledged that one of the experiments carried out on the Columbia was the release of two miniature satellites into space from the shuttle. Called "picosatellites" developed by defense contractor The Aerospace Corporation and funded by DARPA, they are the precursors of inspector satellites to spy on other full-size satellites.

A local sheriff in Texas has reported some of the shuttle debris recovered is radioactive. So far there has been no confirmation or denial from NASA. One science writer claims an experimental night vision multi-spectral telescope that was powered by a new isotope used in nuclear power named Americium -242 was used in the Columbia's orbiting around the earth to evaluate vapors in Iraq evidencing night-time disposal of chemical weapons material.

The panel has a momentous task to sort everything out and didn't really need the unnecessary controversies it has brought on itself (or been visited on it by O'Keefe's appointments).

For starters, a NASA spokesperson said O'Keefe appointed the panel the day after the Columbia crash. However, O'Keefe later told the press that the panel was in place before the Columbia tragedy as part of a contingency plan following the Challenger disaster.

Two appointments made over the weekend have stirred the pot. The first, Sheila E. Widnall, a MIT professor seemed innocuous enough although she is also a former Air Force Secretary in the Clinton administration. We now find that she also was a paid consultant to the Boeing Corporation. Boeing and its joint venture partner Lockheed Martin in United Space Alliance manage both the space station and shuttle programs. The joint venture is shielded from liability in the tragedy as NASA has indemnified it.

MIT and a spinoff (MITRE) are very much involved with the military space program. Widnall has been joined on the MIT faculty by John Deutch, former Director of the CIA and a Director of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and CitiGroup.

In 1959, MIT spun off its Lincoln Laboratory as a private company and renamed it MITRE. Its first Chairman of the Board of Trustees was H. Rowan Gaither.

"In the fall of 1953, Norman Dodd, Director of Research for the Reece Committee, was invited to the headquarters of the Ford Foundation by its president, H. Rowan Gaither (CFR).

According to Dodd, Gaither told him: "Mr. Dodd, all of us here at the policy-making level have had experience, either in O.S.S. or the European Economic Administration, with directives from the White House. We operate under those directives here. Would you like to know what those directives are?" Dodd replied that he would. Gaither said: "The substance of them is that we shall use our grant-making power so to alter our life in the United States that we can be comfortably merged with the Soviet Union."

MITRE has been involved in weapons development with the DOD since inception. Its first facility outside of Massachusetts was at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, home of the Air Force Space Command. MITRE also developed the unmanned planes the CIA is now using for reconnaissance (and assassination).

Most of the DOD appropriations for directed energy weapons go to the Air Force. However, the Department of Energy has played a large role in the research and development of the weapons. At least four of the department's 10 secret laboratories are involved in the general category of "directed energy" weapons. All ten of the labs are "GOCO's" that is government owned, contractor operated.

For instance, DOE's Sandia lab located at Kirtland Air Force Base is in the forefront of directed energy research and experimentation. It has a 23000 square meter building that houses the world's most powerful gamma simulator. It is capable of generating extremely short bursts of an electron beam of 13 trillion watts. It is used primarily for simulating the effects of prompt radiation from a nuclear burst on electronics and complete military systems. The contractor managing the Sandia lab is Lockheed Martin.

The Air Force operates 14 space weapons programs in space, and at least two ground based platforms including Sandia and the HAARP installation in Alaska masquerading as a scientific examination into the effects of high auroral activity on the ionosphere.

O'Keefe's second appointment over the weekend may be the most controversial. Roger Tetrault was supposed to quell criticism that the panel's members are too close to NASA. However, the Orlando Sentinel disclosed the day after his appointment that Tetrault is former Chairman and CEO of McDermott, International at the same time that O'Keefe was a director and member of the audit committee on a subsidiary, J. Ray McDermott of which Tetrault was also the chairman of the board.

Before becoming CEO of McDermott International, Tetrault was vice president of a McDermott subsidiary, Babcock and Wilcox, which made parts for the shuttles' solid rocket boosters.

Another McDermott subsidiary, BWXT is the sole supplier of nuclear fuel for the U.S. Navy and for research and test reactor fuel for DOE's national laboratories. It also processes enriched uranium. In partnership with Bechtel National, Inc. it manages the DOE's Oak Ridge uranium enrichment operation. Another joint venture of McDermott International (DynMcDermott) with DynCorp has for the last nine years, and will for the next five years, manage the DOE's U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

In 1999, during O'Keefe and Tetrault's tenure at J. Ray McDermott, former vice-president Littleton Edwards Walker pled guilty to one felony count of bid rigging. On May 16, 2000, the former president of the company, Michael Harless Lam, was indicted on one count of conspiracy in bid rigging and two counts of mail fraud. As far as this writer can determine, the above is the first mention in the media of the guilty plea and indictment in relation to O'Keefe and Tetrault's involvement with NASA or the Columbia investigation. But you can bet it won't be the last.


(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Permission is granted to reproduce this article in its entirety.

The author is a freelance writer based in Romulus, Michigan. He is a former newspaper editor and investigative reporter, a retired customs administrator and accountant, and a student of history and the U.S. Constitution.

If you would like to receive Medium Rare articles directly, please contact the author at

  21st Century Radio-HOME

Hieronimus & Co., Inc., P.O. Box 648, Owings Mills, MD 21117 USA
Voice Mail: (410) 356-4852 Fax: (410) 356-6229