The panel investigating the loss of the space shuttle Columbia will add three members, including Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, in an effort to bolster its expertise and independence from NASA, officials said Wednesday.
The other new members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board will be Douglas Osheroff, professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford University, and John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.
Retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., the board's chairman, requested the new positions. NASA officials said Wednesday that agency Administrator Sean O'Keefe was expected to agree with the appointments.
The additions will bring the number of board members to 13.
More important, officials said, the move will bring new expertise, particularly in physics. And it will allow the board to distance itself -- even with the addition of Ride, one of the most prominent astronauts in recent years -- from NASA.
The investigative board was appointed by NASA and will ultimately report back to the space agency. Most of its members have long ties to the military and the aerospace community, leading to concerns within Congress and elsewhere that it cannot conduct a truly independent investigation.
The issue came to a head last week when Gehman asked O'Keefe to remove top shuttle program officials from the investigation. Gehman said he couldn't stomach having "investigators investigating themselves," and O'Keefe, after initially bristling at the suggestion, agreed to make the personnel moves.
Logsdon is expected to quickly become a prominent voice on the board, largely because he has fewer roots in government than any of the other members.
Logsdon has served on NASA advisory panels and on a presidential space commission during the Reagan administration but has never held a formal government post.
Logsdon has been a faculty member at George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs since 1970. He has done extensive research on the policy and history of space travel, and he recently wrote the entry on "space exploration" for the new edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.
"I think I can bring a historical perspective or consciousness to the proceedings, which the other members do not have," Logsdon said Wednesday night. "I have spent a career of over 30 years in an independent position looking at this program."
Logsdon declined to discuss the investigation in detail but said it will be important to wrap it up as quickly as possible. NASA's fleet of three remaining space shuttles was grounded after the Columbia disintegrated Feb. 1, killing its seven crew members.
"The sooner we get the technical solution in hand and we understand what it will take to get the shuttle flying again, the better off we will all be," Logsdon said.
Ride and Osheroff could not be reached for comment.
Ride became the first American woman in space when she served as an astronaut aboard the shuttle Challenger in 1983.
She is a professor of space science at UC San Diego but has been on leave for more than two years while tackling a variety of education and outreach projects.
Ride has been instrumental in the development of NASA's Earthkam project, which enables students to maneuver cameras aboard the international space station and take photos of Earth.
She has also launched a program encouraging students, particularly girls, to study the sciences.
Osheroff shared the 1996 Nobel Prize in physics with two colleagues from Cornell University. The trio discovered a liquid that flows virtually immune from friction, which may eventually help researchers figure out how to bring alive the theory of superconductivity.
Aides said Gehman also plans to replace ex-officio, nonvoting board member Bryan O'Connor with Michael J. Bloomfield, NASA's chief astronaut instructor and a veteran of three shuttle missions.