Report of the PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident


Appendix B: Commission Documentation System.




[214] One of the Commission's initial concerns was to make certain that Commission members and staff would have ready access to the tens of thousands of pages of technical information, hearing transcripts, witness interviews, and correspondence relating to the Challenger accident. Several aspects of the investigation made gathering, controlling, and cataloging such information a formidable task. One was the massive volume of information collected. In addition, the fairly short response time required of the Commission made it imperative that all information be immediately and completely accessible. Finally, the Commission needed to make sure that it could account for and retrieve every piece of information that it collected and generated.

To address those issues, the Commission enlisted the support of the Justice Department's Office of Litigation Support, Civil Division.

With existing capabilities, the Office of Litigation Support mounted a rigorous cataloging effort, developed and implemented a document control system, created the automated data bases, and established a Commission documents Support Center for document processing and research activities.

The resulting system enabled the Commission to manage the volume and assortment of information received and generated in the course of the investigation, and provided Commission staff with rapid access to needed information. The system was designed to enable access to either hard copy or microfilm for future research after the Commission completed its work.

The Commission was able to meet its commitment to ensuring the integrity of this extensive collection of information; all information pertaining to the investigation can be easily located and its origin readily traced.


The Commission Information Management System

The Commission developed procedures to assure that it received all documents requested from NASA and other sources and that all documents and other correspondence were properly processed.


Document Control

The Commission had control procedures and systems to track all types of documents relevant to the investigation. Specific procedures were used to process (1) Commission requests for information from NASA, and NASA's responses; (2) NASA Task Force Reports; (3) other correspondence to and from the Commission; (4) other documents obtained by the Commission; and (5) reports and transcripts generated by the commission.

The document control system ensured that all requests, documents, transcript and interview tapes, and other source materials were properly accounted for, and became part of the Commission's permanent records and data base.


Documents Requested from NASA

Most documents relevant to the investigation came directly from NASA in response to Commission requests. The Commission requested documents from NASA in writing or verbally at [215] hearings. The Commission followed up verbal requests with written requests.

To handle the flow of paper, the Commission assigned a staff member to be document coordinator. The document coordinator assigned every written request a unique control number. The number identified the date of the request and its order of occurrence on that date.

NASA set up a complementary system. The NASA coordinator received and logged Commission request letters, assigned unique NASA tracking numbers to each item or group of documents requested, and followed up to ensure that NASA staff responded promptly and fully.

When documents were received from NASA corresponding to each numbered request, one copy of each was sent to the Support Center for microfilming, analysis (coding), and inclusion in the computer data base.



Each individual piece of nonpersonal mail arriving at the Commission was assigned a correspondence control number. Technical staff evaluated correspondence for investigative value. On a microcomputer-based system, staff captured critical information about each correspondence item, including correspondence control number, date of receipt, addressee, author, type of correspondence, and response date and type.


Other Documents

The Commission also received many documents other than those requested from NASA. These included relevant materials that Commission members themselves had gathered or generated, those from NASA and from the various NASA contractors as a result of Commission investigative activities, and incoming correspondence that staff decided would be of use to the investigation. These documents were also entered into the Commission's data base, and relevant correspondence was also entered into the microcomputer tracking system.


Transcripts and Commission-Generated Documents

The Commission used a court reporting firm to transcribe hearings, interviews, and meetings. The firm created magnetic computer tapes with the full text of the transcripts and delivered the tapes to be loaded into the computer data base.

The firm also provided hard copies of the transcripts to all participants of the hearing, interview, or meeting so that they could correct any mistakes made in transcription.

Quick entry of the transcripts into the data base allowed timely search of transcript records on a word-by-word basis.


Processing of Documents and Tapes by the Support Center

As described in the previous section on document control, the Commission forwarded most documents to the Support Center for microfilming, coding, inclusion in the computer data base, and filing in the library. These documents included NASA reports and documents, selected correspondence, and other documents received by the Commission.


Assignment of Control Numbers

When the Support Center received a document, Center staff immediately applied a unique preliminary control (PC) number to each page of the document. This number was a sequential number to indicate where the original copy of the document would be located in the library files.



After control identifiers were assigned, Center staff microfilmed the document and placed the original hard copy in the library. The Center made daily deliveries of completed microfilm reels to the microfilm processing facility, which produced two copies of each reel.

The Support Center maintained one copy in the microfilm library, and used it to respond to information requests from Commission members and staff.

The second copy was used to produce hard copies of the documents for coding purposes.


Coding and Data Entry of Microfilmed Documents

The purpose of coding was to develop a comprehensive computerized index of all microfilmed documents. Using hard copies produced from microfilm, each document was reviewed and bibliographic, control, and subject matter information was recorded on a coding form designed specifically for the Commission investigation.

The bibliographic information included items such as document title and date, and names and organizations of people mentioned in the documents. The control information included the [216] preliminary control number, microfilm number and other information useful in identifying and locating documents.

To capture information on subject matter, coders read each document and noted what subjects were mentioned. The coders used a list of "subject terms" developed specifically for Commission purposes. Each subject term had a unique six-character identifier. Every document was assigned at least one such subject code. Documents that covered many subjects were assigned multiple codes.

Data entry operators keyed the index information from the completed coding forms onto magnetic tape to be loaded into the computer data base.

From the date a document was received, it was microfilmed, filed in the hard copy and microfilm libraries, coded, and entered on the computer data base within one week. Throughout the process, there were numerous quality checks to ensure the readability of the microfilm, the accuracy of the document coding, and the overall integrity of the data base.


Creation and Data Entry of Index Information from Transcripts and Commission Generated Documents

For the Commission generated documents and the transcripts, index information was captured and entered into the computer. This information included date of the hearing or report; names of all attendees, Commission members or witnesses; and other cross-reference data.

The index information was added to the fulltext versions on the magnetic computer tapes, and loaded into the computer data base.


Creation of the Computer Data Base

Through the processes described above, the Commission created two computer data bases. The first-called the document data base, named INQUIRE-contained the index (bibliographic, control, and subject matter information) of all microfilmed documents, representing more than 100,000 pages.

The second-called the full-text data base, named JURIS-contained the full text of (1) transcripts of all Commission hearings, interviews, and panel meetings; and (2) Commission reports, hearing digests, and affidavits.



Documents and Microfilm

As noted above, the Support Center maintained libraries of Commission documents.

One contained the microfilmed versions of the more than 122,000 pages of materials indexed on the document data base. The microfilm was filed by reel number and cross-referenced to the preliminary control number assigned to the original hard copy of each document. Microfilmed documents could be quickly located through the computer search capability and hard copies printed, if desired.

The second library contained hard copies of transcripts and other Commission generated documents (those documents stored in the fulltext data base), plus the originals of the microfilmed documents, which could be located by using the preliminary control number.


Other Materials

The Commission also maintained a library of video tapes of presentations, hearings, photographic and film records relating to the accident itself, and the salvage operations. These tapes were filed chronologically by date received and labeled according to subject. Use of these materials was controlled through a library checkout system.

Audio tapes of interviews were labeled and maintained at the Support Center. These were filed chronologically by interview date and controlled through a library check-out system.


Use of the Data Bases

The Support Center provided personnel to perform searches of both the document data base (INQUIRE) and the full-text data base JURIS). Access to INQUIRE and JURIS was gained from terminals at the Support Center and the Commission offices.

Detailed information on the use of these systems is available in the following OLS documentation: "INQUIRE Users Manual," "JURIS Users Manual," and "Challenger Data Bases-Sample Searches for JURIS and INQUIRE. "


[217] The Document Data Base Accessible Through INQUIRE

The INQUIRE system allowed rapid retrieval and review of the index information that constituted the document data base.

Users who wanted to locate documents on a particular subject (such as O-ring erosion) could search the document data base using the bibliographic information or subject codes captured for each document. INQUIRE provided a listing of all documents matching the criteria specified in the search. The user could then decide which of the listed documents would be useful and, using the document number provided, obtain a copy of the document from the library.

The user could ask INQUIRE to list a variety of information on selected documents, including the preliminary control number (used to locate the material in the library), date, title, and document type. INQUIRE could also print all the subject terms associated with each selected document (not just the subject term(s) that matched the search criteria), and all the names mentioned in the text. Users could also choose the order in which INQUIRE listed the documents (e. g., chronologically by document date, alphabetically by author name, or numerically by document number).


The Full-Text Data Base Accessible Through JURIS

The Department of Justice developed JURIS specifically for retrieval of full-text information, and designed it for easy use by nontechnical personnel. Users could ask JURIS to locate all documents containing specific words or phrases. Users could specify multiple words or phrases, and could include index information as one of the search criteria. Users could request that JURIS print a list of documents that were selected, or print the full text of the documents.


Final Disposition of Commission Report and Investigation-Related Materials

The entire collection of documents and microfilm is permanently housed in the National Archives. In addition, several different indices and other supporting documentation were compiled to assist historians and others in using and gaining access to this large and very important collection.

These materials were provided to the National Archives in accordance with the procedures described in FPMR 101-1 1 .4, "General Records Schedules," published by the National Archives and Records Administration, and specifically Schedule 24 which focuses on "Temporary Commissions, Committees, and Boards Records."


Materials Provided

The following materials were turned over to the Archives at the conclusion of the investigation:


Public Access

To gain access to the Commission's documents, requests can be made to:

Office of National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration
Washington, DC 20408

link to the previous pagelink to the index pagelink to the next page