Skip to comments.The Hole in NASA’s Safety Culture - Latest test illustrates dangers of agency’s assumptions
Posted on 07/10/2003 2:32:27 PM PDT by anymouse
The foam impact test on Monday that left a gaping hole in a simulated space shuttle wing also graphically unveiled the gaping hole in NASAs safety culture. Even without any test data to support them, NASAs best engineers who were examining potential damage from the foam impact during Columbias launch made convenient assumptions. Nobody in the NASA management chain ever asked any tough questions about the justification for these feel-good fantasies.
THE SHOCKING FLAW was just another incarnation of the most dangerous of safety delusions that in the absence of contrary indicators, it is permissible to assume that a critical system is safe, even if it hasnt been proved so by rigorous testing. The absence of evidence for the absence of safety, so this delusion goes, is adequate proof of the presence of safety.
In the past, the shuttle Challenger was lost in 1986, and four Mars probes vanished in 1999, and Hubbles mirror was ground wrong, for exactly this reason. And again, this new test tells us, the NASA culture forgot how dangerous this delusion could be.
Nor could the CAIB investigators find any evidence that for all the safety teams and hazard analyses, anyone had asked for proof that the RCC could withstand a fairly typical foam fragment hitting it during launch. Instead, in the absence of evidence that it could not evidence that showed up Monday, but that NASA had never before sought the convenient assumption of it must be safe carried the day.
The Columbia astronauts were never given the chance to try to fill the hole in their wing with repair materials and make a desperate plunge back to Earth. Now NASA is confronted with unavoidable proof of an even more appalling hole in its safety culture. Until it finds reliable, perpetual ways to patch that gap in the minds of every space worker, the avoidable hazards that have cost so much in lives, treasure and time will still threaten new disasters.
James Oberg, space analyst for NBC News, spent 22 years at the Johnson Space Center as a Mission Control operator and an orbital designer.
The horse orders a beer.
A few minutes later, John Kerry walks in and sits at the bar. The bartender walks up and says "Hey pal, cheer up. Why the long face?"
I'll stop if you guys will donate and get us over our fundraising goal
For the space workers - most of them highly dedicated - drowning (career-wise) is the likely reward for rocking the boat.
You learn early on that to get along, you have to go along.
The blond "diversity" manager that intimidated the analysts into muting their concerns has resigned. None the less they have still hung the analysts out to dry for not speaking up louder. Nothing has changed since Roger Bijosley was screwed by Thikol. Enforce the group think and kill the messager.
I followed a lot of Columbia-related threads after it burned up. I seem to remember that there were no repair materials on board, and that they were not set up to do any space-walking to apply them if they had been on board.
Also, I remember various posts about how tiles and such were attached and how (supposedly) a repair in space wouldnt have been possible assuming you had the materials and the means to get to the damaged area.
Evidently I missed something somewhere along the line because he is making it sound like a repair would have been possible.
But the managers at NASA did what managers do best: hope nothing bad happens that can be blamed on them. And as usual, it was the workers who died.
Slight correction. There were some contractor engineers (NASA considers all contractors "junior" to themselves) at Kennedy Space Center who were worried about the foam hit, but were over-ruled by NASA management at Houston.
Sometimes you don't.
Something to think about: We now have data from 40% of the shuttle fleet that says the "safe" operational lifetime of an orbiter is less than 30 flights. Anybody know how many flights on each of the remaining 3 orbiters?...
And we wasted decades on 'design studies' for replacing the Shuttle, with nothing but paper, time, and money wasted.
Another long overdue improvement: SLI engineers have eliminated the delicate and precarious heat-resistant tile system. Instead, they use lightweight "shingles" with nickel-alloy skins over ceramic-fiber insulating blankets to protect the orbiter and upper-stage boosters from the dangers of reentry. Unlike brittle tiles, the metal-skinned shingles can be bolted securely to the airframe.
Why not just fire up the assembly plants and do an updated derivative of the existing shuttle orbiter, with all-new avionics, using a titanium fuselage (with the enormous weight savings), and an ejectable crew cabin (re-entry-survivable) cabin with its own parachute system...and use this new-fangled Thermal Protection System approach throughout?
How soon could we get some hardware?