Skip to comments.Post-Columbia NASA Hunkers Down - Officials’ view of shortcomings is a bad omen for future clash
Posted on 07/24/2003 11:15:26 AM PDT by anymouse
NASA spaceflight operations officials argued Tuesday that the loss of the space shuttle Columbia was nobodys fault, and that they couldnt have done anything wrong because of their pure intentions. They couldnt think of anything they did wrong, but they also promised to do better in the future.
THESE COMMENTS come as part of NASAs hunkering down in anticipation of being seriously skewered by the report now being written by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The group, often referred to as the Gehman Committee after the retired admiral who chairs it, has already issued its technical explanation of the loss of Columbia and its seven astronauts on Feb. 1. The main thrust of their other report, due for release by the end of August, will be how NASAs culture allowed the disaster to happen.
But when it came time to assess the hazard of foam impact on the special high-temperature leading-edge panels the reinforced carbon-carbon, or RCC they had no test data, no analysis tools, no database of flight experience. So they just guessed. They assumed it would be OK. And NASA officials particularly Linda Ham, who was in charge of that meeting let them get away with it.
Their presentation had stated that the RCC panels were even stronger than tiles because of the relative softness of [foam]. Thus they concluded that RCC damage [is] limited to [loss of] coating based on soft [foam]. The conclusion wasnt based on any analysis or actual testing NASA had never done any foam impacts on RCC. The engineers just guessed that foam, being soft, couldnt even at 500 mph (800 kilometers per hour) hurt the quarter-inch-thick (5-millimeter-thick) RCC panels. Unlike the shuttles tiles, which are supported under their entire area by aluminum skin, the RCC panels were supported only by bolts at their corners.
VETERANS VENT THEIR OUTRAGE
Old-timers from Apollo days have privately expressed outrage at this misjudgment, and at Hams (and all other officials) acquiescence to the guess.
Kraft or Kranz would never have let it go by, one of them told MSNBC.com by e-mail, referring to the legendary Apollo-era flight directors Christopher Kraft and Gene Kranz. They would have demanded to know on what basis this impact was considered safe or demanded a way to determine whether there was any damage or not.
But the new generation of officials at NASA disclaimed any responsibility for requiring such proof.
None of us felt that the analysis was faulty, Ham said Tuesday. We do rely on the systems experts. That is the way that we operate.
The Apollo veterans do not allege that officials should have known in advance that such fatal damage had occurred on this flight. They do point out that the traditional NASA safety culture assume the worst until you have rigorously proven that its safe would have at the very least demanded that officials make efforts to assure themselves that no such damage had actually been done. Instead, they simply and conveniently assumed that such damage was impossible.
Even at Tuesdays roundtable, the officials saw nothing wrong in their decisions. I dont believe anyone is at fault for this, said Ham. Engelauf and Cain agreed: Their decisions were based on the best available data and analysis at the time.
The officials also said they thought it was important that they had good intentions and tried hard. Well, it goes without saying that we were all trying to do the right thing, Ham said. Nobody wanted to do any harm to anyone. Obviously, nobody wants to hurt the crew.
Engelauf went further, bristling at an imagined insult. Its unconscionable to me that people can attribute to the members of the MMT or the flight control team or the rest of the folks during these missions anything other than the best of intentions, he said. These are people of good conscience doing everything in their power to get the right answers. This is what we do for a living.
We lost the crew and we lost the vehicle, he conceded, ... but it is not because of lack of good intent or lack of effort on anybodys part. ... Its really difficult to me to attribute blame to any individual personalities or people. We can find mistakes in analyses and we can find places where we werent good enough. But its not because of malice or ill intent.
KNOWING WHATS BROKEN
None of the outside experts who talked with MSNBC.com suggested that these officials had anything but the best intentions. But they suspect that perhaps the officials confused good intentions with good judgment.
At the point that the officials made these mistakes, it may well have been too late to save the crew. But these officials all agreed that had they known about the severity of the damage (while excusing themselves of their responsibility to make a reliable determination of that severity), they would literally have moved heaven and earth to develop a rescue or makeshift repair plan.
This obsession with after-the-fact justification of the decisions or the lack of required decisions that led to the loss of the crew is a bad omen for the imminent clash with the Gehman Committees diagnosis of what is wrong inside NASAs culture and what must be fixed. Fixing something requires knowledge that it is broken, whether its a spaceship wing, or a space culture. NASAs shortsightedness in not recognizing how badly broken Columbia was gave them no chance to fix it, and seven people died. Officials at NASA seem equally unable to see whats broken about their own culture. Until they recognize it, its equally unlikely theyll be able to fix that flaw, either.
James Oberg, space analyst for NBC News, spent 22 years at the Johnson Space Center as a Mission Control operator and an orbital designer.
(Excerpt) Read more at msnbc.com ...
Way to go, Oberg. We know karma is unaffected by intention. The action counts, nothing else matters.
Results matter, NASA. You didn't want to kill the astronauts?
Page One news. NOT.
Both these guys are class acts.
There was a time when this sort of thing ended careers. What you feel is moot, what you know and what happens counts.
Now, all we care about is subjectives like sincerity and intentions.
No wonder NASA thinks getting off the ground qualifies as an eighth wonder of the world. They are midgets standing on the shoulders of giants imagining themselves to be giants. Without the foundation and framework laid down by their predecessors, they would have as much chance of getting to space as an eighth grade B-team has of winning the superbowl.
"Aviation in and of itself, is not inherently dangerous. But, to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."
This philosophy would never get anyone close to the moon. It would not even get anyone safely airborne above their belly button.
This is indicative of a design philosophy that came into vogue during the '80s IMHO, in which development time and costs were cut via cutting safety and system testing, effectively letting the customer be the beta tester. This philosophy has a proven track record for companies such as Microsoft, but then no one proposed using DOS or Windows to control anything life-critical on the order of shuttle flights or nuclear reactors.
It definitely represents IMHO a change in design philosophy, and a change for the worse.
TLBSHOW can be found in the Valley of the Damned/Banned at Liberty Post
Bill Readdy promulgated a letter last week to shore up the troops. It essentially said, "Don't be defensive. Do your job and lets get on with the process." The whole tone of the letter was defensive. Anybody see anything wrong with this picture?
Posted by dasboot to dtel
On News/Activism 02/06/2003 8:09 AM EST #24 of 54
They knew that there were problems with impact damage from foam and/or ice tearing off. They knew that there was some amount of damage that could be tolerated.
They knew that there was an amount of damage that , dependent upon location and depth, would possibly doom the re-entry.
They knew that in order to initiate abort (acknowledged to be risky , but safer that re-entry with compromised heat-shielding), the damage would have to be assessed, real-time, pre-orbit.
And finally, I understand they knew that significant damage to the tiles would be indicated by white areas where the hard surface had been shed.
The simple and obvious solution is to place monitoring cameras on the tank-struts, facing the underside of the vehicle, hard-wired to the cockpit, and visible to the ommander and pilot, who can then make the decision to continue to orbit or abort, based upon something better than guess-work and wishful thinking. The determination then rests where it should: with the commander and pilot.
They don't know for certain what brought the thing down; and because of this goof, we may never know.
Can anyone tell me that the solution was beyond the reasonable consideration or discovery of the NASA Brain Trust?
Can anyone tell me that cameras were impossible? I've seen film of launches, taken by just such "fisheye" cameras, that were mounted on the exterior of Saturn rockets, right in the slipstream.
Can anyone tell me that this kind of mistake would have been given a pass by the early NASA pilots?
Bad. Very bad.
With a little foresight, this thing might have been avoided, the crew and vehilce saved, if indeed the tiles were the cause. At least the commander and pilot would have been given a fair shot at recovering themselves.
I don't think it matters a whit what the cause was, with regard to the poor quality of mission ops.
Sprites, elfs, and metiorites are acts of God; the fact that they couldn't assess the space-worthiness of the vehicle--in light of what was known before-hand--is, I think, inexcusable.
One last thing: a few are discounting the force with which 'exfoliated' foam or ice could have on the tiles because of the relative velocity and short distance to the wing. But I want you to think about the last time you were doing 65 on the highway, and a sheet of ice lifted from the hood of your car and smacked the windshield. Very short distance; same relative velocity; big bang, and sometimes a cracked windshield.
Liberty Post?? Pretender to FR?
Sounds like the PC pablem that current generations are being spoon fed in our public school systems. As demonstrated by this trajedy, good intentions will get you killed in space flight.
BTW , you did notice the "Debris" post was from February? A few folks on that and other threads, were poo-pooing about the foam, and defending the McEngineers in the current program. I feel a little vindicated. Pardon the 'I told you so."
Back in a while to respond.