Skip to comments.Flawed NASA Culture Blamed for Columbia Disaster
Posted on 08/26/2003 7:46:45 AM PDT by Fali_G
WASHINGTON A flawed NASA culture is to blame for the Columbia shuttle disaster, according to a detailed, 200-plus-page report released Tuesday.
Earlier Tuesday, NASA (search) leaders were bracing for a storm of criticism.
"The report is going to be embarrassing," physics professor Robert Park of the University of Maryland told Fox News.
Space shuttle Columbia broke into pieces on Feb. 1 upon return into the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
Members of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (search) completed the report late last week after spending seven months probing the technical facts of the space tragedy and interviewing scores of engineers and other space workers to attach the fundamental blame.
"The language is frank and direct and there may be some surprises," John Logsdon, a CAIB board member, said Monday.
Sean O'Keefe (search), who heads the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, warned space workers earlier this summer that they should prepare themselves for a report that will be "really ugly" as it outlines flawed engineering decisions that led to the destruction of Columbia as it returned to Earth following a 16-day mission.
O'Keefe said Monday that the report "is going to have no fuzz on it, no gloves. It is going to be straightforward." To prop up morale, the NASA administrator said he was telling space workers "we need to not be defensive about that and try to not take it as a personal affront."
Retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., the CAIB chairman, said about half of the report would deal with management and engineering decisions that failed to prevent the accident. Included was an analysis of flaws in NASA traditions and processes that might have contributed, according to those familiar with the report.
"There has been a subtle change at NASA," Park told Fox, adding that in the control room at the time of the accident he'd been told that "there were no NASA employees. It was all contractors."
Lawmakers are now faced with the decision of what to do about NASA's funding and whether the space shuttle program should go on. Astronauts and family members of the seven who died aboard Columbia say that in spite of the dangers, they want the shuttle to keep flying.
"There are a lot of things that are worth risking your life for," Apollo astronaut Walter Cunningham told Fox News.
Most of the work of the investigation board has been in the open, with members conducting frequent public hearings and news conferences. Gehman followed his plan of releasing information as it became known and the board weeks ago announced its "working scenario" of the physical facts of Columbia's loss.
The board concluded that Columbia came apart because there was a break in a heat shield panel on the craft's left wing. The friction heat of re-entry, soaring to 3,000 degrees, penetrated the wing and shattered the craft.
Tests suggested that the heat shield was broken by a lightweight chunk of foam insulation that ripped off the shuttle's external fuel tank and smashed the wing at high speed during launch.
Although the foam impact was captured on film, engineers evaluating the issue concluded it represented no threat to the spacecraft. Managers did not ask for spy satellite pictures that could have given information on the damage even though some lower-level engineers requested it.
The conclusions came after the 13-member board examined the key parts of some 84,000 pieces of the shuttle, including an on-board data recorder, that were recovered by thousands of workers who spent weeks scouring forest lands in Texas and Louisiana. Experts on the board used sensor data signals and charred remnants to trace the searing path of re-entry heat that tore through Columbia's wing and melted it from the inside.
To test their theory, members of the board directed experiments that fired chunks of foam insulation at a mock-up of the space shuttle wing. One high-speed collision smashed a 16-inch hole and some board members called it "the smoking gun" of Columbia's destruction.
During its investigation, the CAIB issued preliminary recommendations that NASA should follow before returning to space. These included developing a way to repair damaged heat shield panels while the shuttle is in orbit, improved photos of the craft during launch, the routine use of pictures of orbiting space shuttles taken by some of the nation's spy satellites, and a sharper system of inspections to detect flawed or failing parts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Wasting taxpayers' money must be one of them.
There are times when I just want to rip a reporter's lungs out. This report should be a major embarassment to NASA employees, but the management structure and "some" engineers, their lack of professional attention to the matter of the foam strikes on the shuttle are the problem here, not the rank and file NASA employees.
We have a serious issue here. Instead of talking about it in adult terms, we see this nitwit reference "space workers", a term clearly used to place the whole of NASA into an admired untouchable group, almost angelic and clearly incapable of being judged too harshly should the report actually warrant it.
These are NASA employees. That's the way we have referenced them for thirty years, or at least since the name change, whenever that took place. That's the way they should be referenced here. No need to coin a new manipulative term.
Already this morning I've seen reference to the families of the lost crew, saying above all else they support the continued presence of men in space. Well shezam, there's a news flash. This isn't about that. This is about making sure people are held accountable for their negligence and the example is set so that this level of complacence never again costs the lives of seven "space workers".
The manipulators will be out in full force today.
The problem with NASA is so large it is hard to explain it.
They don't design spacecraft, they design artillery and man-rate it. Over the last thirty years, every failed effort from NASA has followed that paradigm.
Their greatest failure has been the inability to be the catalyst for a thriving space industry. Instead they have been a wet blanket.
The Challenger and Columbia accidents are but two symptoms of a bureaucracy in its dotage.
You win again!
All roads lead back to r12, which the original foam & it's adhesive was based on(a known perfect product was replaced by a known inferior product to support the Freon scam, end of story...., or maybe a beginning?)