Apollo 7's Walt Cunningham speaks out on risk-aversion.

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Jack Briggs, May 19, 2003.

  1. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    In the disturbing wake of legendary spacecraft designer Max Faget's call for the immediate retiring of the Space Transportation System while a successor vehicle is worked on, Apollo 7 astronaut Walter M. Cunningham has written a rousing editorial that reminds everyone of an inescapable fact: Pushing back a frontier involves risk and the loss of life. And space is the most daunting challenge in human history.

    Cunningham has decried this country's increasing aversion to taking risks and going out on the edge before, in print and on television. More would do well to heed his words:

    http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.ht...utlook/1912025
     
  2. John Miles

    John Miles Stunt Coordinator

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    The problem with the STS program isn't risk prioritization, failure margin, or any other buzzwords. Rather, the whole concept is flawed by the presence of copious amounts of stupid sh*t. Like:

     
  3. Brian Perry

    Brian Perry Cinematographer

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    I'm not sure that risk-aversion is a major reason for wanting to shut down the shuttle. While the loss of seven astronauts is tragic, it's small in the grand scheme of things. (And there would be many lined up to try future missions, despite the risks.)

    NASA needs to do a better job of promoting the benefits of space exploration (or the risks of not exploring). Imagine someone advocating that we ban automobiles, or lower the speed limit to 10 mph. Clearly, doing so would result in virtually no car-related deaths. Fortunately, most people understand the bigger picture of why the risks of car travel are outweighed by the benefits.

    If NASA could convince the public (and congress) that X-amount of space-budget would result in Y-amount of benefits, I think we would easily tolerate a certain number of deaths. There's no reason NASA should be held to a "no-death" policy, when just about every other serious endeavor involves casualties.
     
  4. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    It is inescapable that any endeavor will have risks. When dealing with space flight in particular, there will never be a system without risks, and many of those risks will be potentially fatal. You can never predict all failures, and even the ones you can predict can't always be avoided. There are always going to be situations where if event A happens, you're boned, and we can't guarantee that event A will never happen.

    Space flight is hard, the consequences are extreme, and people are going to die. When the inevitable happens, you've got to be prepared to get the mourning done and try to add up the lessons learned so that future flight is somewhat safer.

    No new vehicle is going to be significantly safer than the Shuttle. The view that the orbiters are inherently flawed and that we need to "do it right" is just a fantasy. Any new vehicle will be loaded with the same political hobbles and compromises, the same trade-offs of cost vs. reliability, and will still have a fault tree that has multiple scenarios of "event A = boned". We can't afford a risk-free vehicle. It would never leave the CAD screen. The fact is that we CAN'T do it faster, better, cheaper, and safer. Not by a long shot. You can pick maybe two of the four, and forget the other two.

    The REAL stupid shit that adds flaw to the shuttle system is congressional interference:

    NASA: "We want widgets A and B to power our vehicle"
    Congressman: "There's a company in my district the makes widget C, use that"
    NASA: "No, widget C costs more, performs worse, and is less safe"
    Congressman: "I'm paying your budget, so you'll use widget C and like it, or no funding"

    And thus you get solid rocket boosters.

    With the given constraints, the best available technology and engineering were used in the orbiters. Items like the no raindrop requirements seem silly but are taken way out of context. Remember that the tile system is just that: tiles. Many, many tiles. Tiles that have edges where water could wick into the interstitial material. Water behind or between tiles adds weight and will freeze on orbit and pop tiles off their adhesive base. Thus you don't want them to be rained on.

    Space vehicles aren't like your car. An engine glitch in your car means you pull over and call AAA. An engine glitch in a spacecraft means you die. The crews know it. And that won't change for the next generation of vehicles, or the generation after that. There's no magic "starting over" to solve the problems that are seen with 25 years of hindsight. You have to just make the best of what you have, and never take the safety of any launch for granted.

    Andy
     
  5. Yee-Ming

    Yee-Ming Producer

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  6. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Cunningham shouldn't worry too much. The competitors for the X-Prize will eventually prove that it is possible to build a better space vehicle without sinking an incredible amount of money into the project. Maybe it's time for NASA and the politicians to step aside and allow these more daring space pioneers to accomplish the job at hand.
     
  7. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    There is a very huge gap between the goals of the X-prize and the goals of NASA. As I said above, any vehicle, no matter who builds it, will have the same political and technological baggage attached to it as the Shuttle. Nobody working on the X-prize is going to build a Shuttle replacement. And if they did, they'd eventually look exactly like the contractors working on Shuttle. It's a factor of the complexity of the task. Building and flying a vehicle that can deliver 60,000 lbs to LEO with seven people aboard, and do it for years, is a far cry from lobbing 3 people over the 60 mile mark. Not a valid comparison.

    Yee-Ming,

    Yes, aircraft are inherently safer than spacecraft. It's a function of the huge number of flights that have contributed to the safety knowledge base and the far less rigorous environment that planes have to deal with. If you must make an airplane analogy, then our current understanding of spaceflight is at the level of pre-supersonic jet airplane research. They knew where they wanted to go, but the extremes of the environment and the limited knowledge base of jets and high speed flight worked against them. In time, as we build our knowledge base and technology advances to really take advantage of that knowledge, space travel will become much safer. Right now, every flight has the dangers of a test flight.

    It's very common for the public to cast NASA as the Keystone Kops, fumbling around, not doing the job that SHOULD be done. Well, it can't be done any differently, not now, not with our current knowledge. The state of the art is still relatively primitive and expensive. To do anything with manned spaceflight requires the necessary evil of a government bureaucracy to fund the projects. No private company is going to do it. Both of the largest contractors have tried and failed. They just couldn't afford it.
     
  8. Julie K

    Julie K Screenwriter

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  9. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    Dropping back to the original Cunningham article, here's an example of why you should never believe what you read at face value, and that even experts are sometimes wrong. The quote

     
  10. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    From an Op/Ed piece in today's Washington Times:

    http://washingtontimes.com/op-ed/200...4908-2028r.htm

    In calling for manned spaceflight to made a priority in Washington, the editorial ignores the reality: The American electorate may like the idea of having a strong manned space program, but it doesn't like the idea of having to pay for it. Unfortunately.

    So, except for those congressional districts that benefit from the presence of a NASA facility or a NASA contractor, there just won't be much support for re-engergizing the manned space effort. Yet, if we run at subsistence level indefinitely the program is compromised beyond the breaking point.

    In other words, damned if you do and damned if you don't.

    Julie has a good point, too: A public so saturated with Hollywood's wildly unrealistic space fantasies (spaceships that go "whoosh" in the void and make aerobatic maneuvers in space while traversing interstellar distances in just minutes) has become inured to where we truly are in real life. This also makes for a fertile cultural breeding ground capable of accommodating and tolerating such indulgences as Fox's sensationalist "faked Moon landing" "exposes."

    Fantasy trumps reality, and we all lose.
     

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