STS-107: the CAIB report, the future, and commitment.

Discussion in 'After Hours Lounge (Off Topic)' started by Jack Briggs, Aug 28, 2003.

  1. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Having only read the first chapter of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's 248-page report, I can at least say it is a very well-written document. I am looking forward to reading the entire thing this weekend.

    There is a much more "connected-to-program's-goals" feel to Admiral Gehman's report (as well as to his commission) than there was to the report produced by the 1986 Rogers Commission that explored the causes of STS-51L's catastrophic failure.

    Yet, in this new report on our most recent tragedy, it would be nice to see more focus on the root causes of NASA's current anorexia: the indifferent controllers of the agency's purse strings. It is not NASA that lacks vision; it's those who oversee its financial health who lack an understanding of what the ultimate purpose of a manned spaceflight program should be.

    This is not something that can be done on the cheap. Not yet, at least.

    But, for those here who would like to get the ball rolling and talk about where to go from here, I offer the following editorial from today's Wall Street Journal:

    When traveling, it's best to have a destination.
     
  2. Ashley Seymour

    Ashley Seymour Supporting Actor

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    Between the two shuttle crashes, we have been under two different administrations. It seems there is no impetus for either party to make a push to go to Mars, let alone the Moon or a space station.

    The one constant is that a government bureaucracy has oversight of the space program. "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract. — Space Shuttle Columbia, astronaut Alan B. Shepard"

    No astronaut would dare utter the comment "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the same bureaucracy that oversay two shuttle and one Appollo tragedies."
     
  3. Andrew Testa

    Andrew Testa Second Unit

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    Jack,

    I've written this four times now. I've decided that all I'll say is that the conclusions are spot on, but the NASA culture won't change, no matter how much blame it takes or how many memos O'Keefe sends out.

    Andy
     
  4. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Ashley, Alan Shepard never flew on the Space Shuttle. His missions were Mercury-Redstone 3 and Apollo 14. You may be thinking of John Glenn.

    NASA has undergone a number of permutations over the decades. The agency that lofted astronaut Shepard into space differed from the current NASA largely in that it received a larger share per capita of the federal budget.

    "That" NASA also had a mandate. Not so with today's space agency.
     
  5. Ashley Seymour

    Ashley Seymour Supporting Actor

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    Jack, Yeah, after I posted that quote I recognized the shuttle reference. Bad site I quoted from. I'm not even sure Shepard said it, but a Merc or Gemini astronaut for sure. If it was before his suborbital flight then he had a couple of good ones. That and "let's light this candle."

     
  6. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    I get the impression that NASA is run by accountants...not the most visionary or creative people on the planet!

    Accurate statement?

    As for floating cities...eeek tough to do. How will it deal with 40 foot waves? And if it sinks, you got a lot of dead people! And raw sewage in the ocean is a BAD idea! [​IMG]
     
  7. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Ashley, John Glenn made a variation of that remark just prior to his Mercury-Atlas 6 mission in February 1962, and variations on that remark throughout his later post-NASA career.

    And mandate? John F. Kennedy's May 1961 challenge to "land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth before this decade is out" doesn't qualify? The entire manned program and much of the unmanned program (Ranger, Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter) was mobilized toward achieving the goal accomplished by Apollo 11 in July 1969. At the time, NASA's share of the federal budget was close to five percent, as opposed to today's mere fraction of one percent.

    Fueled by a sense of Cold War urgency, NASA was directed by the executive branch and Congress to focus on the Moon, with promises of even greater things to follow.

    But once Apollo 11 returned successfully, the subsequent Apollo 12 mission was moved back to November 1969. And when the first effects of the funding cutbacks that began in 1967 started making themselves felt, the three final Apollo-Saturn manned lunar flights (nos. 18-20) were cancelled and the remaining, uncut missions were reduced to one flight every six months and, eventually, every nine months.

    Then Skylab came and went, using leftover Apollo hardware. After this, only one manned NASA-originated mission was flown in the 1970s: "Apollo 18," the American half of the July 1975 Apollo Soyuz Test Project. U.S. astronauts would not fly again until April 12, 1981.

    Meanwhile, the Space Transportation System ("Space Shuttle"), originally intended as a workhorse to ferry astronauts to and from a proposed space station (itself intended to support manned missions to the Moon and, later, Mars), eventually ended up being the only program involving an American manned presence in space.

    This is called "not having a mandate." The Space Shuttle became an end unto itself.

    Other than the lukewarm support it has received for a constantly redesigned space station project first proposed in 1984, NASA has been given no longterm goals for the manned program. All along, its budget has been slashed so severely that the agency was forced to hand over routine Shuttle maintenance to private contractors (the so-called United Space Alliance, largely a partnership between Lockheed and Boeing).

    All of this is, at least in part, responsible for what happened on Feb. 1, 2003.
     
  8. Ashley Seymour

    Ashley Seymour Supporting Actor

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  9. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Erm, $80 billion? What is this $80 billion reference? NASA's budget is $15.3 billion. Not sure I follow.



    No argument there. Even the Apollo astronauts themselves (those who are still with us, that is) will concede that Project Apollo was a political program rather than an exploration program.

    However, the scientific dividends from the six successful landing missions incomparably, vastly outweigh the returns from the unmanned missions of both the U.S. and the former U.S.S.R. (especially the so-called "J-series" Apollo missions, 15-17). (Add to that the "spin-off" technologies that resulted from NASA's Mercury-Gemini-Apollo sequence, and the practical benefits to humankind have been enormous.)

    Now, though, with the manned program operating on such a limited, and the ISS forced to make-do with a two-man caretaker crew, not much science can be accomplished.

    Eventually, though, humans into space is about the grand adventure of pushing back the frontier and assuring the species' survival. Those concepts do not lend themselves to a national body-politic that measures the world in two-, four-, and six-year increments.

    It will all happen, though. Eventually. Assuming the human race overcomes the very real hurdles it faces in the nearterm. But that's another discussion!
     
  10. Craig S

    Craig S Producer
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  11. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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  12. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    [​IMG] You got a point there Mike!

    Ashley, I guess a floating city (in the water I mean, not the air! [​IMG] ) would have similar technical challenges as building an orbital habitat a la Peter F. Hamilton's bio-engineered cylindrical orbitals. Although, there is a hell of a lot of energy in the oceans as opposed to moon/Earth orbital "tidal" forces, which, although huge too, at least are somewhat predictable. [​IMG]

    However, I'd like people to experiment with arcologies first...that'd be a great first step, to cram half a million people into one giant structure - with the caveat that you might as well paint a big bullseye on it to save the terrorists the bother! ("Look an arcology! Let's bomb that!" Ack.)

    Either way, we definitely need a hell of a lot of materials research, although it would be cool to "grow" an orbital habitat through bioengineering means. We know what genes contain the layout of body growth, so it shouldn't be a problem. [​IMG]
     
  13. Ashley Seymour

    Ashley Seymour Supporting Actor

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  14. Max Leung

    Max Leung Producer

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    More reaction from the "experts":

    Experts Doubt Fix for NASA Safety Culture

     
  15. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Craig S: That you for such an illuminating — and clarifying — post! Your insights are most welcome. BTW, thanks to HTF being down for a while yesterday, I was able to finish reading the CAIB report. Very fascinating read. And, of course, the congressional hearings begin next week. Should be interesting to see how it all pans out. JB
     
  16. Edwin-S

    Edwin-S Producer
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    Pure genius. Good thing they have such experts coming up with revolutionary ideas like purges, and name changes. Wonder what it cost American taxpayers for that kind of 'expert' analysis? The politicos will probably cut NASA's budget to pay for those grand insights.

    The problem is FUNDING and OBJECTIVES: mainly the lack thereof. The problem certainly isn't the name of the organization, and blaming the current managers for the problems, when inadequate funding is being supplied, is pathetic.
     
  17. Glenn Overholt

    Glenn Overholt Producer

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    I had a bad feeling months ago that it was going to come down to this. They didn't get a solution for the styrofoam, so they figured that it must be management.

    It's almost funny. NASA could restructure it's budget and put all of the money into safety, and then end up with zilch for fuel too- so now they can just shut the program down?

    No, I wouldn't expect any NASA employees here to say anything, freedom of speech or not, but this is silly. We can turn this all around and have NASA demand more money, but then we'll hear - see, the management is screwed up!

    Good answer guys, what do you do in your spare time, write one-liners for Leno?

    Glenn
     
  18. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Those external forces that play a part in NASA's fiscal health come under scrutiny in the CAIB report. And certain management personnel within the agency are now in a situation to give serious consideration to private-sector employment (Linda Ham did not help her personal cause with that awful news conference she called a couple of months ago).

    This country wants a space program; it is said, however, that it doesn't want to pay for one. Yet an independent poll released this past week demonstrates that a majority of those polled favor increasing NASA's budget by however much is required to design, develop, and build a successor to current vehicle (as well as to go forward with the supplementary vehicle now called the "Orbital Space Plane").
     
  19. Mark Schermerhorn

    Mark Schermerhorn Second Unit

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    NASA's budget woes will be solved by a Chinese mission to Mars. Shouldn't be too many years off. The US needs an ambitious competitor.


     
  20. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Keith Cowing's superb, independent NASAwatch.com site has a very, very interesting thread featuring comments about the CAIB report. Posting under anonymity are several NASA employees and contract workers. Take a look at the comments:

    Management really blows here.
     

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