Sunday, April 10, 2005
Muddy thinking and the space shuttle
On the other hand, I see a big problems with NASA's handling of the mechanical issues leading to the last shuttle disaster:
- Solutions seemed to focus on fixing problems associated with the fuel tank and its foam insulation. The previous failure occurred because a piece of foam broke off the fueltank assembly and damaged the tiles making up the shuttle's heat shield. Let's summarize: a piece of foam struck the heat shield fatally crippling the spacecraft. At the risk of oversimplification, I want my car windshield to survive an impact of foam insulation let alone the shuttle. Am I missing something here? Fix the heat shield!
- Apparently NASA finds it easier to facilitate the intra-flight repair process rather than fix the underlying problem. They've spent a great deal of effort making it easier to identify damage to the outside of the shuttle and arrange for such damage to be fixed in-flight. Again, I think it's great that when my car's brakes fail, the vehicle is so well-designed that my mechanic can fix it easily. Neat.
- NASA has developed a procedure whereby the crew can escape to the international space station in case of a catastrophe. This has to be a concept brought to fruition by NASA's public relations department as opposed to their safety committees. Again, Neat.
- What I find most disturbing is that shuttle commander Eileen Collins expressed her confidence in the shuttle's safety. Yet mission specialist Charlie Camarda feels sufficiently nervous to comment to the press: "I do not have the confidence and the maturity in the systems we have right now to put my crew or another crew to get back on the vehicle and come back." Maybe not the greatest English but this is not some NASA janitor with misgivings. This is one of commander Collins' own crew members. Doesn't instill faith. Doesn't reflect well on her command or her sensitivity to her crew's fears. This isn't combat. This is an elective mission.