Space shuttle final flight: This stuff ain’t for wimps

Spaceflight is dangerous stuff. No air, no pressure, no gravity, all that radiation, all the many things that can go wrong from blast-off to landing. Complex technologies fail in complex ways (just wrote a book about that), as NASA has discovered over the years in moments of tragedy. This morning I was reading through the Columbia accident report, which concluded that, because of budget pressures, the shuttle was never designed for maximum safety. Rather it was “a compromise vehicle that was less than optimal for manned flights.”

The CAIB report states:

“NASA designed and developed a remarkably capable and resilient vehicle, consisting of an Orbiter with three Main Engines, two Solid Rocket Boosters, and an External Tank, but one that has never met any of its original requirements for reliability, cost, ease of turnaround, maintainability, or, regrettably, safety.”

The report also gets into organizational culture issues, and failures of communication, and flawed mindsets. I definitely had Deepwater Horizon flashbacks reading through this report.

Meanwhile...I have a story this afternoon reporting that ome of the old-timers are not happy with the retirement of the shuttle, saying we need it in case of emergencies on the International Space Station. Chris Kraft is a NASA legend and his opinion matters. But that horse done left the barn, folks.

If you want to know what’s really going on with the space industy you have to follow the Nasa Watch and Space Politics blogs.

(In case you missed it the first time, here is boodler bc’s idea for what to do with the retiring shuttles.)

My end-of-an-era story on the shuttle runs in the paper tomorrow.

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read

opinions

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters