August 26, 2003

It's called 'Go Fever'

The report outlining circumstances that led to the loss of the shuttle Columbia is to be released today.

Early word is that this report is going to be very critical of NASA management and engineering practices, so much so that Sean O'Keefe, who heads NASA, has told employees that:

"we need to not be defensive about that and try to not take it as a personal affront."

Like any organization, especially government entities, NASA tends to bloat with bureaucracy and inane rules for rules sake when left unchecked. Unfortunately they have a mission that is simultaneously one of the most difficult to accomplish and one of the most misunderstood by the general public.

As an example, I've had conversations with people who don't believe that the shuttle is real. Their reasoning is that the shuttle couldn't possibly carry enough fuel to keep its engines burning for an entire 10 day flight. And everyone knows that if the engine isn't running, then you stop, and if you stop flying then you crash.

These aren't stupid people, they just lack the most basic understanding of physics. These are taxpayers and constituants of ambitious politicians who are willing to sacrifice the long-term for political gain today. It makes perfect sense to say we are wasting millions to send a few people into space for no reason, as long as your audience has no real idea about the science being done and the benefits thereof.

Years ago, a paper was done that reached the conclusion that the way to cut costs in the space program was to launch more missions. The counter-intuitive reasoning was based partially on analysis of the German V2 program in WWII and economies of scale, it also assumes that demand for commercial access to space will be there if costs come down.

NASA needs this reality slap upside the head, I'm just sorry that it took the deaths of the Columbia crew to spur this review. NASA needs to do a much better job of public education, because this country has forgotten the fact that America is the world leader in space flight and related technology. Yes, we've got partners from around the globe, but not one of them could do it without us leading the way. That includes China and their fledgling space program, which is based on old Soviet technology and methodology. The shuttle has become ho-hum, and there's no reason that should be so.

Don't believe me? Go see a shuttle launch in real life. Feel the earth shake under your feet, and hear the roar drown out the voices around you, see the flame - too bright to look at directly - accelerating the shuttle skyward with pure brute strength. Trust me, there is nothing ho-hum about it.

Posted by Ted at August 26, 2003 04:20 PM
Category: Space Program

Y'know, I've never seen a shuttle launch in real life. But, I have been to KSC in Florida, and stood alongside the stages of the Saturn V rocket, so I know the Shuttle is ANYTHING but ho-hum.

I'm so frustrated with NASA. You'd have thought that after losing Apollo 1, nearly losing Apollo 13, and then losing Challenger, that the "Go Fever" mentality would be gone. And, it appeared that it was - until Feb. 1, 2003, when Columbia went down, and echoes of "Go Fever" cropped up once again.

Screensavers showing a countdown clock of the time until scheduled completion of the space station? Come on. Let's get real, folks. NASA reminds me of the little kid who gets reprimanded by his parents for doing something wrong, and mends his ways....for awhile. But, the minute the heat's off, the old ways come back, and, in NASA's case, that's just not an option, not when you're playing with people's lives.


Posted by: Bob Nielsen at March 28, 2004 01:43 AM
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