Challenger: a major malfunction.LOST IN SPACE
"Here is policy made tangible," MalcolmMcConnell writes on viewing the wreckage of the space shuttle space shuttle, reusable U.S. space vehicle. Developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), it consists of a winged orbiter, two solid-rocket boosters, and an external tank. Challenger, laid out on the floor of a giant hangar at Cape Canaveral Cape Canaveral (kənăv`ərəl), low, sandy promontory extending E into the Atlantic Ocean from a barrier island, E Fla., separated from Merritt Island by the Banana River, a lagoon; named (1963) Cape Kennedy in memory of President John . "Actually touching the cool, twisted shards of aluminum, the skeins of shredded computer cable, teh chalky surface of Challenger's shattered tiles, is a powerfully evocative experience. Here among the debris one is forced to recognize that political compromise, bureaucratic deception, and corporate duplicity DUPLICITY, pleading. Duplicity of pleading consists in multiplicity of distinct matter to one and the same thing, whereunto several answers are required. Duplicity may occur in one and the same pleading. all have consequences."
So too does journalistic complaisance com·plai·sance
The inclination to comply willingly with the wishes of others; amiability.
the quality or state of being agreeable, gracious, considerate, etc. . In mostrespects the "power of the press" is exaggerated. But as regards NASA NASA: see National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
in full National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Independent U.S. it is quite real. The press, especially television, is a primary constituent of the space program--a player whose wishes and whims are taken into account and one which, like any other vested interest Vested Interest
A financial or personal stake one entity has in an asset, security, or transaction.
For example, if you have a mortgage, your bank has a vested interest on the sale of your house.
See also: Right group, has an incentive to refuse to see what is doing wrong under its nose.
How else can it be that in this age of overstaffednew rooms, two uncelebrated un·cel·e·brat·ed
1. Not famous or well known; obscure.
2. Not formally or officially honored. writers have come up with page after page of material missed by the networks and major newspapers about the most conspicuous story of the year? That's what That's What is one of the more idiosyncratic releases by solo steel-string guitar artist Leo Kottke. It is distinctive in it's jazzy nature and "talking" songs ("Buzzby" and "Husbandry"). McConnell, with Challenger: A Major Malfunction, and Joseph Trento, with Prescription for Disaster, have accomplished. These two fascinating books are significant not only for what they disclose but for what those disclosures demonstrate--how poorly the big-deal media have covered NASA's institutional decline. The Challenger tragedy didn't come out of nowhere--there were repeated danger signs clear to any reporter willing to look beneath the PR gloss.
Screams of agony
Here's a shuttle scorecard. The shuttle has beenturned on 27 times. Those 27 ignitions resulted in 24 completed missions, two aborts on the pad, and one destruction. Both ground aborts came within a few seconds of solid-rocket booster (SRB) ignition, which, had it occurred, would also have destroyed the shuttles: one ground abort (1) To exit a function or application without saving any data that has been changed.
(2) To stop a transmission.
(programming) abort - To terminate a program or process abnormally and usually suddenly, with or without diagnostic information. set fire to the pad. There has been one main engine failure in flight; on that occasion only a brilliant bit of quick thinking by a NASA control room operator prevented a second engine from shutting down, which probably would have resulted in the loss of that crew. On other completed missions there has been one near burn-through of an SRB motor nozzle, one failure of an O-ring (the backup held), one fuel leak in the main engines, and about ten cases total of O-ring damage.
In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently something has gone seriouslywrong on more than half the shuttles' ignitions. And in addition to Challenger, calamity has struck almost six times.
Trento reminds us of Thomas Baron, the NorthAmerican Rockwell safety inspector who in 1967 went public with his warning that the pure-oxygen interior of the Apollo command module was unsafe. Baron was fired; 20 days later three astronauts died when the interior of their Apollo command module caught fire, deaths that were, until Challenger, the U.S. space program's only direct fatalities. I watched in vain for mention of Baron when Allan McDonald and Roger Boisjoly Roger Boisjoly (born 25 April 1938) is an engineer who worked for Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters of the Space Shuttle Challenger. O-Ring Safety Concerns , the morton Thiokol engineers who tried to block the Challenger launch, were screwed as their reward: an event depicted in a surprising number of new accounts as an isolated incident.
Trento further reminds us that following theApollo fire, NASA declared the astronauts had died instantly, when in fact their bodies were found pressed up against the hatch and "hundreds of people heard the screams of agony over an open circuit that was preserved on tape." Only after extensive prodding did NASA admit that the Challenger crew had not perished instantly either, as initially claimed, but survived the explosion and probably lived until their cabin hit the ocean. Such grisly particulars have no bearing on policy, but do tell a great deal about NASA's institutional character, and its willingness to deceive the public.
Of the two, A Major Malfunction is thesuperior book. McConnell, who has spent the past three years covering space for Reader's Digest Reader's Digest
U.S.-based monthly magazine. Founded by DeWitt and Lila Wallace, it was first published in 1922 as a digest of articles of topical interest and entertainment value condensed from other periodicals. , writes well; his chapters on the days leading up to the doomed launch flow like a novel, yet do not sacrifice substance. Trento, a correspondent with CNN CNN
or Cable News Network
Subsidiary company of Turner Broadcasting Systems. It was created by Ted Turner in 1980 to present 24-hour live news broadcasts, using satellites to transmit reports from news bureaus around the world. , is the more dogged reporter, having interviewed many former top NASA officials. But in the manner of a bad New Yorker article, Trento's book piles on paragraph after paragraph of seemingly irrelevant facts and quotations, which the reader slogs through assuming he will eventually be shown why all the extrania are there--only to realize afte the book concludes that, nope, they were just superfluous nits and unedited verbosity Verbosity
longest novel in the English language, total-ling one million words. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 203]
epic poem of Ancient India runs to some 200,000 verses. [Hindu Lit. .
Readers must sift Prescription for Disaster tofind the telling nuggets Nuggets can refer to several branches of interest:
Fonda was present for the launch. Michael Deaver Michael Keith Deaver (April 11, 1938 – August 18, 2007) was a member of President Ronald Reagan's White House staff serving as Deputy White House Chief of Staff under James Baker III and Donald Regan from January 1981 until May 1985. , then at the White House, called NASA Administrator James Beggs on the carpet. When Beggs explained that civilian launches are open to the public, Deaver demanded that the NASA "flak" man who had invited Fonda to sit in the VIP section be fired.
Beggs, NASA administrator from the beginningof the Reagan administration Noun 1. Reagan administration - the executive under President Reagan
executive - persons who administer the law until two months before the Challenger disaster, has been all but forgotten in most accounts of the tragedy, because he was not in charge on the day the explosion occurred. Neither McConnell nor Trento make this superficial mistake, for the agency which sent Challenger to its fate is a perfect reflection of Begg's persona--rigid, remote, concerned first and foremost with budget politics.
Prescription for Disaster explains that untilBeggs, managers of NASA's research and operation centers such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory “JPL” redirects here. For other uses, see JPL (disambiguation).
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a NASA research center located in the cities of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge, near Los Angeles, California, USA. in California, the Johnson Space Center in Texas, and the Marshall Space Flight Center The George C. Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), the original home of NASA, is a lead center for propulsion, Space Shuttle propulsion, Shuttle external fuel tank, crew training and payloads, International Space Station (ISS) design and construction, for computers, networks, and in Alabama, reported directly to the administrator in Washington. Beggs changed the system so that the center directors reported to his deputy, who then reported to Beggs. Experience has shown that this formula is 100 percent guaranteed to prevent disagreeable news from reaching the desk of the boss--which it did in the case of growing concern over the reliability of the shuttle's solid-rocket boosters.
This procedural change became a double fiascoin 1985 when that warm, wonderful human being, Donald Regan, insisted Beggs accept William Graham William Graham may refer to:
In politics and government:
1. A heavy spiced cake containing nuts and candied or dried fruits.
2. Slang A crazy or an eccentric person: "a fruitcake under the delusion that he was Saint Nicholas" wing of Ronald Reagan's California crowd. In November 1985, Beggs was indicted INDICTED, practice. When a man is accused by a bill of indictment preferred by a grand jury, he is said to be indicted. on charges of procurement fraud involving his previous job as an executive of that warm, wonderful corporation, General Dynamics General Dynamics Corporation (NYSE: GD) is a defense conglomerate formed by mergers and divestitures, and as of 2006 it is the sixth largest defense contractor in the world. The company has changed markedly in the post-Cold War era of defense consolidation. . Beggs took a leave of absence, making Graham acting NASA Administrator. Graham was holding the reins when Challenger exploded.
Trento relates that Beggs, during his administration,devoted great time and effort to pressing Congress to fund Centaur centaur (sĕn`tôr), in Greek mythology, creature, half man and half horse. The centaurs were fathered by Ixion or by Centaurus, who was Ixion's son. , a General Dynamics-built booster stage, as an addition to the shuttle program. Centaur represented perhaps a billion dollars in new business for Begg's former employer. For technical reasons, Centaur also was considered an intemperate in·tem·per·ate
Not temperate or moderate; excessive, especially in the use of alcoholic beverages.
in·temper·ate·ly adv. safety risk, and was widely opposed by engineers and by the astronaut corps. Promptly after Beggs resigned as NASA head, Centaur was canceled.
Beggs was the motivating force behind thespace station. He campaigned for a large, continuously manned station throughout the first term of the Reagan administration, ultimately winning Reagan's approval in 1984. Beggs cleared the decks for this megabucks A lot of money! project by halting work on a relatively inexpensive effort to modify one shuttle so it could stay in space a month with the existing Spacelab mini-station in its payload bay. This could have accomplished about 99 percent of what a continuously manned space station could accomplish at about 1 percent of cost. Had it not been for his troubled departure, the space station would have made the perfect legacy for Beggs--putting into the pipeline a new multibillion-dollar subsidy program for aerospace contractors.
Both Majro Malfunction and Prescription forDisaster offer important new insights into the days leading up to the Challenger launch. Combining them with facts from the Rogers Commission report The Rogers Commission Report was created by a Presidential Commission charged to investigate the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster on its 10th mission, STS-51-L. The comprehensive 225-page report documented the technical and managerial factors that contributed to the accident. and other sources, this picture emerges:
Early January 1986. Six attempts are requiredto launch the shuttle Columbia on a space junket with Rep. Bill Nelson aboard. Each scrub (a launch attempt that gets as far as boarding the crew) costs about $500,000. Nelson's flight is the first shuttle mission under William Graham. During the January 6 countdown, computers declare a scrub at T minus 31 seconds. Later it turns out that Columbia's fuel tank contains nowhere near enough propellant pro·pel·lant also pro·pel·lent
1. Something, such as an explosive charge or a rocket fuel, that propels or provides thrust.
2. to get the craft into space, some 18,000 pounds of liquid oxygen having been drained off by operator error. A blunder of this magnitude, undetected until seconds remained--and then only by the machines, not the dozens of senior managers in mission control--should have shocked NASA to its soul. Instead NASA laughed it off; Graham took no action. The incident is barely mentioned in press reports. Many reports do, however, make sport of the missed launch dates.
Late January 1986. Launch of Challenger isscheduled for Sunday, January 26--the same day as the Superbowl. It will be teacher Christa McAuliffe's flight. Graham takes far more interest in the Cape Canaveral guest list than in investigating the January 6 snafu; he goes over the list personally, scratching out names of liberals. Vice President George Bush announces he will attend the liftoff, looking forward to the free publicity as networks cut away from the year's number-one television audience to Bush waving as McAuliffe blasts heavenward. On Saturday the 24th, the Sunday weather forecast notes a chance of poor conditions. Graham, for unclear reasons, personally orders the launch postponed till Monday. Sunday's weather turns out to be ideal. Bush is said to be furious; he informs Graham he will no longer attend. In his first forceful action as agency head, Graham appears the fool.
Monday, January 27. Technicians have troubleconfirming that Challenger's crew hatch is sealed. Television cameras record numerous ministrations to the hatch, including the arrival of a van carrying a standard Black and Decker handyman's drill, which turns out not to work. By the time the hatch problem is solved, wind conditions have deteriorated. At 12:36 p.m. the launch is called off. Because the scrub occurs in the afternoon, it is perfectly itmed for network broadcasts which begin at 6:30 p.m. eastern time. That evening the postponement is mocked by both CBS (Cell Broadcast Service) See cell broadcast. and ABC--as their lead stories, no less.
The next day, Tuesday the 28th, will bring theState of the Union address. Reagan is expected to stress education as a central theme. (Whether he would have done this will never be known; following the Challenger explosion the original speech was canceled.) The teacher-in-space program was originally created to deflect criticism that Reagan was not doing enough about education. No phone calls from the White House are needed to remind NASA of the brownie points Brownie points are a hypothetical currency, which can be accrued by doing good deeds or earning favour in the eyes of another, often one's superior. Conjectures for etymology
The Oxford English Dictionary that will be scored if Reagan can talk about McAuliffe during the speech.
NASA officials opt to "pres on"--a crashschedule of attempting the launch again the next day, though this means laboriously emptying and refilling the cryogenic tank, and though the weather forecast now calls for unusual cold.
Monday night. McDonald, Boisjoly, and otherengineers at Morton Thiokol, maker of the solid-rocket boosters, begin a protracted pro·tract
tr.v. pro·tract·ed, pro·tract·ing, pro·tracts
1. To draw out or lengthen in time; prolong: disputants who needlessly protracted the negotiations.
2. attempt to persuade NASA to postpone the launch. The forecast calls for overnight temperatures in the twenties. On the previous coldest shuttle launch, staged at 53 degrees, the O-rings that seal the spaces between segments of the SRBs nearly gave out. In addition, one of the two O-rings has failed in flight before, and four of the five previous shuttle flights experienced some measure of O-ring problems. Two teleconferences lasting well into the evening are held with NASA officials. Lawrence Mulloy, SRB project director at the Marshall Center, utters the now-infamous phrase: "My God, Thiokol, when do you want me to launch, next April?"
Like their engineers, Thiokol executives are alsonervous, but for different reasons. The company has enjoyed a sole-source monopoly over SRB production since the shuttle program began. But just one month before, in December 1985, NASA announced under congressional pressure that it might split-source future SRB purchases. How would it look if Thiokol called its own product unsafe? Marshall officials press the company on whether it is willing formally to declare exactly that. Thiokol is not. Then, in a singular twist, they insist that Thiokol sign and telefax The European term for a fax machine. to NASA a statement that the company does not object to the launch. Thiokol complies.
Marshall is Thiokol's "client." Most of thecompany's dealings are with it, not NASA headquarters, and so it is Marshall's wrath that Thiokol fears. Marshall's director, William Lucas, has a reputation as the weakest link in the NASA chain. Autocratic and closed-minded, he is known for two qualities--brooking only fawning fawn 1
intr.v. fawned, fawn·ing, fawns
1. To exhibit affection or attempt to please, as a dog does by wagging its tail, whining, or cringing.
2. subordinates, and insisting that Marshall never be blamed for launch delays. If there is bad news to be told to headquarters, Lucas will not be the one to tell it. During the attempted Columbia launches earlier that month, the Marshall Center had been forced to vote in favor of a postponement. Lucas was said to be steaming.
After hearing about the teleconferences,Mulloy reports in to headquarters. He says nothing of the Thiokol engineers' protests. Technically, he does not have to. Mulloy is required only to note whether the parts of the shuttle under his control will meet the formal launch-commit criteria, and those criteria say nothing about temperatures before launch--they say that the temperature must be above freezing when flight begins. Whether cold makes a launch dangerous in general is a decision for "Level I," Graham and the senior management at Kennedy Space Center Kennedy Space Center (Cape Canaveral) U.S.
launch site for manned space missions. [U.S. Hist.: WB, So:562]
See : Astronautics . This group never gets the word about the SRB concerns. Instead of telling him, Mulloy conveys the Thiokol protest to Lucas--a decision General Donald Kutyna, a Rogers Commission member, would later characterize as "reporting a fire to the mayor." When Lucas checks in with Level I a few hours before the launch, he too says nothing.
Shortly after midnight Tuesday morning. "Tanking"of the supercooled propellants begins. During launch, a system of giant hoses douses the pad with water to prevent fires and dampen some of the vibrations that otherwise might damage the shuttle: in order to keep this and other plumbing systems from freezing, a decision is made to keep water running in them throughout the night. As a result, by sunrise the launch pad is bedecked with giant icicles--looking like "something out of Dr. Zhivago," one technician comments over the com line. Rockwell, which builds the orbiter (the airplane-like part), worries that when the tower is shaken by the forces of liftoff, these icicles will break free and crash into the shuttle's delicate thermal tiles. Rockwell engineers begin pressuring their bosses to stop the launch. (Because the shuttle exploded, it will never be known if ice damage to the tiles took place.)
Another weather complication ensues: morehigh winds. Gusts are reported in the shuttle's launch arc. Downrange down·range
adv. & adj.
In a direction away from the launch site and along the flight line of a missile test range: landed a thousand miles downrange; the downrange target area. , where two ships Two Ships is a single by the folk duet, The Sallyangie, released in 1969. Track listing
Over the years NASA had come to adopt acan-do attitude about weather. Apollo 12, launched through a thunderhead thun·der·head
The swollen upper portion of a thundercloud, usually associated with the development of a thunderstorm.
Noun 1. , was struck by lightning twice during ascent; miraculously, the rocket continued to function normally. a fiercely powerful spaceship, capable of defying gravity and surviving in the absolute zero of space--what did it have to fear from a little wind and nippy nip·py
adj. nip·pi·er, nip·pi·est
1. Tending to nip: an exuberant, nippy puppy.
2. Sharp or biting: nippy cheese.
3. weather? Acting Administrator Graham isn't available to assess the situation. On the morning of January 28, Graham is on Capitol Hill, in the office of Rep. Manuel Lujan, lobbying him about NASA appropriations. Before entering the spacecraft, astronaut Ellison Onizuka Ellison Shoji Onizuka (June 24, 1946 - January 28, 1986) was a Japanese-American astronaut from Kealakekua, Kona, Hawai'i who died during the destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger, where he was serving as mission specialist on mission STS-51-L. jokes with the hatch technician about his face being shown on CBS News CBS News is the news division of American television and radio network CBS. Its current president is Sean McManus who is also head of CBS Sports. Current productions
Current television shows
Ignition. The mission is the coldest launch onrecord, and also (somehow, a neglected fact) carries the heaviest payload attempted (48,000 pounds, stil consideraly below the 65,000 pounds the shuttle is supposed to be able to handle). At liftoff a puff of smoke appears near a joint on the right SRB. The O-rings have failed. Then the smoke stops. It it believed that after the pressure wave of ignition passed, the joint managed to regain its seal. The shuttle rises normally. After about 40 seconds of flight the main engines are throttled down in anticipation of "Max Q," the moment of peak aerodynamic stress. Then Challenger passes through a wind shear wind shear, a sudden, drastic change in wind direction or speed over a comparatively short distance. Most winds travel horizontally, as does most wind shear, but under certain conditions, including thunderstorms and strong frontal systems, wind shear will travel in a . The damaged joint ceases to hold. Flame appears on the right SRB, followed by an explosion.
One year later. Morton Thiokol's sole-sourcemonopoly on the SRB remains intact. In retrospect the company's worry about the contract seems hilarious, for even after its product fails in full view of the world, Congress remains, as always, incapable of contesting an entrenched en·trench also in·trench
v. en·trenched, en·trench·ing, en·trench·es
1. To provide with a trench, especially for the purpose of fortifying or defending.
2. spending program. Several NASA managers have retired, but not one has been disciplined. Three billion dollars have been allocated for another shuttle, even as new plans are dranw to hardly use shuttles at all. NASA's future budget levels have been increased substantially by the Reagan administration, teaching again the lesson that in government bureaucracy, nothing succeeds like failure.
The press, once too busy cheerleading The examples and perspective in this article or section may not represent a worldwide view of the subject.
Please [ improve this article] or discuss the issue on the talk page. to detectthe omens of tragedy at NASA, has for the most part resumed waving pom-poms. With the notable exceptions of The New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of Times, whose William Broad William J. Broad is a U.S. journalist and author.  William J. Broad writes about science topics for The New York Times newspaper and has twice shared the Pulitzer Prize with colleagues. , Stuart Diamond, and David Sanger David Sanger is the name of:
Smart is a right-handed batsman and wicketkeeper and has played cricket in Hong Kong for a number of years. , and James Fisher For other persons with this name, see James Fisher (disambiguation).
James Maxwell McConnell Fisher (3rd September, 1912 – 25th September, 1970) was a British author, editor, broadcaster, naturalist and ornithologist. of The Orlando Sentinel, and the Knight-Ridder newspapers, whose Mark Thompson is frequently ahead of the pack, most reporting of the aftermath has been remarkably timid and shallow. Recent pieces in several major news outlets have boiled down to "Golly gol·ly
Used to express mild surprise or wonder.
[Alteration of God.]
an exclamation of mild surprise [originally a euphemism for gosh, how will NASA be sure it gets a dramatic budget increase?"
Network newscasts the night before Challengerexploded provide a clue to the mentality at work. Dan Rather began CBS News by declaring: "Yet another costly, red-faces-all-around space shuttle launch delay." Peter Jennings began ABC ABC
in full American Broadcasting Co.
Major U.S. television network. It began when the expanding national radio network NBC split into the separate Red and Blue networks in 1928. with these words: "Once again, flawless liftoff proved too much of a challenge for Challenger." (Rather, that biased liberal, has been widely excoriated for his remark. The phrase chosen by Jennings, who with his aristocratic inflection is regarded as the right's favorite anchor, was considerably more sarcastic.) Why should a brief postponement of an allegedly routine event merit treatment as the lead story on two network newscasts? Because as far as the networks were concerned, the purpose of the space program was to produce pretty pictures for them to broadcast.
Television was keeping up its end of thebargain, providing only gee-whiz coverage. By failing to provide pictures, NASA had defaulted its portion of the compact, and that justified a little sneering. It's not too cynical to say this--NASA encouraged the "special relationship" atitude, more than happy to feed the media in return for lenient scrutiny. Reporters covering the Washington bureauracy often write about turf battles and pork barrel, yet never seem to raise these issues when it comes to NASA. That's because agencies like the General Services Administration The General Services Administration (GSA) was established by section 101 of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (40 U.S.C.A. § 751). The GSA sets policy for and manages government property and records. do not produce dramatic footage, human interest stories, or trips to watch exciting launches and landings.
A related factor is that delays are the one aspectof space most reporters feel comfortable criticizing. Delays are an open and shut case; no one can argue they ought to happen, and detecting their occurrence requires no subtle understanding of technical issues. So reporters compensate for their gushing gush
v. gushed, gush·ing, gush·es
1. To flow forth suddenly in great volume: water gushing from a hydrant.
2. over anything that flies by snarling snarl 1
v. snarled, snarl·ing, snarls
1. To growl viciously while baring the teeth.
2. To speak angrily or threateningly.
v.tr. when the schedule slips.
Of all the questions concerning the U.S. spaceprogram, delays are surely the least significant. Who cares if a shuttle launch is late? Safety and cost-effectiveness are infinitely more important than timing. Rather and Jennings might as easily have begun their broadcasts, "Putting safety ahead of public relations public relations, activities and policies used to create public interest in a person, idea, product, institution, or business establishment. By its nature, public relations is devoted to serving particular interests by presenting them to the public in the most , NASA took no chances with today's planned shuttle launch." In the aftermath of Challenger there have probably been five times more lines written about the fact that scheduled satellite deliveries and planetary probes will be delayed than on far more substantive issues, like why we are building another expensive shuttle which will operate with the same no-escape-possible booster system.
The one aspect of shuttle delays relevant topublic discourse is the extent to which they establish how improbable NASA's claims were that justified the shuttle in the first place. It is now common for reporters to assert that pressure on NASA to "fly out the manifest," or meet its satellite and space-probe delivery commitments, led to relaxed safety standards. That may be. But the 1986 manifest called for 11 flights. Congressional authorization for the shuttle program was premised on 50 annual flights. If the pressure of meeting 11 launch dates was so intense that it caused dangerous compromises, then the shuttle never made sense in the first place.
Today the question of whether the shuttlemakes sense has been dropped entirely, with reporters focusing on objections that the new plan calling for a maximum of 16 flights per year by the mid-nineties is "too ambitious." Probably it is, in the sense that the shuttle is a very complicated machine attempting to do what is at the moment technologically impossible--repeatedly fly to space without falling apart. But if a handful of annual launches has become too ambitious, why are we sinking money into another shuttle?
Similarly, many have argued that Challengerblew up because NASA was too concerned with cost-cutting. It's true the agency was doing everything in its power to hold down costs. For example, the men fumbling with the hatch were technicians hired by Lockheed on a shuttle services contract. Previously that role was filled by engineers employed by NASA, but licensed civil engineers with civil service tenure cost more than private-sector technicians. Once again, if 1986 cost-cutting rendered the program too risky, then shuttles make no sense--because even at the 1986 rates, the true cost of launching payload was several times the cost of using expendable rockets.
Both A Major Malfunction and Prescriptionfor Disaster go into detail regarding how the original flight-rate and flight-cost predictions were manipulated by James Fletcher--NASA administrator in the seventies when the shuttle was being designed and funded and brought back to be administrator last winter--in order to paint an impossibly rosy picture. The tale is too involved to recount here; the question raised is, with Fletcher back, what new phony claims are being made to lasso lasso (lăs`ō, lăs`), light, strong rope, usually with a smooth, hard finish, made of a fine quality of hemp or nylon. more money?
McConnell admits he was spellbound byNASA. "Shuttle flights were thrilling to observe," he writes. "The press began to see itself as participants in the adventure...[although] you always felt vaguely managed, especially when you stopped to consider that NASA ground rules forbade reporters from scheduling their own interviews with the actual program people." McConnell clearly feels that because he failed to question NASA claims, he deserves a share of the blame for seven lost lives. This is a refreshing attitude, given that most journalists maintain that once their storeis are written their hands are washed. McConnell does not speculate about what might have happened had he tried to get the material in A Major Malfunction into Reader's Digest before January 1986, when there was time to prevent the tragedy. Needless to say, Reader's Digest would not have run it.
Over the years I have wondered what accountsfor reporters' suspension of disbelief Suspension of disbelief is an aesthetic theory intended to characterize people's relationships to art. It was coined by the poet and aesthetic philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1817 to refer to what he called "dramatic truth". when it comes to NASA. Most likely it is not genuine enthusiasm for the scientific knowledge attained, though this is the best reason to support space exploration. I doubt many journalists really care that soil on Mars contains oxygen, that Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede have cores of liquid water, or similarly abstract information that may hold significance for the human race. And surely it can't be genuine affection for the people. There are some colorful characters in NASA, but not many. Most of the organization is paracorporate and obsessively conformist con·form·ist
A person who uncritically or habitually conforms to the customs, rules, or styles of a group.
Marked by conformity or convention: .
I think what it boils down to is that space isdefense minus the value judgments. Many reporters--even those biased liberals, and especially boys--secretly enjoy visiting military bases, standing next to awesome machines, and rubbing shoulders with the people who know how to use them. But since the purpose of defense machines is to combat, it is poor form to admit that such technology holds a strange fascination.
Now space, on the other hand, nobody'sagainst space. There is no moral dilemma with a civilian agency like NASA visiting the heavens for civilian purposes. so the childlike, adult-toy gree regarding technology (those master control rooms! what does it feel like to press the button?!) can be openly expressed. Men can let their boy sides run free; women who are interested in technology can indulge themselves without getting in trouble with the sisterhood sisterhood: see monasticism. . Meanwhile the dazzle factor, and the technical complications that flow from it, excuses the reporter from trying to explain or even figure out what's actually going on. The sheer drama of the event can be reported, the way a correspondent in a morally defensible war could report the drama of battle without having to raise questions about whether the battle should be occurring in the first place.
Likewise, for years I have wondered howNASA--which was right, sometimes majestically right, so many times in a row during the Apollo days--came to suspend its own disbelief regarding the shuttle. A Major Malfunction and Prescription for Disaster, in their depiction of NASA's many exercises in self-deception in order to win shuttle funding and preserve the agency's existence, make me think this is the answer:
NASA was created with an exemption fromcontemplating its own purpose. In the days following Sputnik Sputnik: see satellite, artificial; space exploration.
Any of a series of Earth-orbiting spacecraft whose launching by the Soviet Union inaugurated the space age. , when the moon race was, for good or ill, a historically inevitable political phenomenon, high technology space machines were ends in themselves. NASA was expected to do three things: conceive high space technology, make it work, and assure the public that the expense was justified.
That formula served the agency throughApollo. But then, as the need for an all-out commitment to expensive manned flights declined, NASA was asked to change course--to plan a space project that made economic sense. This is something that, as an institution, the agency was unprepared to do. Instead NASA resorted to the formula that had worked for Apollo. The first step, of envisioning a grand leap in technology, once again went well. The second step, of making that technology work, went well for awhile, until some of the Pollyanna assumptions (mainly involving routine re-use) began to be exposed. The third step, of justifying the expense, proved impossible. So NASA lied. Once the agency had learned to lie, it was started down the road that ended on January 28, 1986.
Now the U.S. has embarked on two new pathsin space policy. One, which calls for continued use of shuttles well into the 21st century, will at best waste a lot of money, and at worst may lead to more lives lost attempting to achieve nominal goals like cargo launches. Its main value is to prevent staff cuts at NASA's vast manned-flight hierarchy.
The other path is the aerospace plane (whichReagan inexplicably calls the "Orient Express," apparently believing it will be practical for commercial transportation). So far $450 million has been handed out to contractors to start logs rolling for this new constituent spending program. In the early stages, aerospace plane designers appear to be gathering up all the shuttle mistakes and multiplying by two.
In theory the aerospace plane sounds great--amachine that takes off from a runway wand ascends to orbit in one piece, basically an airplane that flies very high. Someday, such craft may ply the skies. For the moment the technical obstacles seem insurmountable. An aerospace plane would have to be powered by a hypothetical engine called a scramjet scramjet: see jet propulsion. . Space shuttle designers took a huge risk by pushing the two engines types they employed to an output far greater than had previously been attempted. But at least there was considerable operating experience with solid boosters and cryogenic motors to call on. Building an aerospace plane will mean risking everything on a technology that has yet to leave the lab. And because the aerospace plane will do most of its accelerating within the atmosphere, its skin will be exposed for extended periods to higher temperatures than the space shuttle encounters briefly during reentry reentry n. taking back possession and going into real property which one owns, particularly when a tenant has failed to pay rent or has abandoned the property, or possession has been restored to the owner by judgment in an unlawful detainer lawsuit. . Much of the vehicle would need to be covered with some as yet unspecified new form of super-advanced tiles that withstand great heat indefinitely.
Someday problems like this will be overcome. Butbuilding an aerospace plane in this century will probably be possible only by concentrating all the country's space resources on a handful of breathtakingly expensive manned vehicles and then gambling that nothing will ever go wrong with them. That's where we were in 1972, when the press and the Congress decided to believe in the space shuttle. That's where we are again today.