Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aviation Week tribute to the Space Shuttle

No discussion of the Shuttle program is complete without mentioning the two horrible accidents, and the loss of all on board. Aviation Week feels that both accidents were caused by NASA corporate culture, a culture of "press on regardless" controlled by inexperienced and poorly educated suits.
The first accident to Challenger, where the solid rocket boosters leaked flame onto the external hydrogen tank, causing an explosion 73 seconds after liftoff, was clearly a management failure. Morton Thiokol, the maker of the solid rocket boosters, called the cape the night before the launch and expressed concerns about the low temperature. The Thiokol engineers feared that the silicone gaskets that sealed the solid booster joints would stiffen in the cold and fail to seal against combustion pressure. The Thiokol engineers had it exactly right, that's what happened and the leak of white hot flame from the booster exploded the shuttle and killed the entire crew.
NASA management, rather than postponing the launch, demanded Thiokol put their fears in writing. When the Thiokol suits demurred, NASA pressed on with the launch.
This was incredible to me. In USAF, had we received a telephone call from our engine maker expressing concern about the J75's powering our fighters, we would have believed them. We knew those engines had problems, we were used to company tech reps making light of deficiencies. Should Pratt & Whitney have volunteered information about problems, all hands, from crew chief up to wing commander would have taken it VERY seriously.
NASA management seems to be all political appointees, paper pushers with no practical experience. That can be a killer.

No comments: