Re: [MV] Columbia. Yes, negligence!.

From: Chris Davis (
Date: Tue Feb 04 2003 - 08:46:26 PST

Hi Tim,

Look, I always enjoy your posts. Your Scout Car updates were great and I
look forward to the time you're able to pick up the project again. I also
think you're licensing and vehicle related law post have been insightful
and help clear up some of the incorrect information that can run amok on
the list.

All that said, I have to take exception to most of your last post.

"Slide rule commandos" are the only reason the shuttle, or any other space
endeavor, ever leaves the ground. So much depends on pure mathematics and
theory... if it was run by what you can actually touch and visually inspect
and put a set of calipers on... we either never go, or loose hundreds in
trial and error.

It is so easy to second guess after the fact. The media does it every
evening on the news... looking for a hook... something sensational to make
you sit through the next commercial. It's much easier to destroy than
support or build. Seven good people are dead, and dead in what was likely
a very unpleasant way. They leave behind husbands, wives, and
children. It is a huge tragity. But it isn't a consperiousy. Someone
isn't burning up shuttles to hide evidence and pad the personal bank account.

The people who go into space, and the huge team on the ground that will
never get to go, but make it possible for those few, are passionate about
what they do. They are explorers. Exploration takes risk. No one there
wanted this. No one did a cost benefit analyst and said "we'll just have
to let this one burn up on re-entry because photographing the underside is
just too expensive".

It's like putting on your shoe in the morning and getting bit by a spider
in there. You've seen spiders in the house before, but you don't check
your shoe every morning? It just doesn't usually happen. 10 friends can
tell you after the fact how you should have checked, how spiders can be
avoided by putting your shoes in plastic bags... but it just wasn't
something you expected. It was an accident. Probably a rotten analogy...

They saw the video of foam hitting the underside of the shuttle. They
pulled together the best and brightest (and they really do have the best
and brightest) and looked at what they knew. It wasn't the first time this
had happened. They had experience. The foam isn't dense, tends to self
destruct, and hadn't done real damage to the underside before. They had no
reason to believe this time should be different. No single engineer got
shouted down. It was a consensus, and slide rule, and theoretical, but
that's how this sort of endeavor works!
If we "roll heads" and string all the ground crew up by their toe nails we
will just loose our explores and the national will to take on great (and
yes, risky) endeavors.

Let NASA investigate. They will find the source and fix it, or fix it at
least as much as can be done. Give them the funding they need. But there
will be losses again... part of exploration is loss. These guys died doing
what they loved and I'll bet anyone of the ground crew would have traded
places with them if they could.

Chris Davis

At 02:32 AM 2/4/03 -0600, you wrote:
>I brought this topic up. In my original posting, I stated the purpose for
>proposing EVA or ROV equipment as standard equipment for a shuttle was to
>make a visual examination of the shuttle if only to determine whether the
>craft remained (for lack of a better word) airworthy. I deliberately left
>out the repair option because I am aware that the technical nature of the
>shuttle doesn't lend itself to "roadside" repairs.
>If I were a crew member on the shuttle under the same circumstances, I'd
>sure as hell want to have a look and furthermore I wouldn't trust some
>slide-rule commando to assure me, from afar, that all was well. (I'd make a
>lousy astronaut, no doubt.)
>Doesn't it seem strange to anyone besides me that with all the forethought
>and planning that went into making the shuttle a reality, with all the hours
>of if-then logistical planning that must have taken place, that under
>circumstances such as these, NASA's only solution seems to have been to have
>some meetings, make some calculations, cross their fingers, hope for the
>best and blindly go ahead with the mission. Seems more than a little odd to
>me. It seems pretty smug, and endeavors such as these SHOULD NOT BE A
>I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist but I'll tell you what I think....I
>think I smell a rat and I'm guessing that someone's budget is involved and
>no one can convince me that having ROV or EVA equipment aboard was a
>budget-breaker. Having a crew of seven die a slow death up there would have
>been disastrous for the space program and you can bet heads would roll down
>here (yeah, they learned more than a few things from Apollo 13, didn't
>they?) ...however, if the shuttle went kablooie (as it most certainly did)
>and everyone shrugged their shoulders and said, gee, we don't know what
>happened but we'll try to ensure it don't happen again, we'd STILL have
>seven dead astronauts, but they'd be heroes and the space program would get
>lots of free exposure in the media and a big shot in the arm for their tight
>little budget. If NASA didn't murder these seven souls by making uninformed
>decisions, they sure as hell murdered them by denying them basic common
>sense safety equipment.
>Everyone says that even if they had found damage they couldn't have repaired
>it and there would have been NOTHING they could do. To that, I say,
>bullshit!! Yeah, maybe there wasn't anything they could do to fix the
>shuttle but that's not necessarily the end of the scenario, is it? Again,
>assuming there was actually some visual clue that there was damage and the
>shuttle was not repairable, then they would have had at least the
>opportunity to make an informed decision on how to proceed or (in the very
>worst case) how to die well and that's a damned sight better than being lead
>to the slaughter by some thick-headed rubes down in Houston. But they were
>denied even that opportunity due to poor planning and in the inhospitable
>environment of space, that goes beyond negligence and borders on the
>So much of what goes into putting one of these things into space is based on
>if-then logic I cannot fathom how a situation like this got overlooked
>unless SOMEONE was grossly negligent. The budget argument does not fly
>where lives are concerned unless you are a cooler cat than I am and are
>willing to trade some blood for a few bucks.
>By God, as Americans should we not demand better than what we got with the
>Columbia!? For crying out loud, look on the wall of any Walmart and you'll
>see loads of common sense emergency equipment, from firefighting apparatus
>to those funky little fire hoods to first aid and spill kits. Something as
>simple as having some way to look over the exterior of the shuttle seems too
>much like common sense to me. Or am I missing something?
>Thinking as a parent and of my young son (who is now only two but who loves
>all things with wings) if I lost him to this kind of crap I'd be on the
>first plane to NASA (whereever they are) and then I'd beat someone there to
>death with a baseball bat for being so damned stupid.
>Right now, we need to be putting NASA on notice that we won't tolerate this
>kind of crap any longer. I support the space program. I see its worth but
>I also believe in setting high standards for this type of endeavor......and
>this time, they didn't even come close.
>Just my $2.98 cents worth.
>TJ Smith
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