Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor


Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor


Article excerpt

Pointing fingers at NASA

Your April 25 article "Retooling NASA's culture" seems eager to jump on the bandwagon and point a finger at the supposedly irresponsible decisionmaking that led to the loss of Columbia.

It is easy to second-guess complex decisions with the benefit of hindsight and even easier once the technical findings of a massive investigation are made available. But real-time decisionmaking must be guided by information available at that moment.

Intuition and inspiration are valuable gifts in these situations, but are most useful when they lead toward technically sound ideas. Thousands of people work on programs like the space shuttle. If every engineer with a technical hobbyhorse could bring the program to a halt, it would be paralyzed by indecision and bankrupted by unnecessary work.

If the same standards of safety were applied to automobile driving that some would apply to space programs, most of us would never be allowed out of our driveways. Proud traditions like the Apollo program and the landings on the moon would never have been achieved in such a climate. Despite all the risks, those who rode those rockets competed fiercely for the opportunity to fly. That spirit of competition thrives today.

With every mission, our space programs push back the boundaries of what is possible, and with each terrible tragedy comes painful lessons as well as beneficial reform. It should not be forgotten, however, that this is exploration, and venturing into the unknown sometimes carries the burden of learning things the hard way. Tim Braithwaite Houston

I read "Retooling NASA's Culture" with a keen recollection of what transpired before the Columbia disaster, namely with the Challenger disaster and the Mir fire and crash. Each time NASA blows it, NASA management raise their hands and proclaim, "We get it now. We should have listened to our scientists and engineers and put safety in front of mission." And then they go out and blow it again. With respect to both the Challenger and Columbia disasters, simple warnings went unaddressed and people died. …

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