NASA’s safety panel rubberstamps May 27 manned Dragon launch


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NASA’s safety panel has apparently reluctantly given its “okay” for the launch of the first manned Dragon launch on May 27th.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), meeting by teleconference April 23, said it was unable to talk with NASA’s commercial crew program during its quarterly meeting, which was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. The panel’s chair, Patricia Sanders, said that scheduling issues prevented a meeting, but that her committee planned to hold a “part 2” of their quarterly meeting in early May to discuss commercial crew and other topics not taken up this week.

Sanders said the panel has been kept up to date by NASA about commercial crew activities, including plans for SpaceX’s Demo-2 crewed test flight scheduled for May 27. “We are aware of a few technical items that remain to be more fully understood,” she said, “but the path forward appears feasible.”

In other words, it appears that NASA’s management might have taken advantage of the Wuhan panic to cut the panel off from the decision-making process, possibly because this panel has acted now for years to slow progress and in fact discourage any American manned launches at all, out of an almost irrational fear of any failure.

Their recommendations have sometimes verged on the ludicrous, such as an insistence that no manned launch be scheduled until a lot of paperwork was filled out.

It could also be that the panel has recognized at last (or maybe NASA management told them in no uncertain words) that we now have to proceed with American manned missions, since with the expiration of our contract with the Russians we have no other options.

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2 comments

  • YA

    So here’s a point for you. NASA’s safety panel prioritizes things like verifying data and design to determine if the commercial crew capsules are safe, right? With all that info, did they detect the problem with the valve on the abort thrusters that blew dragon to smithereens? Nope, sorry, they missed that one. Did they find the problems with starliner before it went haywire from wonky coding? No, darn it, missed that one too.

    This is is a CYA panel designed to protect NASA from Congressional and press backlash if anything goes wrong. It adds nothing, zero, to actual safety. That being said, it was probably a smart political move to establish it and get them to sign off on Commercial Crew. Hopefully, once both capsules are up and running we can get this useless roadblock of a committee disbanded permanently.

  • Ray Van Dune

    I don’t disagree that the ASAP did not detect the real problems you mention. In order to do that, it would have had to review the entire spacecraft designs in detail. What it probably actually does is review the documentary evidence that the companies provide as proof that THEY reviewed the designs in detail, and that their review processes were adequate. They are holding the companies to a generally accepted set of standards for quality control practices, not holding the companies’ designs to a set of standards.

    Given that, it boils down to which companies have sufficiently excellent design and build practices, and follow them rigorously. Based on evidence so far, I would fail Boeing, and give a conditional pass to Spacex, pending Spacex demonstrating that they have made it essentially impossible for hypergolics to escape and mix (short of a catastrophic accident that would make it moot). That sounds like what ASAP is doing.

    Boeing has to re-qualify their software, given the evidence that it was not properly qualified in the first place. In this case, I suspect ASAP told Boeing that they could announce they were doing it themselves, or have NASA tell them publicly they had to. Obvious choice.

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