Tag Archives: NASA safety panel

NASA’s safety panel expresses concerns about Starliner

My heart be still: During a teleconference yesterday, members of NASA’s safety panel expressed concerns about Boeing’s Starliner capsule while cautiously and very tentatively endorsing SpaceX’s intention to launch future manned missions with reused Falcon 9 first stages and reused Dragon capsules.

I consider this safety panel worse than useless. For example, based on this news report, they appear to have had little involvement in the NASA/Boeing investigation into the issues that caused the premature de-orbit of first unmanned orbital test flight of Starliner. Instead, it appears they have simply reviewed that investigation, and are now just kibbitzing from the sidelines.

Of course NASA should be concerned about the 80 issues it found, mostly involving software. No one needs this safety panel to tell the agency this.

Meanwhile, the panel’s tentative support for reusing Falcon 9 boosters and Dragon capsules is merely a rubberstamp of already decided NASA policy, and also illustrates the panel’s uselessness. This safety panel spent the last five years blasting everything SpaceX was doing (causing many delays), while literally missing the real elephant in the room, Boeing’s own quality control issues.

It appears to me that NASA is very gently and quietly making the safety panel irrelevant to its operations. Even better would be to disband it entirely. It serves no purpose other than to delay and block future exploration, sometimes foolishly.

NASA’s safety panel rubberstamps May 27 manned Dragon launch

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.

NASA safety panel raises more questions about Boeing and Starliner

In its quarterly meeting yesterday, NASA’s safety panel raised more questions about the software problems during the unmanned demo mission of Boeing’s Starliner manned capsule in December.

NASA’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) revealed today that a second software error was discovered during the uncrewed Boeing Starliner flight test in December. Had it gone undetected during the flight, it had the potential to cause “catastrophic spacecraft failure” during reentry. The panel wants a complete review of Boeing’s software verification processes before NASA decides whether a second uncrewed flight test is needed. In an email this evening, Boeing said it appreciates the input and is working on a plan with NASA to address all the issues and decide what comes next.

In that Boeing email it noted that it was “unclear” what the consequences would have been if this second software issue had not been fixed.

The safety panel also called for an overall organizational review of the entire Boeing company, similar to the review done to SpaceX after Elon Musk was videoed taking a toke on a joint during a podcast interview.

The decision on whether Boeing will be required to fly another unmanned demo mission is targeted for before the end of February.

One comment: While there is clear evidence here that Boeing had issues on that demo flight that must be resolved before humans fly on Starliner, we must also recognize that NASA’s safety panel has an unfortunate tendency to overstate risk, demanding margins of safety that are frequently unrealistic for an endeavor pushing the envelope of exploration. That panel has also exhibited an almost corrupt bias against private commercial space, while looking past much more serious safety issues in the NASA-built SLS and Orion programs.

At the same time, the larger corporate issues here with Boeing do appear far more systemic and concerning that those that occurred with SpaceX. A cold independent audit of the company by NASA could actually do Boeing a lot of good.