Former Shuttle Manager Decries NASA’s Commercial Crew Safety Regs

A deal with the devil: Former shuttle manager decries NASA’s commercial crew safety regulations. Key quote:

The U.S. government did not always rely on voluminous specifications to safeguard pilots or astronauts, Hale said, citing requirements for the first U.S. military aircraft which covered only 2.5 pages and those of NASA’s Gemini capsule which were about 12 pages long.

The climategate email anniversary

Some cogent thoughts from James Delingpole about climate politics on the one year anniversary of the release of the climategate emails and the refusal of the elite ruling class to address the issue. Key quote:

And why is this so? In part, at least, it is because of the abject, ongoing failure of our Mainstream Media to report environmental issues with the robust scepticism that ought to be the natural tack of responsible journalists. Too many environmental reporters are still regurgitating press releases handed to them by activist organisations like the WWF, Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth. In the MSM, as in government, it’s like Climategate never happened.

Shades of foam and failed o-rings?

A fourth crack has been found on Discovery’s external tank. How this will affect Discovery’s November 30 launch remains unknown. There will a briefing on Monday to discuss the status of the schedule. This quote however gives me the willies:

External tank crack repairs are not unusual. Some 29 stringer cracks were found in 18 previous tanks, according to an official familiar with their history. Four have now been found in Discovery’s tank, ET-137, and three were found in a tank scheduled for use by the shuttle Atlantis next summer, ET-138. Doublers were used in 23 repairs.

There is a saying that we always fight the last war. After the Challenger accident NASA made great effort to prevent another o-ring failure in the solid rocket boosters, and ignored the foam falling from the external tank. After the Columbia accident, NASA then made great effort to prevent another piece of foam from hitting an orbiter.

Unfortunately, it appears that NASA may now be ignoring this crack problem. Even though they have been able to repair past cracks, for this many cracks to occur this often should cause alarm bells to ring throughout the agency, forcing a look at the problem in toto. Instead, it appears management has been making catch-as-catch-can repairs.

What makes this situation even more difficult is the factory that makes the external tanks has shut down. No new tanks are available. Thus, there are not many options for flying these last few shuttle missions except by using the already existing tanks, and repairing them as needed.

Like I said, this is beginning to give me the willies.

Continuing resolution likely into 2011

The space war returns! The lame duck session of Congress is now expected to pass a continuing resolution that extends into next year, leaving the final decisions about the budget to the next Congress. This is very bad news for NASA and what’s left of the government space program.

Update: I should add that I’m not bothered in the slightest that this might happen. The money that the present Congress proposed giving to NASA will not make the exploration of the solar system possible, and in fact might hinder that exploration significantly under the weight of government regulation. It is time to cut the cord, and stop depending on the damn government to conquer the stars.

New airport security checks causing protests

And people wonder why I now drive from Maryland to Chicago: It appears that no one is happy with new TSA airport security checks, requiring either a full body scan or a full body pat down. Protests are coming from pilots, flight attendants, passengers, and the airlines. Key quote from the “passenger” link above:

The aggressively enhanced TSA pat down involves over-the-clothes searches of passengers’ breast and genital areas. You can opt not to go through the backscatter body scanners, and thereby keep your genitalia private from pictures, but then a TSA screener will use a front-of-the-hand, slide-down body screening that Ars Technica called “nut-busting pat-downs.”

And there’s National Opt-Out Day, November 24, 2010. (I wish I could participate, but as I said, I will be driving to Chicago for Thanksgiving, mostly to avoid the police-state of the TSA.)

The space program is dead, long live the space industry!

The news following the midterm election results have not sounded good for NASA. Two stories on Monday alone signaled the bad news:

Earlier stories last week were no more encouraging:

While Republicans have, since the 1970s, generally been more enthusiastic than Democrats about NASA and manned space exploration, the new Republican Congress has a tone that seems decidedly different from past years. Above all, it appears the public is finally becoming aware of the recent explosion in the federal debt, as illustrated by the graph below. (hat tip to Gateway Pundit and The Captain’s Comments.)

Federal deficit

The public’s growing concern about these numbers was clearly reflected in the election results. First, there was the success of many tea party candidates advocating fiscal responsibility and a radical shrinking of government. Even in cases where conservatives lost, the closeness of the election in districts or states where liberals have rarely in the past been challenged suggests the mood of the electorate is decidedly shifting in a direction against federal spending.

Second, the electorate seemed surprisingly hostile to pork, expressing little interest in being brought off with baubles for their home districts. Thus, candidates who ran against pork seemed to get far more enthusiastic attention and positive publicity than those elected officials famous for “bringing home the bacon.”

In such an atmosphere, the priorities of Congress will be forced to change. The outlook therefore does not look good for the type of pork funding represented by the NASA authorization bill passed on September 29, with its billions of subsidies for the aerospace industry.

We can see an indication of this new tone by some of the initial plans announced by the Republican leadership. As a first step, the Republicans have proposed cutting the federal budget back 2008 levels. This change alone would reduce NASA’s annual budget by about $2 billion, or 10%.

This solution, however, will not close the budget gap, only shrink it slightly. The Republicans will still be faced with massive amounts of red ink and a public demanding that they deal with it. To prove they mean what they say, the new House leadership will be forced to propose some additional draconian cuts.

Unfortunately, the circumstances at this moment has made NASA a prime budget-cutting target. » Read more

Space and the election results

Yesterday’s elections will clearly force changes again to NASA’s future. Below are a few links from some other space experts expressing their thoughts on the matter. I will follow with my own essay sometime next week, after the election results have some time to shake out.

From SpacePolicyOnline, an overview of the results in relation to space policy.

From Rand Simberg: Great election news for space.

From Space Politics: Brooks wins, Giffords with a narrow lead.

See also this Space.com article: Election Brings New Leadership to NASA Oversight Committees.

Overall, the defeat of Congressmen like Oberstar and Grayson, both of whom loved to regulate, can only be good for the future of private space.

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