Griffin to take shuttle flights one at a time

In a week that saw a damning report
on how NASA worked the agency’s administrator, Michael Griffin, finally
seemed to be recognising what its capabilities really were.

The report, published 17 August, was produced by the 26 member Return to Flight Task Group.

The Group was created to monitor NASA’s efforts to restart shuttle missions after the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident.

Seven
of its 26 members, including five shuttle flight veteran Susan Helms,
criticised NASA heavily in the report for an absence of managerial
accountability and management arrogance, which saw ideas dismissed out
of hand.

In a press conference in Washington DC on 18 August, with his associate administrator for space operations, William Gerstenmaier, Griffin said he would consider the report and take on board all its comments.

At the same conference he went onto to reject any notion of shuttle flights being a fixed number every year.

The
struggles over return to flight, the ongoing problems with the external
tank shedding foam and budget constraints are clearly leading
Griffin to reject any potential pressure to launch shuttles at any annual rate.

It’s
the right thing to do. It also means there is no plan for a minimum
number of shuttle flights. There maybe none, there maybe a dozen or
more. That has major implications for the International Space Station.

The shuttle never has been the space truck it was originally sold as and there are clearly serious issues with its design.

During
Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS 114 mission in July Wayne Hale, NASA
deputy shuttle programme manager described launching shuttles as
“playing Russian roulette”.

And at the 18 August conference Griffin said of the agency’s attitude to foam loss, “We didn’t look at foam shedding for 113 flights, shame on us.”

This
is of no surprise to people who have known NASA from the inside. People
involved in the Task Group privately expressed the view to Flight
International that there were very serious problems in NASA’s
management. Not unlike Susan Helms and her compatriots on the Task
Group.

So,
finally, NASA’s leadership is not taking any chances, not playing
Russian roulette, and is instead recognising that it’s an agency of
imperfect people operating a dangerous vehicle. But is
Griffin still making the wrong decision?

Is he going far enough, shouldn’t the shuttle programme be closed down immediately?

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