Daily Archives: July 27th, 2007

Friday Science: What’s Wrong With NASA?

From New Scientist:

NASA is investigating sabotage of a non-critical computer due to be flown to the International Space Station aboard the space shuttle Endeavour, which was cleared to lift off on 7 August, the space agency said on Thursday.

NASA revealed the sabotage a day ahead of releasing two studies that the publication Aviation Week says found astronauts were allowed to fly on at least two occasions despite warnings they were so drunk they posed a flight risk.

The damage to wiring in an electronics box was intentional and obvious, NASA’s associate administrator for space operations, Bill Gerstenmaier, told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, US.

NASA found cut cables inside the electronics box, which was being prepared to be loaded into Endeavour’s crew cabin for transport to the $100 billion space station.

Sabotage of a non-critical computer? What’s up with that? I would think any destruction, especially willful destruction of any and all space hardware should be a criminal offence. And then allowing drunk astronauts to board the shuttle, knowingly allowing these individuals to enter a spacecraft that has a dubious safety record at best and fly!

Billions of dollars have been spend on the shuttle missions over the past twenty-seven years, tax-payer dollars. The space shuttle was touted as a cheaper alternative to expendable rockets and save money over the long haul. Well, it hasn’t saved a penny and it’s proved to be more costly to operate than the old Saturn V moon rockets. As far as the safety record is concerned, I suppose the loss of two shuttles and fourteen (or fifteen?) astronauts over the past thirty some odd years would be considered acceptable, given that you’re going into orbit on top of what amounts to a gigantic Roman candle filled with nitro-clycerin strapped to your ass. I guess that could explain the getting shit-faced before getting on board such a monstrosity. But still, these people are supposed to be professionals who knowingly accept the risks involved. And most people believe progress comes at a high price, most of Columbus’s sailors didn’t expect to return from their trip. Unfortunately for the Native Americans, Columbus and Co. did. But that’s another story.

Plus add these sorry tales on top of what already happened this year to NASA concerning the “astronaut diaper” jokes:

Nowak, 43, told police she drove from Houston, Texas, to the Orlando International Airport to confront Colleen Shipman, whom Nowak considered a rival for the attentions of fellow astronaut Bill Oefelein the police affidavit said. The astronaut had disguised herself in a dark wig, glasses and a trench coat.

Nowak, a married flight engineer with three children, was awaiting her next flight assignment after travelling aboard the shuttle Discovery in July 2006.

Obviously, NASA needs to clean up its act here. Not only taxpayer dollars are being wasted but the integrity of the whole manned space program is in jeopardy. Probably one can make the argument that money for oversight of the program is diverted to Bu$hco’s 1984 themed Perpetual Wars, so blame could be passed along in that direction. And that could very well be the reason. But I believe the problem is deeper than that because NASA as a government agency has always had its budget cut and still always pushed to perform the way it has always had. Even when Bu$hco announced that the United States as a nation is returning to Lunar exploration, no additional monies were forthcoming, NASA had to make do with what it had and thusly had to cut some of it’s scientific space probe program, angering many scientists who thought their programs were already “sacred cows”.

So what is NASA to do? One logical move would be to revamp the astronaut screening process. I realize psychology is an art at best, not a precise science. One solution would be to require astronauts to undergo screening every six months instead of yearly. Another is surprise urinalysis screening for drugs and alcohol. Yes, I know that goes against the individual’s privacy and rights of personage I’m always preaching about, but when you sign a contract to operate billions of dollars worth of technology, one should be held responsible. Either that, or just abolish the whole shootin’ match and privatize the space program, let entrenpeneurs take the risk. If a drunk pilot or one that is f*ckin’ nuts pilots a ship with tourists on it crashes or gets arrested on doing something stupid, let their corporate bosses pay out huge insurance claims or fire their asses if they live. At least it’s their money, not ours.
NASA investigates sabotage of space-bound computer