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NASA Campaigns For Safer Launch Requirements 193

Posted by Soulskill
from the risk-is-not-our-business dept.
NASA officials will speak before members of Congress this week in an effort to gain support for more stringent launch safety considerations for the space shuttle's successor. Crew safety remains a major concern for lawmakers while they debate NASA's future and the potential integration of private companies into US space flight plans. "The demonstrated probability of a shuttle launch disaster is 1 in 129. NASA's 83 astronauts think those odds can be improved to 1 in 1,000. Independent safety experts agree. 'None of us want to repeat the accident history of the shuttle,' said retired Navy Vice Adm. Joseph Dyer, chairman of the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, a group organized to oversee NASA programs after three astronauts died in the 1967 Apollo 1 launch pad fire. ... NASA's Astronaut Office began a re-evaluation of next-generation launch vehicle safety after the loss of Columbia's crew. The guiding principles laid out in a May 2004 report remain current, astronauts said. Launching astronauts into low Earth orbit is dangerous. But an order-of-magnitude reduction of risk is achievable 'and should therefore represent a minimum safety benchmark for future systems,' the report says."
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NASA Campaigns For Safer Launch Requirements

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  • Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nametaken (610866) * on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:05PM (#30262210)

    I can certainly appreciate that they want to do better, but it still amazes me that we send people into F'ING SPACE with less than 1% failure rate.

    • by peragrin (659227)

      we not only send people into space with a 1-2% failure rate but we do so by sitting them on top of a giant bomb.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Baron_Yam (643147)

      It amazes me that this is a serious concern. There IS a price for manned spaceflight and if it goes too high, it's over. Astronauts know the risks and willingly take them.

      If 1:1000 is achievable with the same budget as 1:129 then it'd be evil not to do it - but if it increases costs by even 2:1 it is stupid to even suggest it.

      America's losing its balls.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Regardless of that, it is very disappointing to note the risk/benefit or even pure--dare I say it--romanticism of spaceflight. It's been nearly half a century since we went to the Moon, and our technology since then has advanced almost immeasurably. Yet--has our engineering talent, scientific motivation, and will to discover followed?
      • Re:Wow... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by smallfries (601545) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @02:25PM (#30262782) Homepage

        What complete idiocy! By the same rational if we could half costs in the space program in exchange for a 1:12 chance of disaster it would stupid not to do so?

        There is a trade-off between risk and price. You are indicating a particular point on that continuum and claiming it is stupid to look anywhere else, but without any justification whatsoever.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by khallow (566160)

          What complete idiocy! By the same rational if we could half costs in the space program in exchange for a 1:12 chance of disaster it would stupid not to do so?

          Well, the question then becomes is the rationale being applied correctly? Would we really halve costs by having a failure rate of 1 in 12 launches? The answer can be "yes", if we're launching non-vital bulk materials like propellant, but "no", if we're launching 6 astronauts or multi-billion dollar satellites.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by dmartin (235398)

        Where does the number 2:1 come from (I take it we are just looking at the shuttle budget, not NASAs entire budget)?

        As you rightly point out, if 1:1000 is achievable with the same budget as 1:129 then it would be evil not to do it.

        What if it cost an extra $10 to go from 1:129 to 1:1000? How about $10,000? Or $10,000,000?

        I agree that at some point it is no longer worth it, and that implicitly we do place value on a humans lives. But how much is it worth? That is maybe a better question than the ratio of "2:1"

        • by Baron_Yam (643147)

          I pulled numbers from the same place I store my collection of flying monkeys, simply for the sake of argument. They weren't meant to be taken as absolutes based on expert research of the situation.

        • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by tftp (111690) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:29PM (#30263206) Homepage

          agree that at some point it is no longer worth it, and that implicitly we do place value on a humans lives. But how much is it worth?

          It is worth much more than it would cost to make the launch vehicle safe. The STS problem - and its death toll - is in deliberate design that made emergency escape impossible pretty much in any part of the launch or descent. Capsule based designs could survive both incidents if the capsule is strong enough to perform a ballistic reentry on its own. The problem is that you can't make such a capsule large enough to hold 7 people. STS design went for capacity and payload, at great risk to safety.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        I'm sure glad you are not designing or administering the security features of the cars I drive. Or the planes I fly in. Or the inspection proceedures for the food I eat. I can go on and on....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by turgid (580780)

        If 1:1000 is achievable with the same budget as 1:129 then it'd be evil not to do it - but if it increases costs by even 2:1 it is stupid to even suggest it. America's losing its balls.

        This insanity got modded +5 insightful. Luckily this is only slashdot, or I'd be worried for the future of humanity.

        By your reasoning, why not remove any pretense of manned space flight being a return trip? Why not save a whole lot of dollars and leave the astronauts to die in space, or to burn up on reentry? It would make

        • by Baron_Yam (643147)

          It's amazing YOUR insanity got mod points at all.

          You can make any argument look ridiculous by taking it to extremes.

          And to answer your slight - yes, for something like a manned Mars mission with 128:129 odds of surviving I'd be first in line if I could. I probably wouldn't because thousands of others would be trying to get the #1 spot as well.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        If 1:1000 is achievable with the same budget as 1:129 then it'd be evil not to do it - but if it increases costs by even 2:1 it is stupid to even suggest it.

        This is especially the case when you consider that the committee meeting will probably only be discussing launch ascent safety, with perhaps a small portion devoted to reentry safety. Considering that NASA's plans for the new vehicles are for beyond-LEO exploration, it's a good bet that the most dangerous part of exploration won't be the launch, but the time that you spend voyaging to (e.g. Apollo 13's near-disaster) and exploring the Moon, Lagrange Points, Near-Earth Asteroids, comets, Phobos, Mars, or wha

      • The summery states a failure rate of 1:129, but I thought we lost 2 shuttles in the last 129 flights. Doesn't that make the failure rate at 2:129 or 1:65 ?
    • by Fluffeh (1273756)

      I can certainly appreciate that they want to do better, but it still amazes me that we send people into F'ING SPACE with less than 1% failure rate.

      Unless you want to send people into space with a greater than 1% failure rate, sending them into space with LESS than a 1% failure rate seems more sensible. I don't know about you, but I would want the failure rate to be smaller, not larger.

  • by jlgreer1 (888680) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:13PM (#30262250) Homepage
    Why does NASA have to campaign for greater safety standards? Why can't they implement them without the "politicians" approval?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by illumastorm (172101)

      NASA needs some extra funding to implement the changes and therefore has to ask Congress very, very nicely.

      • by physburn (1095481)
        Considering NASA don't current have budget or permission for there next generation rocket, asking for extra funding for safety seems silly. Safety of what, a non existent rocket that will never get made. Such a request doesn't look good. I would hope that Ares would be designed with much better safety than shuttles (in practice) 2/129 failure rate.

        ---

        Space Craft [feeddistiller.com] Feed @ Feed Distiller [feeddistiller.com]

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:31PM (#30262412) Journal

      more money

    • What's even more confusing is that the summary seems to be implying that there's some big debate going on. NASA wants more assurance of crew safety. Lawmakers want more assurance of crew safety. Where's the problem here?
      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:56PM (#30262622)

        What's even more confusing is that the summary seems to be implying that there's some big debate going on. NASA wants more assurance of crew safety. Lawmakers want more assurance of crew safety. Where's the problem here?

        The problem is that NASA is mentioning this so they can get a bigger budget.

        Congress, on the other hand, is mentioning this so they can justify lowering the budget.

      • Whatever. NASA is not the way forward, simple as that. Given a multi-billion organization filled with politicians and bureaucrats, pencil pushers, bean counters, technicians, and janitors, all designed to support an exceedingly small cadre who actually pursue the mission, NASA is just a dinosaur looking for a place to fossilize.

        SpaceX and others will lead us onward, if we even go on.

        Imagine the army, or the navy, organized like NASA is. We'd have 500 soldiers, 500 doctors, 1000 accountants, 1500 medics,

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Grygus (1143095)

          Imagine the army, or the navy, organized like NASA is. We'd have 500 soldiers, 500 doctors, 1000 accountants, 1500 medics, 20,000 officer (with at least 1000 flag officers) and 500 hopeful politicians. Not to mention about 50 infiltrators from the competition. Oh, I forgot the 200 embedded journalists.

          If war was run like space exploration, this would be an excellent point.

          Mandatory safety standards will need to be codified whether the effort is undertaken by NASA or private enterprise. This is more or less a "put your money where your mouth is" test for Congress; they will have a hard time justifying tougher standards than they themselves were willing to pay for, after all.

        • Imagine the army, or the navy, organized like NASA is. We'd have 500 soldiers, 500 doctors, 1000 accountants, 1500 medics, 20,000 officer (with at least 1000 flag officers) and 500 hopeful politicians. Not to mention about 50 infiltrators from the competition. Oh, I forgot the 200 embedded journalists.

          I want to assume you're joking. The Department of Defense is run like NASA. Probably more so.

          And don't give us the "private enterprise does better" argument without proof. We've seen how the aerospace companies handle unmanned flight, and it's not really that impressive. They have plenty of launch failures and mission screw-ups. A good friend (who researchers Mars) is fond of noting that all of the recent Mars failures are basically the fault of Lockheed-Martin, for example.

          My guess is that if private

          • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

            While I disagree with the parent post (my response is below), I think you oversimplify it too far in the other direction. Private enterprise isn't automatically better, but for well-known tasks, fixed-price contracts and market forces that aren't as subject to the whims of senators trying to keep jobs in their states are likely to be more efficient.

            While it may be correct that LockMart was the prime contractor for the Mars missions, this is not what people are referring to when they talk about 'private spa

        • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

          While I am a proponent of privatization, its disingenuous to say that NASA has no place. SpaceX has a lot of potential, and I have a lot of faith that they and companies like them will be able to handle the task of getting cargo and astronauts back and forth from orbit. Further, I fully agree that NASA needs to make motions towards getting out of the business of trucking stuff to orbit at all, leaving it fully to fixed-price contracts. I am a "true believer" in NewSpace.

          Given that, NASA still has a criti

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CodeBuster (516420)

      Why does NASA have to campaign for greater safety standards? Why can't they implement them without the "politicians" approval?

      Perhaps they wish to hobble private competitors, like SpaceX, with so many onerous restrictions and regulations that they exit the launch business and leave NASA with a government funded monopoly. NASA doesn't really care about how much launches cost, up to a point, but they do care about having to compete with a private agency for their Raison d'être [wikipedia.org]. This is about using the power of government to eliminate or at least severely restrict the marketplace for private launches. One has to know how federal

      • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @08:01PM (#30264870)

        After hearing astronaut Mark Kelly speak at a conference a couple of weeks ago, this was my first thought as well. When asked what his opinion was on the possibility of riding something like Dragon to orbit, he hesitated and said a lot about safety. There is the impression that somehow civil servants somehow are able to make things safer than the employees of a private company. I imagine a lot of it has to do with protecting the magic of being an astronaut, as the corps is also concerned that vehicles like Dragon treat them more like cargo than pilots (there was an Orlando Sentinel Op-Ed to that effect about a month ago).

        Protecting jobs at the manned spaceflight centers, particularly Marshall, where they develop the rockets most at risk of being killed by private development, is another obvious goal. Senators from Alabama fought tooth and nail to keep kill funding for CCDev, since it could eliminate the necessity for MSFC to be crucial for each and every portion of manned space flight.

        • by hitmark (640295)

          well, so far big corps have been about money first, safety maybe a distant third...

          just watch how they designed appealing, but deadly cars...

    • by SteveWoz (152247) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:16PM (#30263132) Homepage

      The solution is to make it so that a politician's child has to ride on each trip.

      • by shentino (1139071)

        I believe one time an ancient architect had his son strapped on top of an obelisk he was hoisting for the Pharaoh.

        Pretty good motivation not to screw it up.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Why does NASA have to campaign for greater safety standards? Why can't they implement them without the "politicians" approval?

      Because unfortunately, it's quite likely that the main reason this is being done is to shut out competitors in private spaceflight. It goes something like this:

      * Although the Astronaut Corps is full of brave and intelligent individuals, the fact of the matter is that they have a huge revolving door with ATK, an aerospace/defense contractor which specializes in solid motors. Astronaut

  • by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:16PM (#30262286) Journal
    Seriously, Rutan had it right when he said that we are not killing enough. The simple fact is, that to be cutting edge WILL involve loss of life. Yet, NASA is talking all about safety rather than designing/building new rockets.
    • NASA can not afford accidents, not because of the sanctity of human life or any nonsense like that, but because it will kill NASA and probably manned spaceflight in this country in general. Colombia very nearly killed the shuttle program entirely, before a successor was even on the drawing board. People are willing to accept that being an astronaut is dangerous, but a lot of people look up to them, and when a bunch of them explode in a ball of fire over Texas in an entirely preventable accident, the PR impact is catastrophic. Even privately funded spaceflight will get shut down (in this country at least) if it has too many high profile accidents. Even if in reality the cost in lives is minuscule compared to what we lose daily in car accidents or lung cancer from smoking, a few big accidents in a row and the politicians will see "stopping the reckles endangerment of human lives" as a way to score some cheap votes. If human beings were rational and logical, you'd have a point, but we aren't, and too many astronaut funerals on TV will inevitably cause a kneejerk reaction.

      • NASA can not afford accidents, not because of the sanctity of human life or any nonsense like that, but because it will kill NASA and probably manned spaceflight in this country in general.

        Somewhat agree. The reality is that we continue in spite of the fact that we had 2 major loses on the shuttle system and one on the apollo.

        Even privately funded spaceflight will get shut down (in this country at least) if it has too many high profile accidents. Even if in reality the cost in lives is minuscule compar
      • by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @02:21PM (#30262764)

        NASA can not afford accidents, not because of the sanctity of human life or any nonsense like that, but because it will kill NASA and probably manned spaceflight in this country in general.

        Nasa can't afford accidents because Challenger cost about $2,000,000,000 to replace and Columbia was essentially impossible to replace; lose one more shuttle and there aren't enough left to get anything useful done.

        Lose an Arse launch and it's just a matter of replacing a capsule and hiring a few more astronauts.

        Of course if NASA really cared about making it safer, they wouldn't have built an expensive, complex and rarely flown new launcher of their own rather than using a cheap ELV whose reliability is already known combined with an escape system designed to cope with what accidents may occur.

      • by khallow (566160)

        NASA can not afford accidents, not because of the sanctity of human life or any nonsense like that, but because it will kill NASA and probably manned spaceflight in this country in general. Colombia very nearly killed the shuttle program entirely, before a successor was even on the drawing board. People are willing to accept that being an astronaut is dangerous, but a lot of people look up to them, and when a bunch of them explode in a ball of fire over Texas in an entirely preventable accident, the PR impact is catastrophic. Even privately funded spaceflight will get shut down (in this country at least) if it has too many high profile accidents. Even if in reality the cost in lives is minuscule compared to what we lose daily in car accidents or lung cancer from smoking, a few big accidents in a row and the politicians will see "stopping the reckles endangerment of human lives" as a way to score some cheap votes. If human beings were rational and logical, you'd have a point, but we aren't, and too many astronaut funerals on TV will inevitably cause a kneejerk reaction.

        Well, then manned space flight is dead at least in the US. Because there will be accidents. I think a simple solution is simply to point out that there's a stark choice between safety and an alive program.

        However, consider this. If there are enough accidents and it can be reasonably shown that either the accidents weren't preventable (if only because the operators of the vehicles didn't know about the problem) or because the owners were grossly negligent (and are promptly punished for that), then repetit

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by queazocotal (915608)

      How many people here would go on the shuttle today - given that failure rate - under 1%.

      NASA is unfortunately not a results driven organisation,they are a welfare organisation.

      Consider the last attempt to reduce the cost of launch.

      This had three completely untried technologies that all had to work perfectly in the picked vehicle design. (x33/venturestar).

      Conformal tanks (non-spherical or cylindrical tanks that are shaped to fit with the structure).

      Metallic thermal protection system - replacing the 'tiles' w

      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @02:48PM (#30262940)

        How many people here would go on the shuttle today - given that failure rate - under 1%.

        Me. In a hearbeat. I'd go to Mars if the odds were at least 4:1 in my favour (20% or lower chance of failure), and stay there as long as the odds were better than 50-50 in any given decade.

        • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @03:54PM (#30263340)

          Me. In a heartbeat. I'd go to Mars if the odds were at least 4:1 in my favor...

          Hell, I'd go even if I knew I'd probably die en-route. It would sure be more interesting than being a sysadmin/programmer for the next N years. Plus, you'd be in the history books as "the guy who died trying to get to Mars". OK, less of a "plus", but still...

        • Okay. Now a couple of other questions:

          • Are You Married?
          • Do You Have Kids?
          • Do You Have Skills That Might Be Useful On Mars or on the Shuttle?

          Frankly, I don't want to waste my tax dollars on your joyride. I'd rather send someone who has a really good reason to be there. However, some of those people have wives and children and don't really want to risk their lives in the name of science.

          Don't get me wrong--I agree with you wholeheartedly. I'd ride the Shuttle--no questions asked. But I also recognize that

    • by Flavio (12072)

      Likewise, Wall Street brokers say "if you haven't been sued yet, it's because you haven't been trying hard enough".

      It's great to push the envelope in science and technology, but one shouldn't cut corners at the expense of human lives. It is possible to do responsible engineering -- it definitely is more expensive and slower, but it's the only option I find morally acceptable.

      And besides, it has always been painfully obvious that one can only go so far using chemical rockets, and that there's only so much on

      • Not really true. Man has THOUSANDS of years of business experience to back up Wall Street. Rockets have less than 70 years. The reality is that rocket science is not science. It is still very much in an art form. This is more true due to the high costs to build these systems. Once we have a number of systems and have tried various things, THEN and ONLY THEN will you really see the death rate go down.

        Now, you speak about 'Morally acceptable', but those that fly(actually ride) these vehicle KNOW THE SCORE.
        • by nsayer (86181)

          Rockets have less than 70 years

          You have to be more specific than that. The Chinese have had rockets for just shy of a thousand years.

        • by Flavio (12072)

          Now, you speak about 'Morally acceptable', but those that fly(actually ride) these vehicle KNOW THE SCORE. THEY ARE ALL VOLUNTEERS. These are ppl that are not going into this in a stupid fashion. They know what can and can not go wrong. Heck, If I can get a free ride on the shuttle, I will gladly take it right now. Why? Because I, like many ppl througout the world as well as all the astronauts, find it plenty safe and most certainly 'morally acceptable'.

          They're volunteers who don't want to die. The fact tha

    • by selven (1556643)

      I agree. I'm sure there are many astronauts who are willing to take even a 5% risk of dying just for the opportunity to go into space. The few million dollars of wasted training pale in comparison to the loss of the equipment, so there's really no reason why we (as in humanity as a whole, not as in a space organization which needs to maintain PR) should worry this much about safety.

    • by lennier (44736)

      "Seriously, Rutan had it right when he said that we are not killing enough. The simple fact is, that to be cutting edge WILL involve loss of life."

      Your ideas intrigue me and I would like to book a passenger flight on your spaceline.

  • "NASA Campaigns For Safer Lunch Requirements".

    No idea what those guys have been eating.

  • Wouldn't NASA administrators have the power to require certain safety levels in any grants or contracts they award?
  • reality (Score:2, Insightful)

    by heptapod (243146)

    I sincerely hope that people understand such legislation has its foundations in the fact that launch vehicles are very expensive and nothing to do with the pilots and passengers.
    Even taking into account the investment made in people while training astronauts can be sizeable it still pales in comparison to the expense of using a chemical rocket to boost a tiny payload into low earth orbit. $10,000 per pound in 2001 dollars.
    Once the price of lobbing things into space becomes reasonable, there will be deaths,

  • Interesting that we're not counting Columbia as a "launch" disaster. The foam that broke off and hit the orbiter wing happened on launch, so in my mind we're at 2/129, not 1/129. That particular failure mode is directly attributable to the questionable decision to mount the orbiter to the side of the stack, rather than on top: switching back to the "astronauts at the top of the stack" seems like a clear way to remove a bunch of that type of failure modes.

    • by Dunbal (464142)

      That particular failure mode is directly attributable to the questionable decision to mount the orbiter to the side of the stack, rather than on top:

            Um, how else would it use its engines, if it wasn't at the side?

            Perhaps it was a questionable decision. But then again exactly how many more boosters would you need per launch to get it into orbit?

      • Um, how else would it use its engines, if it wasn't at the side?

        It's not just on the side. It's on the side with critical heat shields and flight components situated *below* a bunch of loose coatings and chunks of ice. That wouldn't have happened if they had not been so focused on making a spacecraft that looks like an airplane.

  • 10x safer = easy (Score:3, Informative)

    by spikeham (324079) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:49PM (#30262578)

    Just switching from a fragile tile-covered aircraft strapped to the side of a flaking-foam-covered hydrogen tank to an inherently ballistically stable capsule placed as far from the flaming end of the rocket as possible (i.e., on top of it) will achieve the desired 10x safety factor improvement. NASA has been tied to its delta-winged boondoggle for several decades too long. If they would eliminate the segmented, non-throttleable solid rocket boosters (currently still in the plan thanks to Morton Thiokol's lobbyists) they could improve safety another 10x. And if they want to do all this at minimum cost, they could just buy Soyuz vehicles, the world's safest, most reliable manned space transportation system. Of course, national pride would allow this to happen only sometime after Putin declares his undying love for country music and Harley-Davidsons.

    • Yes, exactly, but it wouldn't allow NASA to pretend that the capsule was a "space plane".

    • Just switching from a fragile tile-covered aircraft strapped to the side of a flaking-foam-covered hydrogen tank to an inherently ballistically stable capsule placed as far from the flaming end of the rocket as possible (i.e., on top of it) will achieve the desired 10x safety factor improvement.

      Except, there's no such thing as an 'inherently ballistically stable capsule'. It takes considerable engineering effort, aerodynamic analysis, CP/CG managment, etc., to make the capsule stable. Consider this: An I

    • And if they want to do all this at minimum cost, they could just buy Soyuz vehicles, the world's safest, most reliable manned space transportation system.

      And they'd have to do 3x the number of launches in order to send the same number of people that the shuttle can carry with one launch. And they'd have to send up a few other launches to carry all the gear that the shuttle carries to the ISS.

  • It's worth noting here that safer space flight is counterproductive. The reason Ares I won back in 2005 on safety grounds is because it was a paper rocket. Nobody ever died on a paper rocket because nobody ever got to space on a paper rocket. NASA has not demonstrated that it can build or purchase a rocket safer than the Shuttle. Odds are very good that any increased safety requirements will have to be loosened when NASA finally gets (if it does) a manned space vehicle again.

    As an aside, will these safet
    • As an aside, will these safety rules apply to contracted launches through other countries? Will NASA stop flying people to the ISS because the only vehicles (namely, Soyuz) can't and won't bother to meet stringent safety requirements?

      Deaths on space shuttle flights: 14. Deaths on Soyuz flights: 4. Deaths on most recent version of Soyuz flights: 0. So, NASA could buy a safer rocket: Soyuz. Of course, that would make Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, et. al, very angry, so that'll never happen.

      I also have to say tha

      • by khallow (566160)

        I also have to say that the general feeling around here that astronauts are expendable is pretty fucking reprehensible.

        It's a fact. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that it's a good idea to kill off astronauts, but that's a natural consequence of having a manned spaceflight program. If you really had a person who wasn't expendable, then you wouldn't risk them on a rocket.

        It's also a fact that no astronaut has ever been more valuable than the spacecraft they rode on. If we're going to have manned spaceflight, we need to understand rationally the risks involved and come up with a reason to justify those risks.

      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        I also have to say that the general feeling around here that astronauts are expendable is pretty fucking reprehensible.

        I wouldn't consider an astronaut any less expendable than the billion-dollar space probes launched on the commercial rockets which many at NASA (especially Marshall Spaceflight Center and the contractor ATK) are currently trying to malign.

  • if the managers had listened to the engineers and not had an attack of press-on-itis... in fact, if I'm not mistaken the other disaster was avoidable as well... they had evidence of serious tile damage on previous flights and should have re-engineered the critical areas so that hot gas ingress could not do so much damage.
  • Make it safer? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Theodore (13524)

    The whole history of launching stuff into space in basically strapping something onto a bomb, and trying to control the way it explodes.
    Comparing the earliest manmade flights, basically using ICBMs, to... to....
    I was going to say today's tech, but the shuttle is almost 30 years old, so it really isn't today's tech.
    Soyuz? Proton? Ariane?
    It's all still focusing a huge amount of volatile explosives to a constricted area, hoping it doesn't all go pear shaped.
    Add to that environmental concerns (this bug that's

  • BS numbers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord Byron II (671689) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @04:12PM (#30263484)

    The demonstrated failure rate is ABSOLUTELY meaningless with such a low rate of loss. The actual failure rate could be 1 in 10 or 1 in 10,000, but with only 129 samples and 1 failure, you've got no idea which one it really is. Maybe we're already at 1 in 1000.

    I hate this probabilistic view anyway. If you know that the failure rate should be 1 in 1000, then you must know what will fail .1% of the time. Fix those flaws and now you should have a perfect vehicle. Of course, you don't have a perfect vehicle, because there are problems you don't know about. So when you think that you have a 1 in 1000 rate, you actually will have a lower one. So, if the goal is to get to a rate that is 1 in 1000, once we're there the unknowns might lower it to 1 in 129, which is where we are (demonstratively) at.

    Put another way, think about how safe the space shuttle is now. In its service lifetime, we've seen two fatal flaws demonstrated: foam and O-rings. The O-rings have been fixed and the foam has been mitigated. Over 129 launches, every dangerous problem has been fixed, minimized, or mitigated. Now we're going to dump a vehicle that has had 30 years of improvements built in and hope to do better with a new design.

    It would be like if we did a "rm -rdf ." on the kernel archives, stuck Linus and the kernel developers in a room, and let them start over. How long would it take to redevelop an OS that is as secure as Linux? Linux has 20 years of development and security fixes. Even with a better design plan and all of the combined experience, would it take them a year to duplicate the safety? Two years? Five? Ten?

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by nsayer (86181)

      It would be like if we did a "rm -rdf ." on the kernel archives, stuck Linus and the kernel developers in a room, and let them start over. How long would it take to redevelop an OS that is as secure as Linux?

      Oh, the delicious irony.

      That's exactly the series of events that gave us the abomination that is Linux - Linus sat down in his dorm room and reverse-engineered Unix. An OS that had a 20 year head start on development and security fixes and what not.

  • Dirty Jobs just aired a special episode that I think is on point. The episode introduced the mantra, "Safety third." This is not to say that Safety is unimportant, but that in every case, the safest course is to not engage in an activity with risk. If you put safety first, you won't get anything done at all.

    Now, the reason Mike Rowe had safety 3rd was that first was getting the job done (or at least, making a decent attempt) and second was making entertaining television. In most cases, I dare say the 2nd qu

    • ... on one of my ships (where they actually thought things through) the motto was "readiness through safety". The idea being that, yes, if you put safety uber alles, you couldn't get anything done. But reasonable levels of safety actually help you accomplish your mission by eliminating unnecessary injuries and equipment damage. I think that the space shuttle program has a long, long way to go before they've achieved "reasonable levels of safety". The monetary cost alone of the two failures to date was prett
  • The CAIB report directly pointed it's finger at management "converting a memory of failure into a memory of success" and that Nasa management had learned nothing from the Challenger accident where poor management decisions led to the loss of both launch vehicles.

    The U.S Navy criticised Nasa heavily, citing that it had assigned 5000 Navy staff to study the loss of the Challenger so it could improve practices in it Nuclear submarine fleet, Nasa assigned none. 14 of the 17 astronauts lost were due to manageme

  • Here is an idea.

    Build a cheaper more dangerous shuttle. Accept the fact that 5% of launches will result in failure. Publicise this. Let the astronauts know. I guarantee there will still be plenty of volunteers to go into space.

    So, you end up with say 50 dead astronauts. The training is pretty expensive - but way less than what you saved by building a cheaper shuttle.

    Now take those billions that you saved. Spend them on better healthcare for army veterans and poor children. Save tens of thousands of lives.

    Wo

    • ... by just not going at all. The point is that we have an obligation to provide a launch system for our astronauts that provides reasonable levels of safety for them. It is just plain unethical even to ask people to volunteer for what amounts to a game of Russian roulette without a much better reason than messing around with the ISS.
    • Yeah, and then they could change the name of NASA to Needs Another Seven Astronauts!

Heuristics are bug ridden by definition. If they didn't have bugs, then they'd be algorithms.

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