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NASA Campaigns For Safer Launch Requirements 193

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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  • by illumastorm ( 172101 ) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:29PM (#30262398)

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

  • by queazocotal ( 915608 ) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:41PM (#30262514)

    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' with a metal scale based system.

    Linear aerospike - which had never flown.

    NASA is in love with complexity.

    Everything must work 100%.

    It must be the lightest shiniest most perfect thing that it can be.

    Cost is not something you reduce after the design, it's a fundamental aspect of the process that NASA gets entirely backwards.

    Take for example the shuttle.
    In round numbers, the cost of the fuel for the shuttle is .1% of a launch cost.

    A sizeable fraction is the standing army to service the thing.

    A very simple three stage or so rocket with extremely large margins built in shipyards is not actually technically difficult.

    Capsules are low tech - however they are extremely simple and reliable way to deorbit crew.
    Soyuz has a better record of people not dying on the way down than shuttle, and is vastly cheaper.

  • Re:Not very Agile (Score:3, Informative)

    by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @01:41PM (#30262518)
    PS: The aerospace industry doe use agile like methods on occasion. They usually call it a skunkworks project, from Lockheed Skunk Works, the guys who brought you the U-2 and SR-71. Read Kelly Johnson's 14 Rules of Management [] and see if some of it sounds familiar...
  • 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.

  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @02:48PM (#30262944) Journal

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

    Don't forget the training costs. Astronauts cost between $25m and $1bn to train, depending on whose estimates you use. Less than the cost of replacing challenger, but still a large chunk of money.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday November 29, 2009 @07:31PM (#30264700)

    That's why we should drop manned spaceflight as a priority and tackle that dangerous job with remotely operated systems.

    There are several things about that statement that just don't work. First, the primary reason behind manned spaceflight is to have people in space. There's also a general assumption that sooner or later a lot of people will live in space. For that to happen, you have a few people living in space. Second, nobody who flies in space cares that it's a dangerous job. That's not a useful observation to make.

    Third, remotely operated systems don't work as well as people do. Else, they'd be used on Earth. Instead, the problem is that most missions are sized too small for the overhead of a human. If your overall mission has a mass budget of 500 kg, you aren't fitting a person in there.

    Finally, astronaut labor isn't expensive. The cost of the support infrastructure and training is, but the actual guy is not that expensive (generally around $100-200k per year).

  • 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.

  • Re:Wow... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @05:26AM (#30268194)

    STS design went for capacity and payload, at great risk to safety.

    Ultimately the issue was a crossrange requirement driven by the Congressional mandate that only a single launch system would be funded, and would be used to support civilian, science, and military payloads.
    Only a winged design could launch polar from Vandenberg, take some pictures of an "event", and land back at Vandenberg.

  • Re:BS numbers (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 30, 2009 @06:47AM (#30268498)

    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.

    1 in 129?
    How about 2 [] in 127 [].

    -- nitpick nazi.

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