Topic: Documents Suggest NASA Downplaying Risks
From: London, UK
Registered: Feb 2002
posted April 23, 2005 07:54 AM
"Documents Suggest NASA Downplaying Risks
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: April 22, 2005
Filed at 7:27 p.m. ET
NEW YORK (AP) -- Internal NASA documents obtained by a newspaper suggest that the agency is playing down the dangers posed by shuttle debris so it can continue to send astronauts into space. But space agency officials denied Friday that safety standards are being loosened.
The New York Times reported Friday that the documents by engineers and managers for the space agency show at least three changes in the statistical methods used in assessing the risks of debris like ice and insulating foam striking a shuttle during launching.
One presentation said lesser standards must be used to support accepting the risks of flight ''because we cannot meet'' the traditional standards, according to the newspaper.
The Times said there is debate within the agency about whether the changes are a reasonable reassessment of the hazards of flight or whether they jettison long-established rules to justify getting back to space quickly.
But NASA officials said in a telephone news conference Friday evening that while engineers have differed in their mathematical approach to analyzing the threat of launch debris, in the end they all agreed on the risk levels. The discussion was open and all opinions were heard, they said.
More analysis is needed before Discovery can lift off, as early as May 22, the officials noted.
A suitcase-size piece of fuel-tank foam insulation was blamed for the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia as it was returning from space in February 2003.
Earlier this month, shuttle systems engineering manager John Muratore openly acknowledged that even marshmallow-size pieces of insulating foam from the fuel tank could doom the space shuttle under the worst circumstances. He told reporters it is a risk NASA and the nation must accept for flights to resume anytime soon, and that it would take a total redesign of the tank to completely eliminate foam loss.
Muratore said Friday evening that none of the risk assessment numbers have changed since his comments in early April -- in fact, he said, they have not changed in nearly a year. He stressed that he does not view any changes in risk assessment as a relaxation of safety.
''What we're doing is increasing the accuracy of the solution,'' Muratore said.
Added shuttle program manager Wayne Hale: ''We are not moving the standard, we're sharpening the pencil on how we do our calculations and how we make the assumptions.''
Paul A. Czysz, emeritus professor of aerospace engineering at St. Louis University, who read the documents at the Times' request, said they did not demonstrate that the shuttle is too dangerous to return to space or that NASA is stinting on efforts to make it safer. A total shuttle replacement would be needed, he said.
But Czysz, who spent some 30 years with NASA contractor McDonnell Douglas, likened the statistical shifts to moving the goal posts at a football game. ''I was amazed at how they were adjusting every test to make it come out right,'' he said.
In Friday evening's news conference, Hale took personal offense at Czysz' comments.
''We're doing tests to find out what the truth is, we are not adjusting our tests,'' Hale said. ''There's a certain amount of debate and discussion about what the results mean, but I find that very offensive that anyone would say that we're adjusting our tests to make the results come out to serve some kind of end.''
NASA officials maintain that the shuttle is safer than it has ever been because of changes made after the Columbia disaster, and they have long acknowledged that not all debris risk can be eliminated."
Let's hope this is just media hype.
[This message has been edited by gliderpilotuk (edited April 23, 2005).]
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999
posted April 23, 2005 08:05 AM
NASA Disputes Claims of Lowered Risk Standards for Shuttle
by Tariq Malik, SPACE.com
quote: Read the full article here.
NASA space shuttle officials disputed claims Friday that the space agency had relaxed acceptable risk standards while building toward its first orbiter launch since the Columbia disaster.
“We’re not doing anything that moves the risk or tries to hide the risk, or takes it to an unacceptable level,” said Wayne Hale, NASA’s deputy shuttle program manager, during a teleconference with reporters. “We’re sharpening the pencil on how we do our [risk] calculations.”
Hale’s comments came in response to a New York Times report that suggested the agency had loosened its risk standards in order to meet the new flight safety protocols instituted in the wake of the Columbia accident.
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