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  Quote: "Shuttle a Death Trap"

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Author Topic:   Quote: "Shuttle a Death Trap"

Posts: 2113
From: Staffs, UK
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 01-22-2006 08:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote,,1692139,00.html

Mike Mullane says shuttle a 'death trap' - see article



Posts: 3593
From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 01-22-2006 05:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'm curious if the words "death trap" ever came up in Mullane's book. There is a big difference between a death trap and the most dangerous manned spacecraft flown.

The article says that Mullane is "denouncing the space shuttle" but in reality he really seems to be denouncing the management decisions that led to the disasters. Again, big difference.

It's a classic example of irresponsible journalism.


Posts: 3593
From: Midwest, USA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 01-25-2006 06:31 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mjanovec   Click Here to Email mjanovec     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To follow up the previous post I made, I did a word search in Mullane's book for "death trap" or "deathtrap" and both results came up empty. So it's a case of a journalist putting his own words into Mullane's mouth.

I did read an excerpt from the book in which Mullane said that astronauts would frequently pin articles up to the bulletin board and circle certain quotes with the words "I did not say this."

This is just another one for the bulletin board, I'm afraid.

From the excerpts I've read of the book, however, it appears to be a fascinating read. I placed an order for a copy based on what I saw.


Posts: 589
From: Ridgecrest, CA USA
Registered: Sep 2000

posted 01-25-2006 08:40 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for OV-105   Click Here to Email OV-105     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am waiting for my copey to show up in the mail right now. I look through it at Barnes and Noble today, can wait to get my copy to read. It looks like it will be a two day read because once I start it I won't be able to put it down. He is one of the Shuttle Astronauts that I would like to meet.

Michael Cassutt

Posts: 263
From: Studio City CA USA
Registered: Mar 2005

posted 01-26-2006 11:05 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Cassutt   Click Here to Email Michael Cassutt     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Re Mullane and the alleged "quote," it does not occur in his book, and he issued a press statement through JSC public affairs several days ago stating that.

Michael Cassutt


Posts: 3093
From: San Diego
Registered: Feb 2002

posted 01-26-2006 05:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for FFrench     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote

Here's a NYT review / interview with Mullane:

collectSPACE Admin

Posts: 463
From: Houston, TX, USA
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 01-29-2006 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for collectSPACE Admin   Click Here to Email collectSPACE Admin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The following, which was originally posted to, is reprinted on behalf and with the permission of Mike Mullane:
This is Astronaut Mike Mullane. Obviously I should have learned what a "blog" is sooner and visited this one several days ago. Everybody please understand... I've NEVER said the shuttle is a deathtrap. EVER. This "quote" was contrived by a reporter for a London newspaper... a reporter who never interviewed me. Let me tell you what I have said in my numerous press interviews associated with the release of my new book, Riding Rockets. When I have been asked about the Challenger, the shuttle design, etc., my replies have mimicked the current NASA Administrator's Congressional testimony. Administrator Michael Griffin has said something along the line, "The shuttle is a flawed design. It has no crew escape system." (As someone who is editorializing about being misquoted, I should emphasize what I have in quotes above is an approximate quote by Administrator Michael Griffin. I don't have his exact words in front of me.) Griffin then went on to say words to the effect that, because human perfection is unattainable, if we continue to fly the shuttle for the indefinite future we might have another tragedy and lose another crew. This was a preamble to his decision to fly the shuttle the minimum number of times to build out the international space station and then retire it in 2010. I support Michael Griffin's plan and I have said it in multiple interviews. In fact, I say it in the Epilogue of my book. But somehow the "Guardian" newspaper reporter took these comments to fashion my "quote" that the shuttle is a "deathtrap", no doubt because a headline of "Astronaut Agrees with NASA" doesn't sell as many newspapers as "Astronaut Says Shuttle Deathtrap." In a Fox & Friends interview on 1/25/06, I was asked about this deathtrap statement and refuted it with the same explanation as I've given above. I also sent a letter to the Guardian editor explaining I have never made a "deathtrap" statement (fat chance that letter got published). I also sent an email to the current astronaut corps and NASA Public Affairs saying the Guardian headline was bogus. I thought that was the end of it, until my son put me onto this blog. I have said in my interviews I would fly the shuttle today, if given the chance. It is a marvelous machine, with incredible capability and redundancy, supported by a dedicated NASA team and I'm honored to have been given the opportunity to fly it three times. (Part of my book dedication reads: "To the thousands of men and women of the space shuttle team, who put me in space.") I think what we learn here is: don't believe everything you read in the newspaper, particularly if it sounds "sensationalized", even "tabloid-like". This isn't the first time I've been misquoted. It's happened to every astronaut. Here's an excerpt from my Riding Rockets book in which I describe the minefield of dealing with the press:

(Excerpt from Riding Rockets, The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, Scribner, copyright 2006 by Mike Mullane.) "Interviews with the print press were much more relaxing but still held the potential to screw an astronaut. During one interview I explained to the reporter my feelings of boundless joy and visceral fear while being driven to the pad for my first launch. I said, "To see the xenon-lighted Discovery and know it was my shuttle, that I was only hours from the culmination of a lifetime dream come true, nearly had me crying with joy." But I was quoted as having said, "Astronauts cry from fear as they are driven to the launch pad." The story was picked up by Paul Harvey and repeated to a huge national audience on his radio show. I was outraged and excruciatingly embarrassed. Experiences like this explained why the astronaut office bulletin board occasionally displayed news articles in which an offending quote was circled with, "I didn't say this," written next to it by a pissed-off astronaut."

You will also see quotes in various media that I said, "The shuttle is the most dangerous spacecraft ever flown." I have said that or words close to that, but they were in the context of explaining my objections to the pre-Challenger "passenger" program. I made that statement as I discussed the idiocy of flying people on the shuttle for public relations purposes... school teacher, politician, etc. I (and many astronauts) felt the passenger program was an immoral program... to place people in harms way for PR purposes. My, "most dangerous spacecraft... " statement was intended to underline this point about the passenger program: IF the shuttle experienced a catastrophic failure, those passengers would die because the shuttle lacked an escape system. Dying because you are "mission essential" is one thing. Dying as a "PR tool" is something else altogether. This excerpt from my book says it in context:

(Excerpt from Riding Rockets, The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, Scribner, copyright 2006 by Mike Mullane.) "The passenger program didn't end with Nelson's landing. Next in line was Christa McAuliffe's initiation of the teacher-in-space program. And it wasn't going to end with her. NASA HQ was dreaming of flying other passengers. There were rumors Walter Cronkite and John Denver were being considered for flights. TFNGs (note to bloggers... TFNG was the nickname for my class of astronauts... class of 1978) greeted these rumors with head shaking despair. The part-timer program was not only taking seats from us and flying people who were scaring the dickens out of some crews, it was also an immoral program. Individuals who were clueless about the risks of spaceflight were being exploited for public relations purposes. The entire part-timer program was built on the lie that the shuttle was nothing more than an airliner, which just happened to fly higher and faster than a Boeing 747. The very act of assigning a school teacher and mother of two to a shuttle mission dramatically reinforced that lie. But every astronaut knew what the shuttle was... a very dangerous experimental rocket flying without a crew escape system. Christa McAuliffe's death on Challenger would finally open HQ's eyes to that fact and the Agency ended the passenger program... with one notable exception, John Glenn."

Finally, you will also see words in the media describing me as a "NASA Critic". That is true... but there's a huge asterisk to that title. My criticisms are about the pre-Challenger NASA leadership that allowed the Agency to disintegrate into a loose confederation of "fiefdoms"... which was also a finding of the Roger's Commission. There were serious lapses of communication between the NASA field centers. I am also very critical of the pre-Challenger treatment of astronauts. We were marginalized. There was an abysmal lack of communication from our leadership, no empowerment, no insight into the crew assignment process, gross injustices in those flight assignments, and a huge fear factor that to speak out on some issues might damage one's chances of flying in space. This latter fact answers those bloggers who wondered why I didn't speak up when I was with NASA. Answer: I wanted to fly in space, so, like other astronauts, I kept my mouth shut. Here's another excerpt from Riding Rockets:

(Excerpt from Riding Rockets, The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, Scribner, copyright 2006 by Mike Mullane.) "Astronaut concerns about the shuttle's "operational" label, the lack of an escape system and the passenger program should have been heard by every key manager, from Abbey to the JSC Center Director to the NASA Administrator. But they were not. We were terrified of saying anything that might jeopardize our place in the line into space. We were not like normal men and women who worried about the financial aspects of losing a job, of not being able to make the mortgage payment or pay the kids' tuition. We feared losing a dream, of losing the very thing that made us us. When it came to our careers, we were risk adverse in the extreme. Effective leaders would have done everything possible to eradicate that fear. George Abbey, the JSC Director and the NASA Administrator all should have been frequent visitors to the astronaut office actively polling our concerns and each visit should have started with these or similarly empowering words, "There is nothing you can say to me that will jeopardize your place in the mission line. Nothing! If you think I'm doing something crazy, I want to hear it." I had experienced this form of leadership many times in my Air Force career. I saw it during an F-4 mission with a General officer. I was a 1st Lieutenant - and terrified. I had never flown with a Flag officer before. But this man was a leader who understood how fear could jeopardize the team and did his best to eliminate it. As my foot touched the cockpit ladder, the General stopped me and said, "See these stars," and pointed to his shoulder. "If I make a mistake they won't save our lives. If you see anything that doesn't look right on this flight, tell me. There's no rank in this jet. Flying is dangerous enough as it is without having crewmembers afraid to speak up." It was an empowering moment. The astronaut office desperately needed the same empowering moments, but they never came. Fear ruled - ┬Ła fear rooted in Abbey's continuing secrecy on all things associated with flight assignments. We kept our mouths shut."

Again, my criticism is of the pre-Challenger NASA. I am NOT a critic of the current NASA Administration. I like what Administrator Michael Griffin is doing and I fully support him and the rest of the NASA team... and have said that in interviews.

I hope these words clear up the "deathtrap" statement and some other misconceptions that are floating around in cyberspace. Again, I would really encourage everybody to be suspicious of what you see and hear in the press. In the world of "sound bites" and sensational "headlines" it's very easy to take things out of context. I would also encourage everybody to use the power of the internet to spread this "deathtrap" rebuttal message far and wide. I wish everybody a wonderful and blessed 2006.

- Mike Mullane
Astronaut (Retired), Colonel, USAF (Retired)

PS: I don't have time to continue to participate as a blogger so I won't be joining in any follow on discussion to this posting. For those who wish to know more about my NASA experiences and where I stand on the issues of shuttle design and operation, read "Riding Rockets". In it, I open my soul for all the world to see. You can blog the hell out of what you find in that book. All I ask is that you quote it accurately and in context. Thanks.

[This message has been edited by collectSPACE Admin (edited January 30, 2006).]


Posts: 2113
From: Staffs, UK
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 02-06-2006 05:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceuk     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Its a pity that Mike Mullane does not have time to contribute more information on his views about shuttle safety matters and how future vehicles could be better designed. As someone who has flown three times he has a far better insight than most of us here.

If he is passionate about safety - and everyone who intends to be involved with astronautics either as hardware manufacturers,software developers,mission controllers, astronauts or space tourists should be - then he should be 'banging the drum' at every opportunity - not just on the back of sales of his book.

So,come on Mike,make time and contribute to cS and tell it like it is. We'd love to read and listen . You may get hecklers,doom mongers,sinners - even wrong press reporting but you may just as easily get supporters ! That's par for the course.

But, more importantly, you would help educate and hopefully pass the knowledge down to future generations .These generations depend upon our generation getting it right and making it as safe as possible so that they can become "..the right stuff..." . Their motto may be "per ardua ad astra" - through struggles shall they reach the stars.

We here at cS help do it through collecting and documenting as precisely as possible the historic artefacts that helped blaze the way to the stars and which otherwise may have been lost to the scrap bins .

Help us learn from the past and to help keep the dream alive - safely.


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