June 1997 Archives

June 29, 1997
Mr. Frederick D. Gregory
Associate Administrator for Safety and Mission Assurance
NASA Headquarters
Washington, DC 20564-0001

Dear Fred:

Thank you so much for the kind words in your letter of June 24, 1997 and the exceptionally nice Bohemian crystal bowl that accompanied it. I have placed it on my desk in a prominent place where I can enjoy its beauty as I am working. I do appreciate your thoughtfulness and the effort you made in sending me this most delightful award.

Since I do not get to see you or communicate with you on a regular basis anymore, I would like to take this opportunity to mention something that I believe is of serious importance to NASA, and the Human Spaceflight Safety and Mission Assurance Program. I am sure that the current crisis in the Mir program is probably foremost in your mind. I am extremely concerned about the safety risks associated with continued operation of the Phase I Shuttle/Mir Program. There already have been two incidents this year where the crew has been placed in a basic survival situation. The Mir station is clearly showing significant degradation as it continues to operate beyond its design lifetime. In addition, the decline in the basic infrastructure of the Russian Space Program been well documented in numerous publications, and even in public statements by some Russian space officials.

When NASA originally began the Shuttle/Mir Program, no rigorous safety analysis or risk analysis was accomplished. NASA decided based on the then understood historical performance of safe Mir operations to accept that record as a given. This was done by a subjective review process unlike the systematic safety and reliability analytical techniques utilized for U.S. human spaceflight. If you remember, at that time the Russians were not always forthright about their systems failures or some of the problems they had in the past. The decision was made at the highest levels of NASA, and the formal safety analysis that was established for the Phase I Program was only for the new joint operations activities, new experiments, and new procedures. The acceptance of the existing Mir safety record was driven by management judgment, and therefore for formal and structured documented risk baseline exists for the start of the program. It should be very clear to everyone that the risk level to human safety on the Mir Station has increased somewhat since the early management decisions and agreements were made.

The question becomes, what is the present risk to human safety in this program as the Mir ages and its systems continue to fail and degrade in capability, and as the Russian space program support infrastructure changes as well? What are the expectations for the risk levels to continue to change with time over the planned lifetime of Phase 1 Program? What is the current risk level as compared with the subjectively determined risk level at the start of the Program? NASA has participated in the Mir program with a lower standard as far as Safety and Mission Assurance assessment processes are concerned, and I believe that the risk levels for human safety to be somewhat higher as well. The most important and cogent question is whether the expected benefits of continued operation justify the increasing risk to human safety that are apparent with current operations on the Shuttle/Mir Phase 1 Program.

Date: Friday, June 27, 1997 // Mission Day 138/43

OPERATIONS / Public Affairs Support -- The two NASA PAOs at MCC-M continu e to respond to media inquiries regarding the health of Mike Foale, the i mpact of the current situation on NASA 5 science OPS, and the status of Mir. A Mir status report was forwarded to Houston and HQ PAO for review/dissemination. The PAOs are also endeavoring to protect the OPS team from the ever-present media at MCC-M.

Experiment Operations

TEF -- After Mir lost attitude control which required Soyuz maneuvering for correction, the TEF was requested to be powered off. It had only been powered up for approximately 8 hours. Temperature at the time of power on yesterday was +16 deg. C. The samples (2nd collection of the Sleep Experiment) will be stowed for return; however, there will be no future requests or priority placed on reactivating the TEF to preserve these samples.

Greenhouse -- Mike reported that the seed pods are looking pretty good a nd expressed his concern about losing them. Mike stated that we needed to think very hard about how long they had been in the dark and to think what we needed to do to preserve the results of the experiment. Mike was advised of the current plan for Greenhouse. The cabling required to power Greenhouse is being researched. If power can be supplied to the SVET, the Greenhouse lights will be turned on for a little while. Water will also be supplied to the plants (Program 3). The radiogram for this has been supplied by the Russian/US PI team and is in work. Mike then reported that the leaves had curled some and that there were no more flowers present. There were large seed pods and that they looked pretty normal in appearance and size per the diagrams. Mike stated that he was very interested in opening one up for a look.

MOST was advised by the Russian ground team that a manual ventilation of beetle would occur tomorrow and that attempted power up would occur on Monday, June 30. MOST is trying to verify, but believes that the plan is for a permanent power up.



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