Comments from Jeff Bingham on GWU/Space Shuttle Children's Trust Fund Report

Keith, I have to say I couldn't agree more with your observations of the "Space Safety 2005" Report done by GW/SACRI for the Space Shuttle Children's Fund. I'm afraid it presents a REAL disincentive for anyone to contribute to the SSCF, which, as you also indicate, is an organization of some questionable status, anyway. I'm also more than a little surprised at the lack of quality control by GWU in allowing their name to be associated with a "report" that, at least as far as I've read so far, not only offers nothing new, but suffers the lack of focus and substantiation you offer examples of.

I first printed the summary, and found it so incredibly disjointed and lacking that I had to download the rest and print it out (a dubious use of good paper and ink, but I just have to look this over in more detail to try to figure out what it's really trying to say!)

I already noted some outright errors of fact and logical non-sequiturs along the lines of those you pointed out. Here'sanexample: they cite the Paine Commission as having recommended almost immediate replacement of the Shuttle, citing its "obsolescence" as arriving as early as 2001. I took another look at The National Commission on Space report, and I cannot find that it made any such specific "recommendation." Rather,it suggested that by 2001 the shuttle...and virtually every other then-available launch or spacevehicle would LIKELY be replaced by advancing technology...assuming the sort of continually-expanding level of funding for US space programs and consistent national leadership commitment thatwas urged and assumed in outlining the Commission's "idealized" view of space exploration over a fifty-year period.

But what is especially troubling about this report's use of the Paine Commission report is that its authors not only couch their references as if that report were done in response to Challenger in their Summary, they actually SAY that in the body of the report itself! In Section 1, part 1.3.2 (if I'm understanding their numbering system correctly, since their page numbering is sporadic), they say:

"The blue ribbon Paine Commission that was tasked with setting new space goals, in the wake of the Challenger accident, noted in their report in June 1986...." (My emphasis).

Then again under section 1.11 - "Key Issues," they say:

"President Ronald Reagan, in the wake of the Challenger failure, established a Blue Ribbon "National Commission on Space" to define a future space policy for the United States for the 21st Century." (My emphasis)

Then they follow that with this statement:

"Although the panel was first appointed by President Reagan it was then formally given a specific charge by the US Congress to examine not only the aftermath of the Challenger disaster but also to look to the future." (My emphasis)

All of this is patently incorrect!!! They appear to be confusing the Paine Commission with the Rogers Commission, for one thing. It was the Rogers Commission that was established to review the Challenger accident. The Paine Commission was created almost a year BEFORE the Challenger accident, pursuant to an act of Congress passed even earlier, in 1984! The Paine Commission spent most of 1985 conducting public hearings around the country, soliciting input andideas on the future of America's space program. Theirfinal report was literally at the printers when the Challenger accident happened. They pulled it back, made a few minor changes to acknowledge the 51-L tragedy and dedicate the report to the Challenger crew, and added a few references here and there to the accident, and then issued their report in May of 1986, without making substantive changes in the document.

The Paine Commission reportwas, of course, largely ignored in the wake of Challenger and with the intense coverage and attention given the Rogers Commission deliberations on the accidentand that Commission's subsequent June report.The only real attention paid to the Paine Commission by anyone after its timid and unheralded release in May, 1986,was in the so-called "Ride Report," ("NASA Leadership and America's Future in Space") in which Sally Ride and others were taskedby Jim Fletcher,in mid-1987, to review the Paine Commission Report in the context of the Challenger accident and aftermath and recommend what aspects of the report would still be relevant in that context.

With such a blatant and obvious misunderstanding of the very identity and history of one of their very few "references," it is difficult to attribute a lot of credibility totheir "findings." (If they can't successfully "find," read or comprehend the title pages tomajor reference works, what CAN they be expected to "find."?)

And all of this is to say nothing of what they infer as the meaning of the things they attribute to the Paine Commission, and believe me, there is a LOT to be said about that!

I'm quitesure I will come across a veritable host of similar issues as I continue to plow through the nearly 230 remaining pages of the "Study," looking for something of redeeming value, but thought I would just echo your sentiments with another screaming example of the inadequacies of a "study" which, to me, has the appearance of an inadequately supervisedgrad-student project that consumed far more monetary resources than can possibly be justified by the end product, whichsomehow got itself released with the imprimatur of a major educational institution.

Otherwise, I have no strong feelings on the subject.

Thanks for bringing it to your readers' attention.

- Jeff Bingham

Editor's note: Over the course of his career, Jeff Bingham served in a variety of capcities at NASA including Associate Administrator for Legislative Affairs. He no longer works for NASA.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on March 27, 2005 11:32 AM.

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