Failure Is Still Not An Option

From Giant Leaps to Baby Steps, OpEd by Gene Kranz, NY Times

"To read and listen to the coverage about the space shuttle, you would think NASA's mission team has taken careless risks with the lives of the seven astronauts who went into space on the Discovery last Tuesday. During the launching, foam fell off the external tank. For the risk-averse, the only acceptable thing to do now is retire the shuttle program immediately and wait for the divine arrival of the next generation of spacecraft. I am disgusted at the lack of courage and common sense this attitude shows."

Editor's note: Contrast that with with this:

New slogan at NASA: Confusion is an option, Editorial, Palm Beach Post

"NASA deserves credit for being so transparent with the public during what is the most scrutinized space mission in history. Administrators have amplified damage, however, with their confusing statements and reversals. NASA is better off saying nothing or admitting that it doesn't know, rather than making comments that have to be retracted the next day. Floridians have a stake in the agency's future because of the thousands of jobs throughout the state that depend on the space program."

Editor's note: And this:

The View from Here: Lily-Livered Pansies, Elliot G. Pulham President & Chief Executive Officer Space Fopundation

"No country ever built an airplane by running for the hills and abandoning the program the first time a bolt sheared or a rivet popped during test flight. Our effort to conquer the seas was not cast on the trash heap of history the first time some ship sprung a leak. These points seem to be lost on our current generation of lily-livered commentators and pundits, and even a few faint-hearted friends in Congress."

Reader Comment:Keith, Here is how I reacted to the Palm Beach Posteditorial (New Slogan at NASA: Confusion is an option) in a reply sent this morning to their paper:

Your editorial today finally made me angry enough to send a letter. Not just angry with you (your paper ... the writer), not just with all the other negativists who decry any problem that shows up with NASA, but the whole "atmosphere" that seems to pervade our society in the U.S. Everyone (jounalists, members of Congress, "pundits" and analysts ... all of us) seem to want to look for faults in anyone else or anything else! If my memory serves, only three sensors were originally "required" (even those were backups of backups); the fourth was added later. Having three functioning was well "within specs". Much less foam now falls off ... too much still? ... probably ... but, with the current design, probably near the ability to correct. How do you or I know that such loose/protruding "fillers" were not present before? We don't. There has never been such an extensive examination of a shuttle ... before and after launch ... including that new rollover inspection at the ISS. Are the people at NASA now overly cautious? Wouldn't anyone be when they are constantly under the "safety microscope" ... by people in Congress who see what they feel are huge funding amounts that could be taken from NASA to other of their "favorite programs," by entrepreneurs who somehow feel that if NASA wasn't hogging the limelight (and funding) somehow they could do it "better" (at the same time ignoring history), by robotics and science researchers who feel their projects deserve the dollars, by pundits galore ... by us all! When we lambast NASA, or the State Department ...or the school system ... gee, isn't that fun? ... cathartic somehow to our own mundane lives. These "institutions" are not some box sitting on a table ... some object ... they are a name, a word, that represents actual people ... in the case of NASA, I feel that these are people that have been grossly maligned over the past decade, and terribly misused. Space is tough and dangerous. Anything that challenging would be ... or everyone would be doing it ... everyday. Since you mentioned "Apollo 13," try reading a much better "analysis" of the situation ... check out Gene Kranz's letter in the Aug. 3 NY Times ... he was there! Also, read Tad Simons editorial in "Presentations" magazine for July 2005. Is it really all that difficult for people to be more understanding of each other? Yes, you in Florida have some things at stake in NASA. However, you are not alone. Other states have an equal stake, and I personally believe that we all have a great stake in seeing NASA (and all space pioneers) succeed. Taking every chance to denigrate hard-working people is not the way to do that.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on August 3, 2005 7:50 AM.

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