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How to Waste $300,000 (Substantially Updated and Expanded)

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
March 27, 2005

Editor’s note: If you visit Astronaut Space Safety 2005 you’ll see that the report “SPACE SAFETY REPORT: Vulnerabilities and Risk Reduction In U.S. Human Space Flight Programs”, written by the Space & Advanced Research Institute at George Washington University, is now online. This report was written with $300,000 from the mysterious non-profit Space Shuttle Children’s Trust Fund. This organization’s website does not list any corporate donors or board of directors/advisors – just a media contact – and an address where to send money. Nor does it specify what programs it has established which have helped ‘children’ in connection with the Columbia accident.

If you check the registration of the domain you can see that it is registered to Claire Boger at the Credo Group in Princeton, NJ. The Credo Group’s website says that The Credo Group is “the nations first digital insurance agency with a core mission to build alternative distribution channels for the insurance industry.” Looking at the domain servers for both and it seems that both sites are managed at the same location.

Searching with this database shows that the Space Shuttle Children’s Trust Fund is registered in Baltimore Maryland and that it has assets listed as $2,362,855 and income listed as $630,677. The two prime activities listed are “Emergency or disaster aid fund” and “Care and housing of children (orphanage, etc)” No date is given as to when this information was entered into this database. Additional information can be found here.

Utilizing the resources at the Foundation Center, a look at the Trust Fund’s fiscal year 2003 990-PF form filed with the IRS shows net assets of $2,362,855 and some payments to several Columbia and Challenger crew families. These two large payments are listed as well: “Arthur C Clarke Foundation of the United States – Supplementary Research on Manned Space Safety – $79,368” and “George Washington University Research and Technology – Grant for Space Safety Research – $287,500” for a total of $366,868. Among the members of the Clarke Foundation Board are Joseph Pelton, Vice Chairman (who led the safety study at George Washington University) and Brian Chase (Space Foundation).

Looking at the 2003 filing as well as the 2002 and 2001 filings shows small payments to several Challenger crew families – but no large expenditures. For these three years no donations are shown – all of the Trust Fund’s income is listed as being from investments.

For 2003 (and 2002 and 2001) no officers are listed, no one was paid any salaries, and no contractors were paid for services. When asked to “list the foundation’s four largest direct charitable activities during the tax year – include relevant statistical information such as the number of organizations and othe rbeneficiaries served, conferences convened, research papers produced, etc.” The fund wrote “NONE”. The same entry as made for 2002 and 2001.

According to this page at Pipeline Productions: “The Board of Trustees is composed of Delbert D. Smith, Jones Day, Chairman; Ursula H. Meese; Stephen Todd Walker, Senior Vice President – Morgan Stanley; William G. Tull; Arlene Millican, Bank of America; and William Judson Ready, Bank of America. For additional information about the Space Shuttle Children’s Trust Fund please contact the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Fund, Delbert D. Smith at (202) 879-7600.”

According to this Spring 2003 article about Delbert Smith’s firm, Jones Day and its participation in the Trust Fund: “To date, the Fund has received donations from individuals, corporations, and student groups, all of whom have expressed genuine interest in providing assistance to the children. One hundred percent of all donations received, without any administrative costs or fees, will be used directly for the benefit of the children.”

The report


Report Summary (Executive)
Sections 1 and 2
Section 3
Sections 4 and 5
Section 6, 7 and 8

An earlier, much sloppier review draft version of this report circulated around Washington last Fall (see Draft Paper Provides Insight Into NASA Space Policy Options, SpaceRef).

The final report, while better presented than the review draft, is still rather lacking. I am not certain what they spent $300,000 on. For a document that purports to “our comprehensive review and analysis of the management, technical and operational aspects of all NASA astronaut-related programs” this report is anecdotal and lacking in firm technical references. The report makes heavy reliance upon newspaper and trade publication articles. Indeed, with the exception of several GAO reports, there are no technical references whatsoever upon which the report arrives at its findings and recommendations. None the less, the report describes many technical issues, and makes findings and recommendations on these technical issues. One has to wonder what process was used to arrive at these findings and recommendations (interviews with unnamed people are cited in various places) and the veracity of the conclusions reached.

A small sample of this lack of traceability with regard to the report’s content follows:

“Currently the greatest concern with regard to the ECLSS, beyond the oxygen generators, involves the environmental monitoring devices. These units measure contaminants in the air and water supplies and filters and environmental generators that are not working on the station. NASA medical specialists, according to press reports, expressed their concerns prior to the launch of Expedition 8 about the air and water quality and also other environmental concerns. However NASA managers concluded the station was sufficiently safe to proceed.”

Where are the references to the technical reports wherein these concerns were raised? All this report does is cite “(‘NASA Rejects ISS Safety Fears’,”.

Perhaps these are the reports they are referring to:

NASA JSC: Action Item Response “Reclama VOA and TOCA at VCB on May 19th” – VOA and TOCA POP Review Action Item Response
NASA JSC: Response to VCB Action Item AI 2392 Regarding Environmental
NASA JSC: Mission and Project Management Office SLSD 7 Soyuz SORR/FRR Increment 8 Readiness Review and Overview 9 Sep 2003
NASA JSC: SLSD SORR SD Checklist Report, Flight 7S ISS Expedition 8, Surgeon/BME 9 Sep 2003

Then there is this passage:

“Finally there is the problem reported in the press of the long term very slow leak of the atmosphere on the ISS. This reported leak of atmosphere is sufficiently slow that there is no risk to the astronauts. Nevertheless, the fact that the source of these leaks has not been found after months of trying to detect their source is a potential source of concern.”

Reference? If this was in reference to the slow leak due to a window in the Lab module, that was fixed – in 2004.

Two pages later:

“The 38 nickel-hydrogen batteries are stored in an enclosure called an Orbital Replacement Unit that is designed for simple removal and replacement of the battery cells. These batteries are recharged during the sunlit phase of each orbit and have a life expectation of 5 to 6 years in orbit. Replacement of these battery cells well before their projected end of life is clearly a major safety concern now that the reliability of the Shuttle service missions have been questioned and the Shuttle grounded for 25 months.”

Says who? Reference?

Then there’s this bit of urban space legend:

“The ISS was designed with the idea that the Shuttle would be the workhorse to ferry the key elements of this $100-billion facility in space.”

Where did this cost estimate come from? GAO? CBO? OMB? Is this number supposed to be the cost of the ISS alone – or does it include shuttle flights and ISS operations? No explanation, no references.

This is just a quick list. I could go on.

In Section 1.1 of the report, the authors state: “We recognize that an effort by the George Washington University team that comprised a total of 1.25 person years of effort over the past 15 months is modest in comparison to NASA resources and we recognize that the Report thus may have missed key elements in our review both in terms of safety concerns and program actions that may have been taken by NASA subsequent to our analysis.”

That caveat not withstanding, this report is mediocre – at best – and is full of unsubstantiated – or weakly referenced statements, findings, recommendations, and conclusions. I really do not know what value it has. Memos circulated from Joe Pelton last year spoke of a conference of some sort in late 2004. It never happened. Perhaps they’ll have one in 2005 and explain all of these outstanding questions.

There is, of course, the lingering question as to why the Space Shuttle Children’s Trust Fund is paying for a report like this in the first place.

In searching the text of this entire report the only time the word “children” appears (5 times) is in specific reference to the Space Shuttle Children’s Trust Fund. No rationale is given as to why a charitable trust established to see to the welfare of the children of astronauts who died during shuttle missions would spend money on a report like this. To be certain, safer spacecraft would result in fewer children with lost parents, but you would think that there would be some overt reason given as to why the monetary equivalent of 3 or 4 college educations is being spent on such a report – and a mediocre one at best. Again, no reason is given.

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.