21 Jun NASA Shuttle Program
One of my most memorable times working on the Shuttle Program was 2007. As the program worked through the return to flight missions, 2007 proved to be a very challenging year for NASA’s manned space program. The first mission of the year was delayed for three months due to a freak hailstorm that damaged the external tank. This was followed by a series of incredible events such as a NASA astronaut charged with attempted murder, loss of Space Station attitude control and near abandonment, murder/suicide at Johnson Space Center, train derailment during transport of the Solid Rocket Boosters from Utah to Kennedy Space Center, and the story of drunken astronauts surfaced.
Wayne Hale frequently gave the same speech about safety and flying the space shuttle. He iterated time and again that the shuttle was not safe to fly. It was not even remotely close to what the ordinary person would call safe. Spaceflight in general was a very risky business that operated at the extreme limit of technological capability. In terms of debris, the best solution, in theory, was always to build a spacecraft that was not susceptible to debris liberation during the launch phase. The shuttle was not safe and needed to be replaced with a safer (but fundamentally still unsafe) spacecraft—one that would, in all likelihood, be less capable than the shuttle. The trade-off was not between safe and unsafe but between risk and gain. Was the purpose of the flight worth the risk that would be incurred? “If you want to be safe,” Wayne would say, “stay in bed.”