Friday, May 16, 2003

OK, so it's been like three months since I last posted here, not that there was anyone who checked in. It's not that I didn't have anything to say, I just didn't feel like saying anything.

It's been three and a half months since the Columbia was lost, and like everyone at NASA I've been following the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB). It's a scary time, we don't know what's coming next (or even when it's coming). Now we've got Congresscritters calling for the abolition of shuttle flights, and now that the Board is zeroing in on just what went wrong - at once fascinating and horrifying - the uncomfortable thing coming is "what could NASA have done to save the crew?" I have no doubt that NASA would have tried everything, Flight Rules be damned, to pull off an Apollo 13-type miracle. Would they have been successful? That's the scary thing, what if the board says yes, if they had done X, Y, and Z, then the crew would have had a 50-50 chance of making it back. "Missed signals", "bureacratic fumbling", "complacency", "wrong judgement"... These are things we're hearing over and over again about the chain of command and management.

It's hard to hear. This is the administration that inspired me and thousands of others; I'm a lifer, I don't see myself working outside of the manned space program - as long as we still have one. During my training of the STS-80 mission in 1996, astronaut Story Musgrave described his relationship with NASA: it was his calling. I hadn't really thought of it that way for me before, but once I heard him say it, I knew it applied to me too.

Those who can, do (fly in space). Those who can't, teach (astronauts). Anyone got a spare $20 million I can borrow to pay the Russians for a ticket on a Soyuz? That's going to be my only way up.

The board's final report will be issued later this summer. I'll even make it into the Appendix as someone who gave a presentation to the board. On Feb. 21st, with about 24 hours notice, I gave a pitch to Roger Tetrault and Brig. Gen. Duane Deal describing the landing gear system and explaining what's in the left wheel well. At the time, little was known except that there was strong evidence that somehow hot plasma got into the wheel well, so the board wanted an introductory briefing on what's there. I was honored, and a little awed, to be speaking before the board, even if it was an informal session and not to the entire board. I wanted to do more - I volunteered to go to North Texas to search for debris, but I wasn't chosen to go before they wound things down.

Damn. I want to go flying again. Let's fix the problem and light these candles.

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