What Cost Life?
February 9, 2003 8:26 AM   Subscribe

What Cost Life? An article that argues that the board of inquiry into the space shuttle's disaster consists mostly of members of the Industrial/Military comples rather than science people to study a science failure. Sort of like setting up a self-study to see why your organization is not doing well. You sure are not going to get approvalfrom the top people if you find them to be at fault. Whatever happened to Truman's famous "the buck stops here." We have kept in place the heads of CIA and NSA and FBI after 9/11, thus not providing much reassurance that there would be important changes to prevent further debacles of the type that took place.
posted by Postroad (12 comments total)

Hollywood movies teach you all you need to know about humans. Movies use more and bigger explosions to draw you in and entrain you.

So remember:

If you die in a big ball of fire or a big building collapse, your death is considered important.

posted by rough ashlar at 8:50 AM on February 9, 2003

In What Do You Care What Other People Think, Richard Feynman devotes half the book to his experiences with the Challenger investigation. Two things stand out.

When he was resisting the idea of being on the commission at all, his wife told him:

If you don't do it, there will be twelve people, going around from place to place together. But if you join the commission, there will be eleven people -- all in a group, going around from place to place together -- while the twelfth one runs around all over the place, checking all kinds of unusual things.... There isn't anyone else who can do that like you can.

And in fact there were people in NASA who knew what the problem was, and were able to feed him the information and hints he needed. The word(s) "O-ring" appears in the second line of his notes from his first briefing, before the commission had even met.

Also, William Rogers, the chairman of the investigation, started out by managing expectations downward, preparing the commission and the public for the possibility that they would never find out exactly what happened. Thanks to Feynman and others, this proved too pessimistic. But we're hearing the same bull now.

Who will play Feynman's role now that he is gone?

[the spell-checker suggested "enema" instead of Feynman]
posted by anewc2 at 9:14 AM on February 9, 2003

I was also expecting/demanding mass resignations in the intelligence community after 9/11. I still somewhat expect this. But after some reflection I don't see how it could really help. You'd just be replacing people who didn't know anything, or, at worst, made the wrong judgement call with the information they had, with people who know even less and whose judgement isn't guarenteed to be any better. Similiarly with NASA and this problem.

(That doesn't mean I'm not expecting a few careers to shift after this either.)
posted by wobh at 9:20 AM on February 9, 2003

Could it be that the shuttle is the only current crewed space vehicle that the U.S. has, and it is therefore important to find out why Columbia was suddenly destroyed? Nah, must be cuz they died in a huge 'sploshin.

WRT to the article, I don't follow the authors thesis. Because the investigative panel is made up of former military officers and employees, it's going to be a giant cover-up? I don't think the fact that Columbia was on a scientific and non-military mission should have any relevance as to the make up of the committee to determine how Columbia was destroyed. In fact, the author doesn't even link them with NASA at all, so I'm not even sure why Stanton should think they're going to run a "...yet another another cover-your-ass (CYA) investigative operation..." Wouldn't appointing NASA administrators be more suspicious? Unless, of course, all relatively powerful people in the military will eagerly cover-up any malfeasance committed by any other government organization, civilian or otherwise.

Stanton really doesn't offer any reason why any findings of this committee will be suspect, simply speculation and a glimpse of his own world-view, where Admiral Harold Gehman (ret.) will "...control the flow of information to the public. In short, stymie the press corps or what remains of it." Stanton also contradicts himself at least once, where he states that the reason there was an investigative committee formed so quickly (as opposed to the one created after Sept. 11,) was because "...the good old boys and girls of the US military-industrial complex and their paymasters in the Pentagon and NASA were running the show. Seven of their own went down. It's abundantly clear that the regime and its military-industrial interests supercede those of the American people." In the very next sentence, he says, "So, it's going to be yet another another cover-your-ass (CYA) investigative operation headed by ex-military types who seem to be finding seats on investigative commissions of all types."

So, the military-industrial complex and it's paymasters care more about 7 dead astronauts than the 3,000+ people killed on Sept. 11, but not enough to do more than run an investigation solely to cover-up what happened.

I did like how he brought in the Bohemian Grove though, because you know, all who attend are part of the cabal that REALLY runs the nation, all with the same agenda. Nice touch.
posted by Snyder at 9:31 AM on February 9, 2003

in a surprise move yesterday, Henry Kissinger was appointed to head up the Probe®.
posted by quonsar at 10:29 AM on February 9, 2003

Snyder, the statements you cite are not mutually exclusive; in fact, the truth is probably a synthesis of the two: The CYA operation headed by the military-industrial complex will be organized immediately in order to sooner reject the notion that the shuttle program is outdated and too costly for what it provides, thus preserving the money they're raking in by keeping it going. They have no such motivation for the 9/11 investigation; in fact, the longer it takes for an investigation into the failures of 9/11, the more money we will give them to make us safe; we will fund in 20 different directions, hoping we're covering all the bases, rather than get to the root of the problem first.

Once again, it's as easy as following the money.
posted by troybob at 11:00 AM on February 9, 2003

Same story, different disasters - SF Chronicle
posted by sheauga at 11:03 AM on February 9, 2003

Just to be clear though Postroad. This is a failure of engineering. It is not a failure of science. I think I understood you to mean that. If in fact you meant "science" then I fear your comments are nonsensical.

And I do not know for sure but up until now I think it is fair to say that the investigation has been managed and operated largely by engineers.
posted by filchyboy at 11:28 AM on February 9, 2003

You know you're in for fun when an FPP comes from a single editorial from a rag that claims to be "Building a new news media, of, by, and for the people" (except, apparently, for the inexplicably significant number of "the people" that just put Republican majorities in both houses of Congress).

And you know it will get even better when the phrase "military industrial complex" is dusted off. But you won't reach the true heights of the absurd until the Bohemian Grove is mentioned (in fact, I think we reached the point of needing a BG corollary to Godwin's Law).

Obviously, the Bush Administration could never actually want to find out what happened - it's sole motive for any investigated body must be to cover up its own evil, and that of it's big business buddies.

But the article in question, thankfully, saves us from even needing an investigation ... and is good enough to present the reason for the shuttle disaster before a committee has even met:

"Did Columbia's magnificent seven have to perish for the President's Management Agenda?"

Case closed. They died because of Bush's Management Agenda.

Well, the case is closed unless one wants to look at evidence. So far as adequate funding goes, both Bushes, for instance, increased NASA funding. It was during the Clinton Administration that funding was cut (quite dramatically in a couple of the years):

NASA budgets since fiscal year 1992:

1993 $14.309 billion, existing NASA budget when Clinton took office;

1994 $14.568 billion, $259 million increase, first Clinton budget;

1995 $13.853 billion, $715 million decrease;

1996 $13.885 billion, $32 million increase;

1997 $13.709 billion, $176 million decrease;

1998 $13.648 billion, $61 million decrease;

1999 $13.654 billion, $6 million increase;

2000 $13.601 billion, $53 million decrease;

2001 $14.253 billion, $652 million increase;

2002 $14.892 billion, $639 million increase, first Bush budget;

2003 $15.000 billion, $108 million increase (estimated);

2004 $15.469 billion, $469 million increase (proposed);

But what about "privatization" (a lovely word that, in leftspeak, is automatically implied to suggest something dark and evil).

Well, the "privatization" of not only NASA in general, but the shuttle program in particular, started, again, under Clinton in the mid-90's. From 1996:

"The tension NASA has always had is its need to operate certain facilities and its need to do research and development," said Ray Williamson, senior research scientist at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute. "The question arises `Wouldn't it be more efficient for a separate entity (to do operational things)?' " NASA's overall budget for 1996 was $14.3 billion, but President Clinton and some NASA officials want the numbers cut. Clinton has said he wants the budget reduced to about $13 billion by 2000."
posted by MidasMulligan at 1:07 PM on February 9, 2003

Bush to Propose Budget Increase for NASA


NASA's total budget for 2003 was $15 billion, a slight increase from the previous year.

The space shuttle program was budgeted at $3.208 billion for 2003, $75 million less than in 2002...

This Evil obviously phoned in by Great Satan KKKlinton to secret operatives in Bush administration...

...Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, told CNN the administration had been delaying safety upgrades on the space shuttle.

"That is inexcusable," said Nelson, who once flew on the shuttle.

"Although that delay and those upgrades, I don't think, has any connection with yesterday's tragedy. Ironically, out of this tragedy we will now probably see the safety upgrades sped up," Nelson added.

This Evil due to evil voo doo curse telepathically laid upon the minds of Bush administration by Great Satan KKKlinton, aka Korg, tentacled agent of Godless Galactic People's Republic...

Gregg Easterbrook is a senior editor of the New Republic and a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution. Five years before Challenger, he wrote in the Washington Monthly that the shuttles' solid rocket boosters were not safe. This week he writes in Time

The Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped - It's costly, outmoded, impractical and, as we've learned again, deadly


Will NASA whitewash problems as it did after Challenger? The haunting fact of Challenger was that engineers who knew about the booster-joint problem begged NASA not to launch that day and were ignored. Later the Rogers Commission, ordered to get to the bottom of things, essentially recommended that nothing change.

No NASA manager was fired; no safety systems were added to the solid rocket boosters whose explosion destroyed Challenger; no escape-capsule system was added to get astronauts out in a calamity, which might have helped Columbia. In return for failure, the shuttle program got a big budget increase. Post-Challenger "reforms" were left up to the very old-boy network that had created the problem in the first place and that benefited from continuing high costs.

Concerned foremost with budget politics, Congress too did its best to whitewash. Large manned-space-flight centers that depend on the shuttle are in Texas, Ohio, Florida and Alabama. Congressional delegations from these states fought frantically against a shuttle replacement.

The result was years of generous funding for constituents—and now another tragedy.
The tough questions that have gone unasked about the space shuttle have also gone unasked about the space station, which generates billions in budget allocations for California, Texas, Ohio, Florida and other states. Started in 1984 and originally slated to cost $14 billion in today's dollars, the space station has already cost at least $35 billion—not counting billions more for launch costs—and won't be finished until 2008. The bottled water alone that crews use aboard the space station costs taxpayers almost half a million dollars a day. (No, that is not a misprint.) There are no scientific experiments aboard the space station that could not be done far more cheaply on unmanned probes. The only space-station research that does require crew is "life science," or studying the human body's response to space. Space life science is useful but means astronauts are on the station mainly to take one another's pulse, a pretty marginal goal for such an astronomical price.

Boo hoo hoo, Bill Clinton, bride of Satan, alleged defunder of NASA, ends up on God's side again.
posted by y2karl at 8:32 PM on February 9, 2003

Yet another Cassandra--Dr. Roger Pielke:

The Houston Chronicle, September 15, 2002

When, not if, we lose another shuttle, what then? (PDF)

Related article: Are missions into space worth the risks or the cost?


Even though there are critics of human space travel, there has been little serious discussion about ending the practice, said Roger Pielke, CU Center for Science and Technology Policy Research director.

"Today that is not really an option on the table," he said.

But what the focus of public discussion ought to be, Pielke said, is the space program's future. Now, he said, the program's goals are not clearly defined. And program costs — about $7 billion a year — are high, with few accomplishments to show.

In September, Pielke wrote an opinion column for the Houston Chronicle calling for the restructuring of the space program before inevitable tragedy struck.

The reason?

"When we lose a shuttle — and we will — one of the alternatives might be no space program at all," he wrote. At the time, Pielke said, his concern was losing a shuttle would prompt a political backlash.

Now that the nation is dealing with such a tragedy, the opposite, however, has occurred. There has been an outpouring of support.

"It's an opportunity for NASA, the country and the president to lead a discussion about what to do about the future of the nation's space policies," he said.

posted by y2karl at 8:58 PM on February 9, 2003

Space Policy Resources: All PDFs

Byerly, Jr., R., 2003: A Practical and Glorious Space Program. SPACENEWS, January 20.

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2002: When We Lose a Shuttle, SPACENEWS, September 23.

Pielke, Jr., R. A. 2002: When, not if, we lose another shuttle, what then? The Houston Chronicle, September 15.

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1994: Data on and Methodology for Calculating Space Shuttle Programme Costs. Space Policy, February, 78-80.

Pielke Jr., R. A., 1993: A Reappraisal of the Space Shuttle Program. Space Policy, May, 133-157.
posted by y2karl at 9:08 PM on February 9, 2003

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