Still Asking the Wrong Questions

Keith Cowing has gotten his hands on a draft space policy document that’s apparently been floating around inside the Beltway. He thinks that it may provide some insight into potential Kerry space policy. If so, it sounds like business as usual (in terms of the continuing notion that NASA must remain in the lead of developing new human transportation systems).

As Keith writes:

I am struck by the rather superficial nature of the analysis being done. The paper either skims over important details or simply regurgitates technical descriptions gleaned from news reports and NASA documents. No obvious attempt is made to systematically compare and contrast various technical risks and then prioritize them in a fashion that offers a chance for larger conclusions to be derived. This document is just a laundry list. The only clear recommendations made by the authors have to do with their views on national space policy – something which would seem to be beyond the scope of what they were tasked to do in the first place.

There is also the issue as to the level of expertise in place at GWU to fully understand the technical operations of the shuttle and ISS. Looking at the project staff listed on GWU’s website no one seems to have any experience working with human spaceflight operations or systems or risk and safety analysis associated with human spaceflight. Of course, I have not seen the proposal they submitted – one which might list additional personnel with that expertise who are assisting in this project. None the less, this apparent lack of expertise in the area of human spaceflight and risk analysis is evident in many places in this paper.

Yes. John Logsdon is a great historian of the space program, but his policy prescriptions are often wrongheaded, because he fundamentally doesn’t understand the technology issues.

What I found most disturbing was this section:

The paper leaves a clear impression that the authors think that the shuttle system is very risky – perhaps too risky to continue flying. The paper goes on to make a broad observation that the shuttle should be flown much less often than NASA plans to fly it:

“Some individuals, although a small number of those interviewed by the GW team on a confidential basis, have gone so far as to assert that the Shuttle program should be permanently halted, the Orbiters permanently grounded, and the ISS limited in scope with certain elements not completed because of the risks presented by the ambitious launch schedule required to complete the ISS. These individuals with major safety concerns have also said that