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Re: Alike 911 unheard warnings retired NASA engineer alert

Jon Ogden NA9D wrote:

>While he may be correct that the flight automation is so good it doesn't
>need human intervention, I don't like it. I think it's a crazy idea. If
>something goes wrong with the computer system, it's good to know there's a
>person on board who can fly the thing. Look at what happened aboard MIR
>with the automated/remote control progress ship when it rammed the space

Your conclusion about the MIR crash is 180 degrees incorrect. The automated
docking system on MIR worked successfully for many years. The crash happened
when the MIR crew, on orders from their mission control, turned off the
automatic system and tried to dock manually by radio control from MIR to
Progress. The automatic system was built in Ukraine, now an independent
country, and the Russian space agency was trying to see if they could save
some money by going to a manual system. Several cosmonauts tried to dock the
Progress in a simulator in Star City, none of them could do it successfully.

John Mock KD6PAG wrote:

>So i'll toss out an idea as an example of what i'm talking about. One
>thing that NASA is not able to do, is to inspect the Shuttle once it is
>in space. (Granted that they might not be able to do anything about it
>now, but that could change.) We, as amateurs, have built satellites 
>which are able to take pictures of things from space. Could we make a 
>microsat or picosat which could be hand-launched from the shuttle bay 
>(or otherwise be gently released) and inspect the shuttle in orbit?

Inspection is one thing. If you find damaged tiles, fixing them is another
matter. The shuttle could easily do a roll maneuver before docking with the
space station, a crew member with a pair of binoculars on the ISS could
inspect the tiles. But what would you do if you found damaged tiles?

Robert Oler WB5MZO wrote:

>A crew capsule would be a great idea. But retrofit one to the shuttle would 
>take years and essentially reduce its payload capability to a couple of 
>suitcases. The military has not had great luck with "ejectable capsules".

>Had all the crew members on Columbia had "seats" they would all still have 
>perished in the tragedy UNLESS we spend a lot of money, redesign the 
>pressurized container and build a seat like has never been built 
>before...again we run into that weight problem (not to mention mobility on 
>the shuttle).

You could also ask why commercial airliners don't have ejection capsules and
parachutes for each passenger. Undoubtedly some lives might be saved, but like
many other things in engineering, cost becomes an issue. We accept some loss
of life in order to have cheaper plane tickets. Would you be willing to pay
three times as much for your airline ticket in order to have an escape pod and
a parachute? Would you be willing to spend an extra billion dollars to have
NASA modify the shuttles to possibly save another 7 lives, or spend that money
in some other way that might save many more lives, perhaps fighting AIDS in
Africa as the President suggested in his speech last week? The science of
economics is based on the fact that every dollar you spend for one thing is
one less dollar you could have spent on something else, perhaps something more

Engineers in many fields, including automotive and highway design, routinely
have to evaluate the value of a human life saved against the cost of saving
that life. Many professions including doctors and government officials at all
levels make similar decisions. Our society makes very irrational judgments
about the value of life in different circumstances. People worry about whether
or not their cell phone causes cancer while they happily puff away on their
cigarette. We debate whether or not anybody died as a result of the Three Mile
Island accident, but we accept the deaths of coal miners and the tons of
pollution generated by coal burning plants in order to enjoy cheap
electricity. On average there might be one or two plane crashes per year but
most of us still get on planes when we want to go somewhere. We happily munch
on our cheeseburgers and fries even when we know it's going to kill us.

Last week 4 soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. The president
did not make a speech on national television, the flags were not put at half
mast, and nobody suggested that the army should pull out of Afghanistan. A
month before the Challenger accident, a plane crash in Newfoundland killed
several hundred US soldiers. Today this is hardly remembered while we still
have annual remembrances of Challenger. As bad as the Columbia disaster is,
and I am grieving as much as anybody outside of the immediate family, the
human tragedy is minor compared to 9/11 or what is about to happen in Iraq.
(That is not a political opinion either pro or con, just a statement of fact.)
The astronauts knew that what they were doing was dangerous and they did it
anyway because they thought, as Gus Grissom did, that the conquest of space
was worth the risk of life.

Dan Schultz N8FGV

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