Making a Difference

When I started blogging, it was in connection with my work, at that time as a government civil servant. I tried to stay strictly on topic (space) and never ever brought my own personal poltical views or religious thoughts into it. Wouldn’t have been proper. Now in my retirement I don’t have that ethical restriction on my private blog but haven’t gone there out of habit. But it leaves a big part of me out when I don’t share those things.

I have had the opportunity to work with people in high places and perhaps influence major policy decisions. That certainly is considered important in some circles. I had an encounter of the policy type last week as you know if you regularly follow my blog.

Later today I’m starting a week which will be quite different. Along with about a hundred college students I am going to be working out in the Houston summer heat and humidity on house repairs for elderly and disabled people in urban Houston. None of those people have any political clout whatsoever. That is not what it is about. If you are interested in learning a little more, check out the organization’s website

In the bigger scheme of things, which activity, last week’s or this week’s, is more important?

That is not a trick question. I think it is a very profound question.

Mother Teresa once said: “We do no great things. We only do small things, with great love.”

I’ll report in at the end of the week, don’t look for me in cyber space in the meantime.

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Breaking a Rule

So this is a little different, not really a blog post. I have had a personal rule never to testify before a congressional committee. Just never seemed like a good idea. Not that I haven’t been asked from time to time.

So in a weak moment I gave in and will be appearing Thursday morning as a witness before the Senate Science and Space Subcommittee. What have I gotten myself into?

“The hearing will examine the growth of the space industry, including the potential economic and scientific benefits of private sector space transportation, as well as the federal and private roles in advancing technology development, ensuring mission safety, and fostering exploration.”

So what do you think I ought to tell them?

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Checking In

I appreciate the number of people who have asked me to continue blogging! I want to emphatically state that I have no intention of stopping; a short gap has turned out to be longer than I expected.

Frankly there are a number of topics that I think need addressing: federal budgets, asteroid missions, big rockets vs. propellant depots, the difficulties of long term projects with our government processes, and much more. I really feel the urge to explore what a friend of mine calls “the value proposition” for space exploration although from a different perspective than hers.

But events have conspired against me in the last two months: new grandbabies to play with (I’ve got pictures!), too much work (hey, I’m supposed to be at least semi-retired), speaking engagements, travel, and stuff. You know stuff: fixing the fence, working off the repair list, taking care of things that need taking care of.

The most significant delay has been caused by lack of inspiration: most of the time my blog posts just pour forth in a rush. That hasn’t happened to me lately. But I can feel it coming on. Soon.

So check back here soon. There are too many topics that need addressing; too many old stories to tell to stop now.

And thanks for all the kind comments

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After Ten Years: Enduring Lessons

Challenger Crew

The crew of STS-51-L

From the Rogers Commission to reading Dr. Diane Vaughn’s book The Challenger Launch Decision took me 17 years.  For all those years I had learned the wrong lesson about the loss of Challenger.  The sound-bite explanation kept me in ignorance.  You know, that a rogue manager for venal motives suppressed the concerns of good engineers and true when they tried to stop the launch.  As Dr. Vaughn more correctly analyzed the decision “It can truly be said that the Challenger launch decision was a rule-based decision.  It was not amorally calculating managers violating rules that were responsible for the tragedy.  It was conformity.”  The sound-bite explanation was satisfying, easy to live with, and wrong.  It failed to ask the more penetrating questions.  But even more importantly, it failed to spur specific action.  Just feeling anger at a bad decision or sadness at the loss is diffuse and unmotivating.  It is imperative that we learn the proper lessons from history and use those to inculcate specific actions and behaviors that will result in safety for our people – and success for our missions.

So, ten years after Columbia, what are the lessons we should have learned and should practice every day?  Here are my thoughts especially for those who work in dangerous and risky endeavors. 


1.       It can happen to you. 

Just because you are younger or smarter and read history lessons, don’t think that you won’t make mistakes and that events can’t get away from you.  Nobody is smart enough to avoid all problems.  That sliver of fear, the knowledge that the universe is out there waiting for the least lapse in attention to bite, is motivation that just might help you avoid catastrophe.  Or perhaps not.  Let’s hope that Dr. Perrow was wrong and that accidents in complex systems are not simply ‘normal’.  Better yet let us all work to prove him wrong.  The first principle of a successful high reliability organization is to be “preoccupied with failure.”  Do that.


2.  Focus. 

“To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences” Or even better:  “Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous.  But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity, or neglect. “– Captain A. G. Lamplugh, RAF.  Life happens, distractions mount.  The probability is that only one critical decision will come to you in your career.  It will come on a day when you least expect it, when you are most distracted.  The organization will fill your time with busy work and bureaucracy.   Keep focused on the important issues.

 3.  Speak up.

Better to ask a foolish question than to allow a mistake to be made.  What is the worst that could happen to you?  Lose your job?  Lose the respect of your peers?  Miss out on a promotion?  Letting a mistake go unchallenged has other consequences:  funerals, program shutdown, and life-long regret.  Make your choice wisely – speak up rather than remain silent.  If the organization can’t stand that, it’s the organization that needs to change.

 4.  You are not nearly as smart as you think you are

Remember your mother’s teaching:  “God gave you one mouth and two ears so that you should listen twice as much as you talk.”  Defer to expertise rather than leaders.   Check your ego at the door. Too many people are so busy passing out their point of view that they fail to hear the warnings that are coming at them.  Listening is not enough; comprehending and acting are also required. 

 5.  Dissention has tremendous value. 

“If we are all in agreement on the decision – then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.” – Charles E. Wilson (GM CEO circa 1950).  If you don’t have dissention, then you haven’t examined the problem closely enough.  If there is not a natural troublemaker in your group, appoint a devil’s advocate.  Make sure the ‘devil’ is smart and articulate – just like the namesake.  Draw people out; make them participate; don’t let them get away with silence.

 6.  Question Conventional Wisdom

“People in groups tend to agree on courses of action which, as individuals, they know are stupid.”  We were told that flying in the space shuttle was just as safe as flying in a commercial airliner, so we denied the crew parachutes and pressure suits.  Patently and obviously wrong to the most casual observer, such a belief can only be called stupid.  We were told the shuttle was a mature flying vehicle with few surprises left.  We believed it even though the truth was right in front of our eyes.  This is, and always will be, risky business.  Challenge conventional wisdom at every chance, look past it for the truth.

 7.  Do good work.

Apollo 1 Crew

Apollo 1 Crew

People thought Gus Grissom was inarticulate.  I think he got to the crux, the nub, and said it very simply and perfectly:  Do good work.  There is no room for half hearted efforts or second best.  Do it well or don’t do it at all.  Don’t cut corners and don’t let your so-called leaders try to bully you into doing less than the best. Don’t accept excuses from others, either.


8.   Engineering is done with numbers

Dr. David Aikin’s Laws are true:  “Engineering is done with numbers.  Analysis without numbers is only an opinion.  Not having all the information you need is never a satisfactory excuse for not starting the analysis.  Space is a completely unforgiving environment.  If you screw up the engineering, somebody will die (and there’s no partial credit because most of the analysis was right).”  Remember the motto of the Mission Evaluation Room:  “In God We Trust, All Others Bring Data.”  Don’t be persuaded with arm-waving or specious arguments lacking foundation in first principles.

9.      Use your imagination

Frank Borman said that the Apollo 1 fire was the result of a failure of imagination.  They just couldn’t imagine that a ground test could be hazardous.  Keep your eyes fresh and your imagination active so that you can see the possibilities – good and bad – and work accordingly.

 10.  Nothing worthwhile was accomplished without taking risk.

STS-107 Crew

STS-107 Crew

“Where do we get such men?” – James Michener, The Bridges at Toko-Ri  No, it is not black and white.  At some point you have to leap off into the unknown without knowing everything that you should.  Just because we are afraid, or focused on the possibility of failure, we cannot be paralyzed into inaction.  These endeavors are not for the faint of heart. 

And spend some days in wonder: where do we get such people?  People who put everything on the line for the cause.  We are fortunate to be in their presence.  Make their risk as small as you can, then go forward. “They did not think their sacrifice a vain or empty one, and we will not debate their profound wisdom at these proceedings.” – David Buchner

As I get older, the world seems more and more inhabited with ghosts from the past; people places and things that no longer exist.  Relatives that have passed, buildings that have been demolished, machines that have been scrapped; all of these are alive and new in memory.  After the age of 50, this process seems to accelerate with frightening speed.  And without passing the lessons and memories on to the next generations, important lessons will inevitably be lost.  And mistakes will be repeated.  Don’t let that happen.

Be sure to take solemn pride in the accomplishments. Don’t forget those either.

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After Ten Years: Picking Up the Pieces

Meeting the CAIB at KSC

Meeting the CAIB at KSC

Starting the new job at KSC, I had set out from my home in Houston on January 30th, with the expectation of spending about three weeks on the job before getting a weekend back in Houston.  Among the most surreal events the first week in February was flying into Ellington Field in the KSC management aircraft.  The mood was somber, the suits were equally dark.  No small talk or chit-chat on that flight, or even the continuous NASA management meeting that generally dominated.  When we landed, it was even stranger.  We were greeted by old astronaut friends, mostly unrecognizable in their full dress military uniforms – something we never saw.  I can’t really say we were greeted everyone was mostly silent and numb. 

For the second time in my NASA career, I found myself on a little rise of grass in the corner between building 16 and building 12.  President Reagan had spoken facing southeast standing right in front of building 16.   President Bush spoke facing southwest standing right in front of building 12.  The trees were taller in 2003 than they had been in 1986.  We “visiting” dignitaries from the other NASA centers were herded into a triangle of land surrounded with fake 3 foot high white picket fence to separate us from the JSC people.  It was strange to shake hands or try to give a hug across that strange fence.  Immediately after the ceremony we were herded back into the bus to Ellington for the flight to KSC.  Never got home, never saw my family; it was the strangest day of all.

Back at KSC, I accompanied my office staff to a windswept memorial service on the SLF runway itself.  Bob Crippen spoke movingly about Columbia and the loss of the vehicle as if she were a living being.  It struck me that at JSC the memorial service had been about the crew and at KSC it was about the orbiter.  Natural, I suppose, the crew being at home in Texas, the orbiter being ‘at home’ in Florida.  Somebody said later it was a tragedy at both centers:  at KSC it was as if their home had burned down, at JSC it was a death in the family; both tragedies, just different.

As a senior manager, it was out of the question for me to go to East Texas to pick up pieces; but the KSC work force was well represented there.  KSC Center Director Roy Bridges decided that his management team – which included me – should go visit the troops in the field and give them moral support and encouragement.  So after a few more days we headed out on the KSC management aircraft again.  First stop was Angelina County Airport just south of Lufkin, Texas.  As we disembarked from the aircraft, something struck me as odd about the pilot and copilot of the airplane.  Sometime later, when I talked with the air crews from JSC, they reported that Angelina airport was not usable by the Gulfstream II aircraft; the runway was too short.  JSC safety prevented them from flying there.  Turns out that Roy, veteran shuttle commander and long time pilot, had signed a waiver to allow the KSC plane to land there.  He felt the risk was acceptable. 

No wonder the pilots had put on the brakes so hard.

I found myself in a car with Ed Mango driving in the dark up to Nacogdoches where we inspected a hanger full of pieces.  The SILTS pod from the top of Columbia’s tail was there, and other pieces that I remembered.  Somehow we made it back to Lufkin for another surreal meal at the Outback steakhouse; Dave King had been put in charge of the recovery logistics and he shared the challenges he had faced with us over a meal.  Next day we spent in the Lufkin civic center talking with the FEMA, Forest Service, Red Cross and all the other agencies that were represented there.  All my old colleagues from the astronaut office were hollow eyed and silent as they were spearheading the recovery of the human remains.

We flew to Barksdale AFB at Shreveport where some of the logistics operations were located.  They greeted our plane with all the pomp and circumstance that a retired Lieutenant General deserved; something we were not used to. 

As we flew back to Florida, I realized that I was not going to get to walk any of the fields looking for parts.  Instead, I was assigned to meet and assist the Columbia Accident Investigation board members as they arrived in Florida.  We gave them briefings and tours, took them to the VAB and showed them Atlantis all stacked up and ready to roll out.  There was a long series of briefings at the conference room in the Saturn V display building, not about the Saturn V but about KSC shuttle launch processes and the like. 

And then there was the RLV hanger.  An organization called Space Florida – quasi independent quasi state funded – had build an large hanger at the SLF to attract future ‘reusable launch vehicles’.  We took over the hanger to reconstruct the parts.  I was over there a lot.  Every morning the planes flew in from JSC or HQ or wherever with experts who combed over the wreckage, searching for clues, and every evening they flew home.  I met, greeted, and worked with many old colleagues almost every day.  There were other meetings and telecons and the press of business back in the office to attend to, but I went to the RLV hanger every day.  Many days this visit was after the regular work day when there was a small shift of KSC folks sorting the pieces and I could wander around the hanger on my own, pondering every piece in silence.  And then I had a long half hour drive back down to my empty condo in Cape Canaveral to think about what I’d seen.

The experts were in a quandary, but the key evidence came from a special recorder that only Columbia had.  It was found mostly undamaged, sitting on a little rise in a field in East Texas.  Playing back the telemetry tapes told the story, everything else just filled in around the main points. 

We still didn’t believe that foam could have broken the wing leading edge until they did a test, fired a hunk of foam at a mockup of the wing, and proved it.  Then there was no doubt.

Ron Dittemore announced his retirement and a new Program Manager was named, Bill Parsons.  I knew Parsons from his days as deputy Center Director at JSC and when I got a chance to talk with him, asked to come home to Houston.  The job in Florida hadn’t worked out quite how I had envisioned it and I was ready to leave. 

Flying home for the July 4 holiday, I changed planes in New Orleans.  There was a recorded message when I turned on my cell phone in the terminal.  Bill Parsons wanted me to come back to Houston – to be his deputy.  I was floored.

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After Ten Years: The Moment of Truth

Prior to the Challenger accident, the theory was that riding on the space shuttle was like riding on a modern jet airliner; passengers are not provided with parachutes and pressure suits. Challenger changed all that. With pressure suits, parachutes, and a pyrotechnically jettisonable hatch, a crew just might have a chance to survive that type of accident. The crew module was a double structure, pressure vessel within the aerodynamic outer airframe, so if any part of the orbiter was to survive, the crew module was it. We added life rafts, survival gear, and satellite beacons on each crew member. At 73 seconds into flight, Challenger broke apart at about Mach 2 and the pieces coasted to nearly 65,000 feet.

As time went on, we became much more concerned with a crew bailout in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly at the higher latitudes where an ISS launch would take them. Remember the movie Titanic; the extreme cold water was what killed most of the people. The pressure suit we used after Challenger was derived from an SR-71 ejection suit and was not very effective in retaining heat; we needed a survival suit. The Advanced Crew Escape Suit – ACES – was developed and was a great improvement. Bobbing in the icy north Atlantic waiting for rescue, someone in the ACES could likely survive the 8 to 12 hours it would take the rescue forces to arrive in the worst case. But the ACES suit had a drawback; unlike the older SR-71 suit the gloves had to be worn to maintain pressure. Wearing gloves was a real drawback, dexterity was severely impacted. Most crew members carried their glove rather than wear them, planning to zip them on in case of impending trouble.

And both suits were pressurized with pure oxygen. In a vacuum, wearing a pressure suit at 4 or 5 psi will keep you alive. But with the helmet visor closed and the cabin under normal pressure, the oxygen bleeding out of the suit will increase the O2 level to the point of a fire hazard in just a few minutes. So the crew would be visors down only for the first two minutes of launch and for the last two minutes of entry (fearing for bird strikes). During the bulk of the entry period – deorbit burn to landing was over an hour – the protocol was for the visors to be up and the O2 system to be off.

The last week of Columbia’s flight I got ready for my (semi) permanent move to Florida. Feb. 1 was a Saturday and the planned landing day for Columbia. I loaded clothes and other necessities into my old suburban, kissed my wife goodbye (with the promise that I would be home for a weekend in about three weeks) and headed down I-10 from Houston toward Florida. Normally this trip would take about a day and a half, but as I entered the Florida panhandle, the engine started overheating. The water pump was failing and I had failed to pack my toolbox. I coasted into Crestview and checked into a hotel. First thing in the morning on Friday January 31, I managed to get the truck into a mechanics shop and before noon I was on my way with a new water pump. But that make it after 6 when I rolled into Cocoa Beach. The real estate people had left the keys to my condo taped on their door, so I was able to get in, unload, grab a bite to eat, and hit the sack early because Saturday was going to be a big day. It would be the first time I could witness a shuttle landing in person – after all those times watching from Mission Control.

Very early Saturday morning I was up, shaved, dressed, breakfasted, and headed out the KSC HQ building. There I met Mike Wetmore the director of Shuttle Processing and some of his staff. We took a government van from there up to the Launch Control Center. We met Mike Leinbach at his console in the Firing Room, plugged in headsets and listened as my old colleague LeRoy Cain fought with the weather forecast. There was a real chance of low clouds; the lowest ceiling the flight rules would allow was 8,000 feet so the commander would have a good visual approach to the shuttle runway. The forecaster kept putting in the chance of ceiling at 3,000 feet. Not good. Passing the time, I told the small assembled group in the Firing Room that LeRoy would never give a GO for deorbit burn; he would probably wave off one orbit when the forecaster said the low clouds would be gone. But LeRoy surprised me and gave a GO for deorbit burn on time.

Much later, while the debris recovery effort was going on in East Texas, the trajectory analysts put together an estimated plot of where the Columbia pieces would have come down for a 1 rev late deorbit. The toe of the ellipse – where the heaviest pieces would come down – cut across the southwestern suburbs of Houston. My home – my wife – would have been in the target zone where the 2 ton steel main engine combustion chambers would have hit the ground at supersonic speeds. JSC would have been at ground zero for the debris; the MCC would likely have been struck. That is a scenario that is just too implausible for words.

After the deorbit burn was completed, and the good ship and crew were committed to re-entry, our little party trundled down to the parking lot and rode the van over to the midfield parksite which is where the bleachers for the VIPs are located.


Crew Family bleachers at the SLF Midfield Park Site

It was a party atmosphere there. I was a little disoriented because there was none of the information I was used to watching in the MCC during a shuttle re-entry. There was just a loudspeaker with the PAO commentary and the crew Air-to-ground radio transmissions. The bleachers were covered with folks I knew; everybody from center directors, to other astronauts, to KSC workers of all types; I had a very nice chat with the NASA Associate Administrator for Human Space Flight, and with the KSC center director. In the middle of the conversation, a couple of the astronauts in their signature blue flight coveralls come over. They were crew family escorts and were watching the crew’s children playing tag in between the bleacher stands.

I took note of the gathering low level clouds and wondered if the weather was going to turn out to be a flight rule violation after all.

I briefly wondered if Rick Husband would look out his left window and see his hometown of Amarillo or if Willie McCool would look out his right window and see his hometown of Lubbock; that was what I remembered of the groundtrack.
I totally lost perspective of what was going on with the shuttle. Then somebody asked “Isn’t this a long time for the crew to be out of communications?” I looked at the clock counting down to touchdown time and with a chill realized that the shuttle should be coming over the west coast of Florida and there was no way that those calls from Capcom could be going unanswered.

Then cell phones began ringing in the crowd.

Shock was setting in as we ran back to the van and raced back to the Launch Control Center to find out what was going on. The TV sets with national news channels showing pictures from the skies over Dallas told the story.
After a few minutes, I pulled out my phone list and called the MCC, the Landing Support Officer was Marty Linde. We had trained for a thousand terrible scenarios together. Even though I was breaking protocol by calling, I couldn’t help it. Surely, I thought, that double walled crew compartment had held together and those pressure suits would have protected the crew until they could bail out of the wreckage. “Marty,” I asked “have the [crew emergency] satellite beacons been detected?” His response: “No”

That is when I really knew.

Months later, my presence was requested at a full debriefing by the forensic pathologists. I hate those cop shows where they go into the gleaming lab rooms and discuss exactly how some murder victim died. This was not like that. The subjects of this clinical discussion were my friends and co-workers. It’s hard to be objective when you listen to how your friends died. The full report was over three hours. In detail the doctors went over all the results. You really don’t want to know. Nobody had a pressure suit that was inflated so they probably lost consciousness in 15 seconds and were clinically dead in minutes. That is probably the best that could have happened because, well, you don’t want to know what happened after that.

Vehicle breakup at 210,000 feet going Mach 15 is much much worse than anything we had ever planned for.

Sue Pinch who managed my office’s support staff showed up with the Contingency Action Plan.  That book had everything written down, a good thing. Pushing through the fog of shock, it took everything to concentrate on what was written to do; nobody could have worked from memory. I remember being in a conference room with Sean O’Keefe, the administrator, and the agency chief counsel Paul Pastorak as they called the White House to explain what had happened.

Sue stayed at my elbow all day.  Somehow as the day went on I found myself in the conference room on the first floor of the LCC building briefing the recovery team – what would be the debris recovery team – on what to expect in East Texas in February. Damp cold, near freezing with precipitation likely – pack warm clothes; friendly people; country of fields interspersed with pine forests and prickly thick brush. Most of the KSC team had never been there. We saw them off at the Shuttle Landing Facility well after dark.

It was late when I trundled back to the condominium near Port Canaveral that I had left so excitedly early that morning. I called my wife for the first time that day. It had been a very long day I told her.

My first day on the new job wasn’t at all what I expected.

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After Ten Years: Working on the Wrong Problem

One of the toughest problems the Ascent Flight Director faced was how to get the crew back home safely if the shuttle engines quit during the launch phase. We studied and worked out procedures and techniques for over thirty years. Single engine failures were automatically handled; it was the multiple engine out cases that were tough. The orbiter is a glider with a terrible life over drag ratio. Many of the situations we just didn’t have enough range to get to a runway. Plopping the crew down in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was not a satisfactory answer; stretching the glide to make a runway – like Shannon in Ireland – that was a much better solution. The orbiter does a belly flop during re entry to dissipate the energy; this keeps the temperature down on the heat shield; particularly the hottest part of the wing leading edge which is made up of 02 inch thick composite material: reinforced carbon carbon. At 40 degrees nose high, the temperatures there stayed right around 3,000 degrees F for about half an hour. If the nose were lowered, the temperature climbed, but if the wing stayed intact, the lift over drag ratio was much better. During the early 1990’s we worked very hard with the RCC experts to determine exactly how much we could lower the nose, increase the glide, make the runway, and not destroy the wing. For transatlantic aborts, that number was 31 degrees nose high. The recognized expert on the RCC was Dr. Don Curry of Johnson Space Center. He knew everything there was to know about the wing leading edge materials, structure, testing, and capabilities.

During the last week of Columbia’s flight, I was in Houston and attended the MMT on Monday morning in person. Calvin Schomberg of JSC’s Engineering organization gave the discussion of preliminary results on possible damage to the shuttle tiles from the ascent debris strike. Much has been made of this analysis in the CAIB report. There were flaws in the analysis, but post accident testing showed that the bottom line was correct: a glancing foam strike on the underside of the left wing would have damaged the soft thermal tiles but probably not to the point at which fatal heat would reach the interior of the wing. Calvin was a recognized expert on the shuttle tile system. After discussion of other minor issues on the mission and the status of the ongoing experiments, the MMT was adjourned.

In the hall outside the meeting, I encountered Don Curry. I asked him if there was any concern with the RCC. His reply ‘Oh, the RCC is tough stuff. You know during qualification testing we even shot ice at it. The RCC is OK.’ That was good enough for me. The expert had spoken. It never occurred to me to ask anyone else; nor did the question come up formally during the MMT review.

And of course, the accident investigation – all those pieces picked up in East Texas – showed that the tiles were intact; the RCC had taken the strike – and had broken.

So all the discussion in the accident report about the flaws in the tile analysis are simply not applicable. We were working the wrong problem. The hard RCC panels in the very front of the wing, not the soft silica thermal tiles on the bottom of the wing were at issue.

I spent a lot of time the early part of the week in the Mission Evaluation Room where the engineering analysis teams were headquartered; I sat through more than one MMT; and I visited with my fellow Flight Directors in the Flight Control Room. All was quiet, nobody talked about any serious concerns about anything; just the usual logistical administrivia of getting on with a routine shuttle mission.

Jon Harpold was the Director of Mission Operations, my supreme boss as a Flight Director. He had spent his early career in shuttle entry analysis. He knew more about shuttle entry than anybody; the guidance, the navigation, the flight control, the thermal environments and how to control them. After one of the MMTs when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he gave me his opinion: “You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS. If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?”

I was hard pressed to disagree. That mindset was widespread. Astronauts agreed. So don’t blame an individual; looks for the organizational factors that lead to that kind of a mindset. Don’t let them in your organization.
After the accident, when we were reconstituting the Mission Management Team, my words to them were “We are never ever going to say that there is nothing we can do.” That is hindsight.

That is the lesson.

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