S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Myth-busting at NASA

(NASA Image: "Comet Buster")
NASA on collision course with scandal - An expose broke last week that breaks the hearts of "space junkies" like me and my friend, Capt. Fogg at The Reaction. Every time a similar NASA story appears another part of the "heroic space astronauts" myth gets peeled away. Details of the story were well-covered by CBS News (on 7/27/07). The lurid headline and associated info laid it all out: "Panel Finds Space Disgrace: Drunk Astros Report Says NASA Officials Twice Knew Crew Members Were Intoxicated, Let Them Fly Anyway." Quoting from the story,

. . . Deputy Administrator Shana Dale said the panel provided no details and did not verify the troubling revelations and promised the space agency would pursue the truth.

"I've covered the space program for over 20 years, and I have to believe these are isolated incidents," says CBS News space analyst Bill Harwood. "I’ve never heard even a whisper of this kind of behavior during a shuttle launch countdown, and certainly not a case of an inebriated astronaut actually getting on a space shuttle."

He adds, "The problem here is that this report is based on unverified allegations, and until NASA can go carry out the kind of extensive review needed to pin this down, it's really impossible to say whether they are widespread or isolated."
Southwest news views - The hometown of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is Houston, Texas. Their paper is the Houston Chronicle. Reading feature stories is a useful way to assess just how much Houston's space community is shaken by the facts of the story. The question is what the leadership of that proud community does to reconcile old myths and current reality. Linked below are a few interesting sidebar pieces probably not found elsewhere:

Other bad news about NASA was reported in the Houston Chronicle during the same period. The headline on July 26, 2007, 11:56PM read - "NASA investigates possible sabotage of recorder for lab." In spite of this unsettling revelation, the powers that be have decided "the mission will go on." That is another part of the space program's mythology. Is safety taking a back seat to magical thinking?
Russia is a NASA's partner in space. One wonders what the Russians think about this report. The Russian "official" news view can routinely be found at RIA Novosti. This source reports that, "U.S. space shuttle launch to go ahead as planned - NASA expert" (15:32 27/ 07/ 2007 MOSCOW). I quote news story elements related to both scandal issues,

The launch of space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station (ISS) will go ahead as scheduled on August 7, and will not be delayed due to earlier reported sabotage, a NASA expert in Russia said Friday.

. . . The reported act of sabotage is not the only incident that is tainting NASA' image, Aviation Week & Space Technology international aviation weekly said Thursday, that a NASA medical panel had established U.S. astronauts flew while heavily intoxicated on at least two occasions.

The weekly, which obtained the panel's findings, said "flight surgeons and other astronauts warned they were so intoxicated that they posed a flight-safety risk."

The launch of the NASA STS-118 mission is targeted for August 7. It will be the 22nd flight to the International Space Station (ISS) and the first flight for Endeavour since 2002.
Russian space program statement - A few days later, a CBS News (7/29/07) report predictably maintains the myth, "Russia Denies Drunk Astronaut Report. Official Rejects Report That Russian Astronaut Was Drunk Aboard Soyuz Space Flight." To quote,
"We categorically deny the possibility that this could have happened at Baikonur," Igor Panarin, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, Roskosmos, told The Associated Press. "In the days at Baikonur before the launch, this is absolutely impossible. They are constantly watched by medics and psychiatrists."
Back in the Southwest a possible fix for the problem turned up in the Dallas Morning News. Here is my idea for something that might work in the high tech world of space sobriety, though it does not exactly go with the mythology of gritty space explorers: On Saturday (7/28/07) this headline appeared: "New celeb trend: ankle alcohol monitors . Lohan's bracelet isn't just for show." To quote,

Since then, she had been seen around town and in paparazzi photos wearing the ankle bracelet, a high-tech device known as a Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor. It measures alcohol content emitted through perspiration in the skin and relays the information to authorities or, in this case, her attorney, Blair Berk.
Space Travel is a magnificent human adventure. At its best it is courageous, heroic, selfless and ennobling. At their best people in the space program travel on behalf of humankind. Their discoveries add to the progress of science, and offer inspiration to young and old alike. I conclude this post with the following story. It is much more in line with what I prefer to be blogging about, more like what Mondays should be in Texas. It is from C/Net News (7/30/07), and is titled, "How to land a spacecraft on an asteroid." To quote,

NASA is exploring the possibility of sending astronauts to an asteroid, with hopes of making deep-space exploration more feasible.

. . . according to David Morrison, a senior scientist in NASA's Astrobiology Institute.

"The concept of human flights to near-Earth objects is exciting for science, and it's a logical, technological stepping stone to Mars because it's intermediate in flight length," said Morrison. "It's not literally on the way, but it's on the way for developing the technology for deep space."

The important truth to ascertain is whether it is still safe to fly. That is always the central question for me in the midst of these revelations. The space program is challenged to confront reality while honoring those who have died in the service of space exploration, myths and all.

Cross posted at The Reaction.
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