That Whole Rigamarole

Friday, May 23, 2003

I Guess We Need the Thunderbirds

Apparently NASA is starting to speak in public about some possibilities that Rand Simberg (he's got a link to his earlier posts in this new post) and I both wrote about at the time of the accident.

The part of this story that bothers me most is this:

Gehman acknowledged it would have been chancy to launch a shuttle on a rescue mission without first fixing the problem of foam breaking off.

But he pointed out that in the military, "we frequently launch 120 people to go save one."

"If you've got a pilot down behind enemy lines, we do everything and anything possible to go get that person," he said in a telephone conference with reporters. "It's kind of a contract we have with the people who go into harm's way.

"NASA and the nation have that same contract with astronauts, and it is my opinion, and from my personal background, that if there had been any erring, we would have erred on the side of taking the chance and going after them."

Simberg points out that this mission would be pretty stupid, given that it exposes half of the remaining shuttle fleet to a pretty serious risk of loss. This business about a contract with astronauts is news to me, and it pains me to point out that NASA may have made it up for the occasion: they've done nothing to put a viable rescue capability in place. The armed forces, on the other hand, plan explicitly to retrieve certain types of resources (such as aircrew) and have a very flexible force structure that allows them to plan and execute rescue operations if the situation presents itself. But as Simberg says, if the Pentagon had a total of three helicopters, they wouldn't be launching them on dangerous rescue missions.

The fact is, we are willing to spend military lives without much recrimination (except in comparison with many other countries.) Helicopters crash, explosives blow up, vehicles roll over, and tanks run over sleeping soldiers. And that's just in peacetime training. Military people will gladly go in harm's way to rescue their colleagues. Astronauts will do the same, but we can't really let them take an irreplaceable vehicle on the mission.


Post a Comment

<< Home