CAIB Recommends Shuttle Be Designated "Investigative
It appears more than
likely that the Columbia Accident Investigation Board will
force NASA to declare space shuttles as "test vehicles." The space
plane, designed to carry astronauts, cargo and experiments into
orbit like a rocket-powered truck, was supposed to make space
flight routine. But Reuters reports the CAIB believes the shuttles
are not proven operational vehicles whose performance can be
predicted from one mission to the next.
"The fact that we've allowed cameras and range instrumentation
and on-board instrumentation ... to kind of gracefully atrophy over
the years leads me to bring this issue up, that there are some
signs that it's been considered an operational vehicle rather than
an investigative vehicle," said board chairman, Adm. Harold Gehman
(USN, ret.) at a briefing on Friday. In essence, members of the
investigative board believe NASA is playing too fast and loose with
the shuttle program.
"You need to treat the launch as the first launch, each orbit as
the first orbit, and each re-entry as the first re-entry," said
Brig. Gen. Duane Deal, another member of the investigation
"The fact that this piece of foam (on Columbia's final
mission) ... was much much larger than NASA's previous experience
is of course important because it gets into the question of why
didn't that alarm the engineers in the program," Gehman said.
Perhaps more than anything else, that comment is an indication of
how deep the CAIB believes NASA's management problems go.