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Mon, Jul 14, 2003

No More Routine Flights To Space

CAIB Recommends Shuttle Be Designated "Investigative Vehicle"

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 board.

"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.

FMI: www.caib.gov

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