Shuttle flight editorial

Gene Krantz wrote the following editorial that will appear in tomorrow's New
York Times:
Eugene F. Kranz, author of "Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From
Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond," is a former Apollo flight director.
By Eugene F. Kranz
TO read and listen to the coverage of the ongoing mission of Space Shuttle
Discovery, you would think NASA's mission team have taken careless risks
with the lives of the seven astronauts who went into space last Tuesday.
During the launch, foam fell off the external tank. For the risk-averse, the
only acceptable thing to do now is retire the shuttle program immediately
and wait for the divine arrival of the next generation of spacecraft. I am
disgusted at the lack of courage and common sense this attitude shows.
All progress involves risk. Risk is essential to fuel the economic engine of
our nation. And risk is essential to renew American's fundamental spirit of
discovery so we remain competitive with the rest of the world.
My take on the current mission is very straightforward. The shuttle is in
orbit. To a great extent mission managers have given the spacecraft a clean
bill of health. Let us remember that this is a test flight. I consider it a
remarkably successful test so far.
The technical response to the Columbia accident led to a dramatic reduction
in the amount of debris striking this shuttle during launch. Mission
managers have said that the external tank shed 80 percent less foam this
time than on previous launches. Only in the news media, apparently, is an 80
percent improvement considered a failure. Rather than quit, we must now try
to reduce even more greatly the amount of foam that comes off the tank.
The instruments and video equipment developed to assess the launch
performance and monitor debris falling from the tank worked superbly. For
the first time, the mission team knows what is happening, when it is
happening and the flight conditions under which it occurred. This was a
major mission objective, and it is an impressive achievement.
Having spent more than three decades working in the space program, I know
that all of the flights of the early days involved some levels of risk. Some
of those risks, in hindsight, seem incomprehensible by today's timid
standards. If we had quit when we had our first difficulties in Project
Mercury, we would have never launched John Glenn on the Atlas rocket
Friendship 7 in 1961. Two of the previous five Atlas rockets test-fired
before Friendship 7 had exploded on liftoff.
On Gemini 9, 10 and 11, all in 1966, we had complications with planned
spacewalks that placed the astronauts at risk. Rather than cancel the walks,
we faced the risks and solved the problems. These set the stage for Gemini
12 later that year, during which Buzz Aldrin spent more than five hours
outside the capsule and confirmed to NASA that spacewalks could be
considered an operational capability.
Eventually, this capability enabled astronauts to retrieve satellites and
repair and maintain the Hubble space telescope; and during the current
mission, spacewalks were used to repair a gyroscope on the International
Space Station and will allow the crew to fix some of the damage on that
occurred during the launch. These are the rewards for the risks we took on
those early Gemini flights.
I understand the tragedy inherent in risk-taking; I witnessed the fire
aboard Apollo that killed its three crew members. It filled us with anger at
ourselves and with the resolve to make it right. After the fire we didn't
quit; we redesigned the Apollo command module. During the Apollo missions
that followed, we were never perfect. But we were determined and competent
and that made these missions successful.
I see the same combination of anger, resolve and determination in the Space
Shuttle program today. These people are professionals who understand the
business of risk, how to reduce risk and making that which remains
acceptable. Most important, the current mission has demonstrated the
maturity of the shuttle team that went through the tragedy of Columbia and
had the guts to persevere. This is the most important aspect of the recovery
from the Columbia accident, and is a credit to the great team NASA now has
in place, headed by its administrator, Michael Griffin.
There are many nations in the world that wish to surpass us in space. Does
the "quit now" crowd really believe that abandoning the shuttle and
International Space Station is the way to keep America the pre-eminent
space-faring nation? Do they really believe that a new spacecraft will come
without an engineering challenge or a human toll? The path the naysayers
suggest is so out of touch with the American character of perseverance, hard
work and discovery that they don't even realize the danger in which they are
putting future astronauts. Not to mention our nation.
Reply to
David Bacque
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Well stated by Gene Krantz. I just finished reading his autobiography, facinating book about the behind-the-scenes of Mission Control. wick
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With the proliferation of the 'Nanny State', I;m not sure this still describes the 'American character'.
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