Minority Report and Sausage
As we recall, former NASA chief Sean O'Keefe established the task group in 2003 to monitor the agency's compliance with safety recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. In June, the task group signed off on NASA's compliance with 12 of 15 CAIB return-to-flight recommendations, and found the agency failed to satisfy three of the 15 recommendations. (The report states, "The remaining three recommendations were so challenging that NASA could not comply completely with the intent of the CAIB, but conducted extensive study, analyses, and hardware modifications that resulted in substantive progress toward making the vehicle safer. It must be emphasized, however, that, the inability to fully comply with all of the CAIB recommendations does not imply that the Space Shuttle is unsafe.")
While the majority of the panel turned in good marks for NASA in this final report, the slap in the face, as AP's Marcia Dunn reports, came from a "disappointed" minority -- seven members of the 26-member panel who did not hold back in slamming the space agency for its post-Columbia work. And the minority view appeared to dominate the media coverage.
But task group co-chairman, former shuttle commander Richard Covey, insisted NASA did "a very competent job." And as to NASA's approach to safety matters, he told the New York Times, "If you watch sausage being made, it's not always pretty, and some people are going to find it uglier than others."
(Meanwhile, NASA may hold off launching another shuttle until March 2006.)