Safety key to future space exploration

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

The independent board investigating the loss of the Columbia has issued a tough, highly critical report last week that states, among other things, that NASA's internal culture was as much at fault in the disaster as the foam that hit the space shuttle's wing.


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Columbia Accident Investigation Board's 248-page report about the Feb. 1 accident that killed seven astronauts recommended many technical changes, but was mostly critical of NASA’s management and "organizational culture." For an agency that uses the most sophisticated technology in the world today, it is inexcusable that NASA's leaders would not make sure all ducks were in a row before sending human beings into space.

Exploration, in itself, is dangerous. Any time we send astronauts to investigate the unknown, risks are taken. In essence, we send them forth into unmapped darkness and hope they come back.

More times than not they do, but our space program has had its setbacks. But, it appears NASA does not learn from its mistakes. The board's report found chilling similarities between the 1986 Challenger tragedy and Columbia’s loss.

If NASA's managerial culture isn’t revamped, the board says the agency will never make other needed changes. "NASA's current organization does not provide effective checks and balances, does not have an adequate safety program, and has not demonstrated the characteristics of a learning organization," the board reported.

The board furthermore stated that NASA's safety program is "largely silent and ineffective," due to "communication failures, incomplete and misleading information and poor management judgments."

That leads us to this question:Where do we go from here?

Back into space, naturally.

NASA should return to space as soon as possible. Manned space flight, however, must occur only after NASA shows it is willing to take safety into consideration.