42-year NASA veteran disagrees with outgoing NASA
Administrator Sean O'Keefe's assessment
Just when Sean O'Keefe thought he would have his parting words
and exit stage left, here comes veteran astronaut John Young, fresh
from his own retirement announcement, and begs to differ. The
subject? NASA's safety culture, and whether or not it has improved
since the Columbia tragedy.
One day after O'Keefe stated that the agency's broken safety
culture has improved tremendously since the accident, Young spoke
his mind to the Houston Chronicle and made no bones about the fact
that he does not think this is an accurate statement.
"I was in the astronaut office the other day, and I asked them how
many people thought NASA had changed its culture and nobody raised
their hand," Young said. "There were about 100 people there, so
that's how they feel right now."
Just one day earlier, O'Keefe told the same newspaper that the
effort to change the safety culture at NASA would be long-term but
progress "has been quite remarkable." Young did add that NASA has
worked very hard to make the shuttle fleet safer.
"You're going to need the shuttle to fly 28 missions in 10 years
to build the space station. I think the only way to do that is to
keep at the shuttle and look at every problem they have, and
they're doing that right now," he told the Chronicle. "I wish we
were flying right this minute."
Young's position on the safety record of the shuttle fleet is
that the nation should accept the 1 in 57 failure rate. Measured
against the potential for progress, he feels that this rate is well
worth the risk. "I really believe we should be operating it,
flying it, right now because there's just not a lot we can do to
make it any better," he told the Associated Press.
NASA has stated that they know there is a risk, and that they
have yet to come up with the repair kits that would be needed to
fix damage such as that which Columbia suffered during its launch.
However, the agency is forging ahead with plans to launch the
shuttle Discovery in May or June, and Young is in agreement.
"When you're developing the design and developing hardware, you
make it as safe as you can when you start with, but once you get
there, you take what you've got," Young said. "You use it. We've
done that with airplanes and spacecraft ever since we've been doing
it. Pretty soon you have to stop arguing about what's not right and
go take what you've got and operate it."