- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
Safety, Integrity and Accountability in Human Spaceflight
Part 1 of 2
Frank Borman only flew to space twice, but both flights were major milestones in the history of human spaceflight. In 1965, he and Jim Lovell flew for nearly 14 days aboard Gemini 7, proving that humans could function for long periods of time in the absence of gravity. Borman, Lovell and Bill Anders orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 aboard Apollo 8 on the first human mission beyond low Earth orbit, an essential step toward the landing of Apollo 11 eight months later.
There was lesser known, but no less vital, mission that Borman undertook that was every bit as essential to the success of Project Apollo. The anniversary of a key event in that mission was earlier this month. Borman, who turned 94 last month, recounted the story in his autobiography, “Countdown.”
by Douglas Messier
On the last Friday in January 1967, Frank Borman took a break from a punishing schedule of traveling from Houston to Project Apollo contractors in Massachusetts and California to spend some quality time with his family. He took his wife, Susan, and their two sons to a cottage on a lake near Huntsville, Texas, owned by family friends. In the era cell phones, there were only landlines. Since the phone number at the cottage was unlisted, Borman was looking forward to two uninterrupted of relaxation.
The Bormans and their hosts had just set down to Friday dinner when they heard a knock on the door. A Texas Ranger had come with an urgent message to contact the NASA Manned Space Center in Houston. When Borman called, chief astronaut Deke Slayton informed him that Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee had been killed when a fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a practice countdown.
It was a shock to everyone everyone at NASA. Borman and White had both graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and their two families had become close during their time at NASA.
Ed’s death hit me hard, too. We had lost many friends before, but never had we lost someone so close, nor anyone in the space program who had been killed in a spacecraft. He might as well have been the brother I never had, a man of gentle strength and quiet humor.
Everyone had expected a fatal accident to occur, eventually. But, they figured it would happen in flight. But, here the three men had died during a routine test on the ground, of all places, trapped in a capsule whose dangers — a high-pressure, pure oxygen environment where a single spark could cause an inferno — seemed so obvious in retrospect, but were missed in the rush to beat the Soviets to the moon. It was unbelievable, and most felt, inexcusable.
Borman was appointed to represent the astronaut corps on the Apollo 204 Review Board that NASA established following the fire. He would spend hours in the charred cabin, cataloguing the positions of the switches and searching for the cause of the fire. It was an excruciating painful and maddening experience.
“I began to get progressively angrier at what we gradually unearthed — sloppy planning and supervision on NASA’s part and some shamefully inadequate design and test work by North American,” Borman wrote about the unfolding investigation.
Up on the Hill
Borman was one of a number of officials from NASA and prime contractor North American on the hot seat when Congress began to hold hearings months after the accident. The first one was held by a House committee on April 17, 1967.
I looked forward to testifying on Capitol Hill with all the eager anticipation of a man going to a dentist and facing certain tooth extraction. The House appearance was first, and I met privately with Jim Webb in his office before going to the Hill. Once again, he gave me evidence of his inherent integrity.
“Frank,” he said,” the American people need to understand what happened just as we now understand. You are not to try in any way to hold back facts or color your testimony in NASA’s favor. Just them exactly what happened, what your investigation group found, no holds barred, even if it makes NASA look bad.”
He had given me a remarkable and courageous set of instructions. The House hearing was scheduled for that evening, and Webb rode with me, accompanied by [Alan] Shepard, [Jim] McDivitt, [Wally] Schirra and Slayton. We were about to walk into the committee room when he took my arm.
“Remember, tell the whole truth,” he said quietly.
I did exactly that.
It was a remarkable charge in a world where finger pointing and obfuscation frequently win out over candor. With Apollo 1, NASA investigated itself — something the space agency was not allowed to do later after the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle accidents. It would have been very tempting to downplay NASA’s role in the fire and to put most of the blame on North American.
Scapegoating North American would have been dishonest, unfair and ultimately counter productive. By the time of the Congressional hearings, NASA and North American had largely moved past the mutual recriminations that flew immediately after the accident. In his memoir, “Carrying the Fire,” Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins wrote
In my judgment, NASA and North American each dug into the problem with a great deal of professionalism. Initially, there was some caterwauling and finger pointing, but soon each side realized that the main point was not to assign blame but to take concerted action to get the program moving again–and safely this time.
Webb was an experienced Washington insider who could read the room as well as anyone. Congressional committees didn’t want excuses. Or finger pointing by NASA and North American. They wanted answers. They wanted accountability. Apollo was a national program. NASA was accountable to Congress and, ultimately, the American people. And, most importantly, Congress would decide whether the moon program continued.
As for protecting NASA’s reputation, the space agency had just lost three astronauts in an avoidable accident that most people involved in the program saw as inexcusable. NASA already looked bad. The space agency would only look worse if it withheld information that was likely to later leak to the press.
Webb knew that to restore confidence, NASA and North American had to demonstrate to Congress and the American people that they understood what had gone wrong, had a plan to address the problems, and were capable of executing on it. That meant taking ownership of their failures, and accepting the harsh public criticism that came with it.
Project Apollo wasn’t going to succeed otherwise. Landing men on the moon was the most ambitious and hazardous space program ever attempted. Anything short of an honest assessment of the failings followed by a complete overhaul of the program would end in abject failure, more dead astronauts and national humiliation. Grissom, White and Chaffee would have died for nothing.
The testimony of Borman, Webb and other NASA officials was effective. Congress continued to fund the program, allowing the space agency to complete the goal of landing men on the moon by the end of the decade.
NASA came under considerable criticism for investigating itself. However, the final report largely silenced critics with its thoroughness and unsparing criticism of both the space agency and North American.
“Our report was an impartial analysis of the fire and we listed a number of recommended changes in the design of Apollo’s spacecraft,” Borman wrote. “We didn’t sweep a single mistake under the rug, and to this day I’m proud of the committee’s honesty and integrity.”
After finishing with the investigation, Borman would go on to head up a NASA spacecraft redefinition team based at the North American facility in California that would oversee changes in the Apollo command module.
The first manned flight, Apollo 7, was nearly flawless from beginning to end during an 11-day mission in October 1969. Borman, Jim Lovell and William Anders would fly to the moon at Christmas time on Apollo 8. Seven months later, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon while Collins orbited overhead. Ten other astronauts would walk on the moon in the three years that followed.
The upgraded command service module (CSM) would fly 15 missions that included six manned lunar landings, three long-duration stays aboard the Skylab space station, and a docking with a Soviet Soyuz spacecraft that helped to pave the way for later cooperation in building the International Space Station. The Apollo 13 astronauts were able to power their Odyssey command module back up after it had been exposed to near freezing temperatures for three days.
The response to the fire was the key to the success of Project Apollo. It hold timeless lessons for us today about safety, flying when you’re ready, and the risks associated with human spaceflight. Things can go very wrong very quickly. Eternal vigilance is the price to be paid for a successful program. To move forward meant candidly confronting the past.
Not everyone has been so candid after a fatal accident. We’ll look at a case where protection of one’s reputation won out over an honest assessment of failure in Part 2.
44 responses to “Safety, Integrity and Accountability in Human Spaceflight”
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It was a generation that had learned to work together during the Great Depression and World War II. Instead of wasting time in pointing fingers they focused on lessons learned from past mistakes to move forward and knew how to compromise to work together to find solutions.
The media then was also professional with a code of ethics dedicated to accurate reporting of verified facts without slanting it to allow the American people to make up their minds by themselves, something that was emphasized in the schools of the era. Students were taught how to discuss issues using facts and reason instead of demonizing and attacking those with different opinions.
According to Collins they did waste some time initially with finger pointing, but it didn’t last long as they realized that together they had to come up with a solution. That’s the difference with today, where once a position is taken it must never be backed down from, never admit that you are wrong, never acknowledge that the other side could even be partly right.
I know Fox News receives criticism and deservedly so. I no longer watch it but twenty years ago I used to watch it, and what I liked is that even in the opinion programs they usually had at least one liberal who could very effectively make their case, oftentimes clearly winning the debate. Some may remember the show Hannity and Colmes, Alan Colmes could easily go toe-to-toe with Sean Hannity. And when they had panel discussions they usually had at least one well spoken liberal, and some who leaned conservative but who often disputed far right claims. Even Bill O’Reilly regularly had liberal guests on his program and while he pulled no punches in his debates with them, in spite of often being overbearing he could also at times be respectful to guests that he disagreed with and acknowledged when they made a valid point. I didn’t watch CNN much back then because they sometimes had a conservative on there, but they were usually not very effective. I know this probably sounds laughable to many people but back then there seemed to be better overall balance on Fox News. And certainly compared to CNBC.
However eventually Hannity and Colmes became just Hannity, just one of the signs that Fox eventually realized that they could gain a larger total audience by pretty much eliminating different viewpoints. Now unfortunately it’s hard to imagine any of them going back to the type of objective, balanced reporting that you describe because there’s just no money in that. Which unfortunately also means that there isn’t much of an audience anymore for that.
Once sentence about space and rest about Fox. Why?
The main point of the article was giving an example of integrity and accountability. The post that I was replying to was discussing the change that has taken place in our society over the years where too many people now take one side and refuse to have a civil discussion with someone that they disagree with, but instead insult them or point fingers. And how this has carried over into our news media. In my reply I gave an example of this change in the news media that I had observed first hand.
Your posts, not just in this thread but in most others are actually a perfect example of what we are talking about. Your posts almost always contain attacks and demonizations. It’s why people rarely reply to your posts, not because they refuse to have a discussion with someone whom they may disagree with, but because your posts are usually so acidic, and your insistence that someone with a different viewpoint is either evil or at best an imbecilic kool-aid drinker. In my post I didn’t attack CNN and say I refused to watch them because they all drink kool-aid. I said I did watch them, just not as much because at least during that period another network seemed to be doing a better job of presenting alternative viewpoints. Which allows for civil discussion, where people in some cases might be persuaded to change their opinion, or at least understand the viewpoint of someone that they disagree with better. Sadly in the acrimonious world of media and online discussion today there is little chance of either happening.
“Your posts almost always contain attacks and demonizations. It’s why people rarely reply to your posts, not because they refuse to have a discussion with someone whom they may disagree with, but because your posts are usually so acidic, and your insistence that someone with a different viewpoint is either evil or at best an imbecilic kool-aid drinker.“
You are so biased it is pathetic. I comment about NewSpace as a critic of that ideology and it’s flagship company. The rabid fanboys are a feature of that and they readily self-identify and attack and demonize me. I just give it back.
Your clownish assbackwards view of reality just got you blocked. Now you won’t have to read my posts. Bye.
I don’t block anyone because even in their rudeness there might be something valuable said. I read all of your posts for that reason, even if the tone is usually cringeworthy.
I no longer watch or listen to network news for that reason. Instead I go direct to Reuters which still posts news that is mostly bias free, and also review a number of foreign new sources. It provides a view of what is happening in the world that is almost as good as network news used to be.
in my opinion you miss a great deal with that. I do watch different networks but not Fox…because Fox never has a point of view that is not linked to right wing politics.
However I have found the debate on the Russian effort in Ukraine for instance illuminating with different points of view. I fall somewhere between Kristol and Mika’s middle brother (the one who is a carbon of her dad) 🙂
I’m with Thomas, I pretty much don’t watch any network or cable news anymore, and instead read various news sites, including a subscription to the New York Times. Although I do like watching BBC and NHK because you can get a non-U.S. perspective. I tried watching CCTV when I had that available but it got pretty tiring hearing endless reiterations of the importance of the One China policy. Many years ago there was a cable channel called Newsworld International, based in Canada, that had all of these on there including Russia’s NTV, Iranian news and others. Then Al Gore along with some other investors bought the channel and converted it to something called Current TV which had only user generated content, sort of an early version of YouTube. I really missed suddenly being cut off from all of the international news sources. Fortunately now it’s gotten easier to access them again, just not as convenient as when I could DVR them on Newsworld International.
I even watch RT. helps my Russian. I’ve cast two votes for President which I had zero second thoughts about (well three ) two Terms for Ronaldus the Great and Biden. Had Powell run against Clinton in 96 I would have voted for Powell without any reservation. Clinton was doing “OK” but he had the morals of a flea and he didnt need to lie about Lewinsky. Philosophically the only difference I haad with Reagan was trickle down…and at the time I didnt know enough about economics to be sure he was not correct…it restarted the economy but at a horrible cost. In everything else particularly how he dealt with Ivan, I was right there cheering
When I was in college as an undergrad and on debate; I would always take the side I didnt agree with. you learn more that way and the thing you learn is that there legitimately can be two sides to every philosophical argument
But that philosophy has to be based on real concepts, real grievances and real data. So wheree does that leave us?
The foreign policy of the GOP this century has been catastrophic. From Bush43 to Trump its been one disaster after another. and they wont address it. Dems simply refuse to look at their concept (most of their) of social programs. They have done a lot of good (women in the worklplace, eetc) but in terms of the blacks in the country its been a failure. its complicatedf but most social problems are. and they wont address it logically.
go listen to Marjorie Taylor Green. she cannot get over herself, has no logic and lies. there are not two coherent thoughts running together Go listen to AOC and you hear immature policy programs as well. they remind me of what I was spouting when I was her age. thats being in your 30’s there is at least some attempt to form coherence. both of them right now are the future of their parties.
and indicative of the level of philosophical debate. We use to have good debates on policy in this country because both sides brought logic to them.
Neither is the future of their respective parties as the recent Ukraine aid vote shows. The only one promoting that are the folks like the media that take pleasure in America being divided.
Marjorie Taylor Greene was almost my congresswoman. But then she decided to run in a different Georgia district than she originally had planned. If I ever meet her, lacking anything else constructive to say I would probably just thank her for that.
Maybe you ought to look at my second link in my reply to RGO. You would be doing very well to have MTG as your representative. Certainly far better than me. My Congresscritter is Maxine Waters.
I’m sure MJT would thank you for imagining her to be in her 20s or 30s – she’ll be 48 next month, but I would agree that she doesn’t look it.
I had never heard of the woman until I was accused of being one of her acolytes about three months back. So I did a bit of digging and found her to be a delightful and quite sensible person who is none of the things her detractors claim, especially self-important.
I only miss pointless and unnecessary grandstanding by the celebrity “newscasters”. Both on the left and on the right it is useless noise although it used to be interesting watching them apply the various propaganda strategies for brainwashing the public my professor, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, taught in his class on forming public opinion.
AP has been my quick-click source for decades to get details on immediate breaking news, or simply to check if there is any breaking news. Although their journalistic standards are at times disconcerting. Like any time they mention election fraud they describe it as a lie that Trump has asserted. Now I certainly believe it’s a lie, but that’s for the reader to decide. At best they should just say widely disputed, or whatever. It’s crossing a line into opinion, which is a concern whether I agree with them or not. Now if they do a whole article on the election then sure I expect them to go into all of the details that show evidence contrary to the fraud claims, but when it’s only being referenced in a news story about something else it’s not their place as a news organization to insert their opinion and state it as fact. Again no matter how much I agree with their opinion. It’s a slippery slope.
I still haven’t forgiven them for their obituary for Bush press secretary Tony Snow when he died of cancer. Right in the middle of recounting his life and career they felt the need to insert that when he was press secretary Snow sometimes engaged in falsehoods. A White House press secretary that sometimes says things that aren’t true? Say it ain’t so. Do they put that in every press secretary’s obituary? I don’t think so.
Reuters is okay but AP has pretty good depth in a quick read when that’s all I have time for. Their intrusive video ads on their mobile site make it almost unviewable now unfortunately.
The AP gets its style book from the woke left these days. One of the first and most virulent pestholes of what Elon Musk has taken to calling – quite accurately – “the woke mind virus” has been college and university J-schools. Nearly the entire journalistic establishment has been taken over by the cretinous graduates of such programs these days including the NYT, WaPo and AP.
Your mileage obviously varies as I don’t find Reuters bias-free at all, especially when the subject of reportage is American politics. Foreign news sources of all sorts are best read with a gimlet eye. They vary widely in the nature and degree of their biases, but they all have some. Agence France-Press is also pretty much worthless anent American politics.
I suspect the reason so many foreign news services are so typically bad anymore is because they employ so few actual foreign nationals as reporters in the United States – or much of anywhere else for that matter. All news organizations watch costs closely these days and the cheapest way to cover pretty much anyplace is to use local stringers. So the newswires are not only more biased than they used to be, but the bias changes with each nation being covered.
In the U.S., for the last half-century, J-school graduates have been almost uniformly lefties of the crusader persuasion. Now they are of the woke persuasion as well. These are, unfortunately, the only sorts of people most foreign news services can find here in the U.S. to act as stringers. Thus do many “foreign” news services march in lockstep with the worst of the U.S.-based mainstream media.
You do need to be able to filter the all news sources for bias, but some are better than others.
Granted. But simply having an HQ is some other country is no guarantee that any news about the U.S. – or anything, really – will necessarily be played straight. Reuters, BBC, AFP and all of the major British and European dailies and newsmags are the mainstream media of their respective nations. I don’t find them to be any less biased than ours and ours is, of course, execrable.
that last graph was great.
The dearth of “liberals” on Fox is far less due to any corporate decision to become a rightists-only clubhouse than to the near-death status of old-style Democratic Party liberalism and the toxic intolerance of the woke left. Fox still has establishment Democrat types on its shows fairly often, because there are still a few who will actually show up. But they are nearly all consultants and pollsters now, rather than officeholders. Officeholders know they will be mercilessly attacked on social media platforms by the woke left if they commit the cardinal sin of appearing on Fox.
And, as heirs of the Hubert Humphrey wing of the Democratic Party, these folks are a vanishing breed. Most modern lefties won’t go on any show where they might have to actually explain themselves because they’ve never learned how to do that and appearing ridiculous on TV is not on their bucket lists.
Interestingly, the place on Fox that probably has the most lefties on its guest list is Tucker Carlson’s show. Glenn Greenwald, in fact, is in serious danger of becoming a regular. Naomi Klein might soon follow in Greenwald’s footsteps. Both are long-time far left figures who are, nonetheless, appalled by the naked authoritarianism of the modern woke left.
Watching both on Fox, one is reminded of nothing so much as Blade II, in which the traditional vampires find themselves uneasily allying with their traditional nemesis against a new strain of barely sentient super-vampires who consume humans and other vampires indiscriminately.
today the loud talkers would be saying “do your own research”
You say that regularly…
I tell people I wont do their research for them. Lecture them in fact. on that 🙂 fly safe
I did some research for you and posted it up above. You don’t have to thank me.
The capsule/escape tower was and is the best way to send people into space and bring them back. Like four wheels it is a design that is hard to beat. Yet, they still managed to turn the capsule into an electrically ignited pure oxygen blast furnace and kill people just sitting on the pad. Why did this happen? It always comes down to money in the end. Going cheap. I have for years drawn the intense hatred of dozens of people on this and other forums with four simple words I would often use in my comments: There is no cheap. I finally quit using it because so many would go full-tilt crazy when I put it in a comment. Why the insane reaction?
In one long sentence- the rocket messiah is promising a something for nothing miracle couched in the language of ruthless economic competition, and it is an irresistible siren song to many. And this is nothing new. The Space Shuttle was famously going to “make space pay for itself.” It killed a lot more people. There is no ROI in Human Space Flight. The profit motive is toxic to space exploration. I have stated this for a decade and am a pariah for speaking the truth.
Now we have these capsule designs based on getting rid of that money-wasting escape tower and turning an escape system into a money-maker. We will see how that works. And though the shiny does pretend to have some kind of escape technique…only true believers are drinking that Kool-Aid.
I have talked to Frank about this when he would come for flight training after leaving NASA.
having said that these are my own comments
the difference between now and then is 1) there was a commonly accepted goal that even though support of it was declining; it was accepted, 2) most of the problems which caused the fire were due to the rush to meet the goal…and 3) if they did not fix the problem the goal was impossible to achieve…so there was political support for the goal
ythats the only difference really. the lack of safety concern, the “program” mentality, the inability of people like Kranz who talked tough but when it came to bucking the system would not made it impossible for people like Grissom to say “we are unsafe”
that is still at NASA and now there is no consensus on the goals. except that the program continue.
the thing I did ask Frank which I feel comfortable relating is if he felt the NASA safety culture as it was in Apollo would have been tolerated at a Part 121 carrier in the era when he was in charge of one. the answer was simple “no”.
The safety tolerance problems were likely more at the management level than the engineer level. I remember hearing about Frank Borman going to I think Huntsville to meet with the engineers a few weeks before the Apollo 8 launch. He said something to the effect that he knows there is risk, he knows they are doing everything they can to make them safe, and not to feel bad if something goes wrong. The engineer who recounted this story said that this was extremely uplifting to their morale because they had in fact been extremely worried that in spite of their efforts they knew that a successful outcome was not guaranteed.
there is risk with complicated machines. technology reduces that as time goes on. but these were not machine issues they were human factor issues. like Smith steaming the ship to fast
I am sure Frank did something like that.
It is human nature to get careless when things are going well which is why you need to put systems in that discourage it and hope they don’t ignore them. It also helps if you build systems that are tolerant of human errors.
one more cherry note. not a single astronaut has died because of a technical defect that was caused by pushing the “edge” toward (yes I have to say it ) “that demon that lives out there” its all been carelessness
From what I understand a lot of people at the time thought that it was amazing that it took until 1967 to have the first fatalities in a U.S. spacecraft. Perching people on top of ICBM’s will naturally lead to that opinion. In fact apparently it was considered likely that someone would die before project Mercury was over. This was essentially a wartime situation, and the risks were looked at that way. Just like they do what they can to try and make fighter pilots safe, but they need a certain level of performance to meet the military goal and it’s accepted that because of that there will at times be equipment failures. The space race was not exactly to that level, but I think some of that mindset was there. Apollo 1 seemed to have the effect of waking everyone up that this attitude had been allowed to go way too far.
yes. of all the NASA accidents I “get” Apollo 1. the situation was in my view as you describe it…and Apollo was a very very complicated machine which the “management systems” of that time could barely keep up with. and that alone made “mistakes” in construction and assembly likely…and easier to just “push off” Apollo 13 was as much as anything problems with record keeping…a while back someone gave an excellent safety presentation on the Apollo record and part tracking system…it like everything else was bleeding edge in its character.
and that made the shuttle events all the more difficult to understand. they had better tracking systems, were working the issues that took them down…and still decided to 1) continue flying and 2) ignore possible safety concerns when the Columbia accident happened. one has to be prepared for deaths in this kind of stuff. we have them on subs and almost everywhere…but lov loss of vehicle by carelessness is something that should be worrisome.
I should also say that SLS and Starliner and Starship problems dont surprise me. this is pretty normal
Management systems, such as PERT and CPM, were, indeed, freshly minted as the Mercury Program began.
If I am understanding you, I guess I tend to look at technical defects a little different than you Robert. A pure oxygen cabin environment was the design error(?) that caused Apollo 1 and while the spark that caused it might have been “carelessness” in one sense, in another it was inevitable. I went through high reliability soldering school as an aircraft electrician and the first thing they told us was everything I was going to learn was a result of Apollo 1. But even with near perfect fabrication and exquisite quality assurance, pure oxygen is just too hazardous. They did it to lower weight to go cheaper. Challenger, in my opinion, was Reaganomics pushing everything to go cheaper, which was originally why Jimmy Carter signed off on the design with SRB’s in the first place- to go cheaper. Columbia was made out of aluminum and was side-mounted so the engines would come back with the Orbiter instead of separately (as was later proposed for a cargo version) to go cheaper. I guess I consider not following Feynman”s famous maxim on what makes a successful technology, in some sense, the definition of a “technical defect.” There is no cheap.
I get what you are saying but dont agree. I dont look at anything you are saying as a root cause. Carter or Reagan or Trump or Biden are not technical experts. if people came to carter and told him “Liquid rockets are going to cost XX ” and he goes “you dont have that what are the alternatives” then if you want to go to that high a level it would be on their burden to say “nothing or this is the option”
Nothing wrong with solids. and Carter didnt chose the design.
NASA chose the design for various reasons. there obviously was a better design out there. or make the SRB’s expendable. these were all NASA choices.
the root cause of Challenger was that they flew with a known defect that got worse with cold weather and flew in cold weather.
the root cause of Columbia was that foam was coming off the SRB and they accepted it. then they ignored urgent safety pleas once the foam came off.
its that simple
The foam fatal to Columbia was coming off of the ET. No foam on the SRBs.
Hmmm. So when I started working on the Coast Guard version of the H-60 they had sent factory reps to help us transition and I picked their brains about the history of the Blackhawk. I am like that. I do not want to trash the 60 because it is a great machine and I spent years of blood sweat and tears working on it…. and many SAR cases. However, the story behind the design might enlighten you as to the way I think about this stuff.
The Blackhawk is a lot more expensive and complicated than it needed to be because of a single requirement- that was the indirect cause of several class A fatal mishaps. The story I was told was there was a colonel involved in the design and he specified that the helicopter be capable of transport in a C-130 with a minimum of disassembly. Being a mechanic I can tell you it is actually a great idea because, as you probably know, you fly a helicopter not so many hours and you basically have to disassemble it to inspect everything. A huge problem deploying overseas. Except the 60 had other requirements that were not negotiable concerning performance.
To make a long story short they did some fancy design tricks and added a fly-by-wire stabilator and kept the helicopter small enough for C-130 transport. Barely. Unfortunately, they overlooked RF shielding on the wire run to the screw-jack driving that tail stabilator. Years later when it entered service a helicopter was flying into an LZ out in the field one night and dove into the ground. And then it happened again. No survivors either time. They found out the standard portable microwave radar set the Army used in the field was generating a signal in the wire run and causing the stabilator to program down, which caused an immediate nose down that control inputs could not stop.
The sad fact is that 60’s are very rarely carried in C-130’s as it is just too much trouble- they just barely fit with inches to spare. They are air transported in larger aircraft. Were those deaths due to carelessness Robert? I do not think it is that simple.
I’ve heard something similar. but the root cause analysis would make the unshielded control circuits the foundation failure not being carried in a C130…because they fixed the problem that the FBW had with that control surface and they are carried in 130’s a lot. today you can see them arriving in Poland on them 🙂
RCA goes to a foundational failure for an event…and the competency analysis of the RCA is why that issue was overlooked. Sadly in military generational systems crashes can be tolerated…see the Ospery as they work out the kinks.
one can make an argument that the RCA and competency issue of the Apollo 1 fire was programic. in other words it didnt matter which of the many flaws sparked off the fire; it was that there were quite a few flaws that could have done that. Where as in the 13 issue the RCA was the relay but the competency was the tracking system…
in the shuttle events it was simply that a known flaw was being tolerated. and the competency was Leadership and Teamwork.
Okay Robert…we obviously look at some things differently. The Osprey for example. No way to “work out the kinks” in that monstrosity. No way.
To me…the basic design of a machine is the key to why it kills people or not. I would say it is complacency more than carelessness. For instance, what RCA exists for commercial airliner disasters? I will give you one…that Stratolaunch aircraft; you could put passengers in a pod and if something goes wrong with the aircraft the pod separates and big parachutes pop out and nobody dies in an airline disaster. But…that’s crazy talk.
I do agree with you on nothing being wrong with solids though. If you can tell me where to find a picture of a 60 in a C-130 I would love to see it. Regards.
I get it. and how you look at it is one way to look at it. but not for root cause analysis of failures. All machines are compromises if for nothing else then money…and those compromises might affect the mission, the cost etc but really it does not affect safety. because the compromises should be made with best practices and good engineering design the solids were obviously safe after the Challenger redesign; they will be safe on SLS
this is the “max” issue. (and these are my own views). the max accidents were not the result of compromises in the design, the fix the manufacture made…were not to decompromise the design, but to try and take the system out of substandard training and lower pilot proficiency and I said that to my then employeer when the last max had the event
one advantage of resuability in rockets (so far really the only massive one) is that component lifetime can be measured and they saw that on the SRB’s. they simply failed to do anything about it. other then keep flying
they have almost got the kinks out of the Osprey. the design probably has a future
I hate to hand the spacex crowd anything they can rub my nose in but since the blocking feature now goes both ways and I have blocked several dozen of them they seem to mostly be leaving me alone….so, yes, reuse IS good and I have never really had a problem with it -except in regards to it being used as some kind of rocket jesus holy dogma to scream cheap and beat others over the head with. Reusing the SRB’s was good even if it did not break even because it was the best insurance another “anomaly” would not happen. There is not much that can go wrong with those things now and considering they put out 3.6 million pounds of thrust, that IS something.
As for the Osprey….having been bounced around in the back of three different kinds of helicopters on about a thousand (well, several hundred anyway) practice autorotations over the years, the idea of not being able to not fall out of the sky and slow down at the bottom is unacceptable to me. I doubt it has a future.
That meant taking ownership of their failures, and accepting the harsh public criticism that came with it.
Different times – people are simply incapable of functioning that way anymore in newer generations