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Subject: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: joeman on 10/31/10 at 8:54 pm

How did everyone feel when you saw the crash in TV?

I was too young for the Challenger, so I thought Columbia was the most tragic thing that happened in the NASA company.  The TV emphasized diversity a lot, because the crew came from all over the world.

Subject: Re: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: MaxwellSmart on 11/01/10 at 12:20 am

I remember the maiden voyage of the Columbia in on 4/12/81 and it's tragic explosion on 2/01/03.

Subject: Re: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: Foo Bar on 11/01/10 at 10:59 pm

It sucked.

It sucked as hard as Challenger did.  

When I found out that Columbia went down for essentially the same reasons as Challenger, it really sucked.  

In both cases, the decision to launch was made by higher-ups who couldn't figure out what the engineers were saying, because the engineers expected their reasoned arguments to be understood by blithering superiors who are congenitally incapable of reading paragraphs, and who therefore demand everything in the form of bullet points, not understanding that reasoned arguments can't be communicated in the form of bullet points.  

''During its investigation, the board was surprised to receive similar presentation slides from NASA officials in place of technical reports. The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic methods of technical communication at NASA.''

 - Chapter 7 (600kb PDF link), Columbia Accident Investigation Board report, Vol. 1.

tl;dr: PowerPoint kills.

Chapter 7 of the CAIB report also addresses the big organizational fault that was common in both the Challenger and Columbia disasters: both shuttles were destroyed as a results of a culture that defined failure down.  

Y'know how there's that clicking sound after you ran through that pile of gravel?  Probably something in your tire.  Hey, it's not going down quickly, and you've got a spare tire, right?  And if your spare's flat, you've got a roadside assistance plan, right?  And a cell phone, right?  And a spare battery, in case you're out of range and your original battery's run down because you were using your cell phone as a dash-mounted GPS... right?

Y'know how every time you go 5 MPH over the speed limit and pass a cop, but he ignores you because you're going about the same speed as the rest of traffic, it feels OK to try it again at 6 over as long as you slow down by coasting instead of hitting the brakes?  Maybe even 7 over.  How 'bout 10?  Nice round number.  Probably fine to anything up to 15.  As long as you're not acting like a douche when you're doing 15 over... You've gotten away with 10 before, right?

Y'know how every time a drunk driver makes it home after "just one beer", he feels he's safe after "just two beers"?  How 'bout 2's safe if you drive slowly, so sure, you can get away with 3?

Y'know how every time you launch in the cold, and the O-rings leak a little bit of exhaust gas?  Even if it was pointed at the main tank, it wouldn't be enough.  And most of the time the blowtorch is pointed away from the main tank, so, hey, just launch it.

Y'know how every time a chunk of ice is seen falling off the main tank during launch, and they make it back alive?

All of those techniques work... until they don't.  

I'd encourage anyone with an interest in Columbia to entire report (HTML link to a page with the entire report: an 11MB PDF, about 250 pages, skim the parts you don't understand, and read the parts that intrigue you.  You'll learn something.)

But if you want to know how organizations fail to see the obvious - and by extension, why you do stupid things - Section 7.2 of the report (same 600k PDF) should required reading for everybody.  

Confession: Yup, found myself stranded with a flat spare, and was lucky that I had a spare battery and was in cell phone coverage area.  Yup, after 20 years of getting away with 10+ over, finally met my match.  No, because a friend of mine lost his cousin to drunk driver who had "just a beer", I've never driven drunk.  Nope and nope, because I don't work for NASA, but I sure as hell sympathize.  Just because my mistakes weren't the kind of mistakes that destroy billion-dollar spaceships doesn't mean they're not the same kind of mistakes.  They are the same kind of mistakes. 

The moral of Challenger and Columbia is this: if you get away with the small mistakes frequently enough, and whenever called on them, find you can explain them away with PowerPoint easily enough, eventually a big mistake will catch up with you.  And by then it will be too late.

Subject: Re: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: Tam on 11/01/10 at 11:04 pm


karma Dude, karma

Subject: Re: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: danootaandme on 11/02/10 at 11:39 am

I was home sick from work watching the Challenger launch.  Couldn't believe my eyes  :\'(

Subject: Re: Space Shuttle Columbia

Written By: Starde on 11/04/10 at 8:45 am

I remember it like it happened yesterday. As a person who has always been fascinated by astronomy and space shuttle missions, I was saddened to hear the news that day. May the crew RIP! :\'(

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