Houston, we have a problem ... with NASA.
As the space shuttle Atlantis orbits Earth in the final mission of NASA's 30-year reusable spacecraft legacy, at least one former astronaut -- and six-time shuttle voyager -- is lashing out at the space agency for what he deems as failures in the overall vision of the shuttle program.
"The shuttle did not turn out like we planned," Dr. Story Musgrave told The Huffington Post. "It was going to [fly] 66 times a year and it ended up with about five times a year. It was going to cost $10 million a flight, and two months ago, an independent study showed that it cost $1.2 billion a flight. It was massively fragile, difficult to operate and exceedingly dangerous."
Musgrave is a surgeon, mathematician, chemist, biophysicist, physiologist, computer scientist, artist and author of important scientific papers in the areas of aerospace medicine, physiology and clinical surgery.
His achievements include designing the spacesuit that was used by shuttle astronauts for space walks. Musgrave performed the first space shuttle space walk in 1983 on Challenger's maiden flight. Ten years later, he was the lead space walker during the first mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
But with NASA closing shop on the shuttle program because of the huge ongoing expense, Musgrave is critical of how the powers-that-be made decisions.
"The downside is the [international] space station needs us, needs a shuttle to service it in a way that nothing else can," he said.
"I think what the real problem is: Why are we so poor in our vision and so poor in our project management that we come to a point where it's reasonable to phase out the current program and we have no idea what the next one is? Washington has to stop doing that."
"Washington is in total failure that this has happened," he added. "It is Washington's fault and they have to look in the mirror and have to see their failure. It's NASA, Washington, Congress and the administration -- they are in failure."
As an example of what he perceives as NASA's failure "to have any vision leadership or project management," Musgrave talked about NASA's Assured Crew Return Vehicle -- or escape module -- proposal for the International Space Station.
"That's the lifeboat. In 1974, when we saw that a space station was going to happen, we had a requirement to have a lifeboat to be able to get off the station in case of a fire or some other catastrophe. That was 1974. Where is our lifeboat? We don't have one because there's no leadership in Washington, there is no vision and they're unable to manage a project like that.
"It can be a totally manually flown thing without a computer -- it's so simply done, and we toyed with it for years. If you want to have the biggest example of failure in Washington to be able to do anything, where is the assured crew return vehicle?"
And despite his criticism of the space program leadership, Musgrave feels the public wants to keep going into space.
"The public does care. They're always there for you. They love space, but you've got to give them something. If you ask the average person: What's the space station doing for you? They simply don't know."
Musgrave is now a concept engineer for a company called Applied Minds in California, a professor of design at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and a landscape architect in Orlando. Space agency and Washington leadership criticisms aside, he always feels honored for his accomplishments at NASA.
"I'm massively privileged to be part of the space program, and I never forget to say that."
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