In case you were starting to feel better about NASA’s future, Michael Griffin (head of NASA) reveals in a FL Today guest column that in 10 more Shuttle flights there is a ~ 1 in 8 probability of a fatal accident!
Further comments on the subject from Jay Barbree and Alan Boyle:
As for the Ares/Constellation/Orion replacements, Griffin has complained—according to this AP account—that low staff morale on the project is because of anonymous bloggers posting undocumented and pilfered NASA briefing documents out of context, as far as I can tell from this story:
There is a much more obvious explanation, but not one that anyone at NASA will be saying out loud, if they want to remain employable.
There are some pretty well documented, non-anonymous reasons to be skeptical of the future of Shuttle replacements:
The magnitude of the thrust oscillation problem is becoming more obvious. Whereas standards from the Gemini program call for accelerations—I’m guessing they mean from lateral oscillations and/or vibrations—to be kept below 0.25 G’s, the uncorrected Ares/Orion as designed would subject crews to 5-6 G’s! This “jack-hammer” vibration is well above the level which would pose health risks to the crew. The fixes currently envisioned involve various kinds of skirt-mounted and interstage isolation mechanisms, and possibly shock-absorbing seats in the capsule. They apparently haven’t completely discarded the contra-firing dampening rockets as an option, either.
This ongoing process of patching the fixes to the redesigns to the busted concepts would almost certainly lead someone engaged in competent engineering practice with the desired personal integrity to conclude that the entire design is deeply, if not fatally, flawed. But you can’t do that in the NASA environment, because you’ll be fired, and possibly sanctioned so that you’ll never get another job, either.
Management is committed to a design that most Congresspersons will perceive as reusing Shuttle technology (which it doesn’t) across as many states and districts as possible (are the “propellant discontinuities” which lead to the “shearing of internal flow” due to the SRB field joints?). The engineers have obviously been ordered to “make it work”. It shouldn’t take an “anonymous blogger” to see why there is a morale problem in the Ares/Orion program.