The Space Shuttle Challenger investigation. Once again, some major managerial screw-ups, all ready to be covered up by the investigative committee.
Appendix F - Personal observations on the reliability of the Shuttle by R. P. Feynman linked here. This is one of the only parts in the report in which somebody went against the grain and investigated faulty components in detail. Without appendix F, the report was basically a whitewash.
It isn't long and it really is worth a read for those who are independently studying the case of the collapses of the WTC towers.
Conclusion of the appendix:
In any event this has had very unfortunate consequences, the most serious of which is to encourage ordinary citizens to fly in such a dangerous machine, as if it had attained the safety of an ordinary airliner. The astronauts, like test pilots, should know their risks, and we honor them for their courage. Who can doubt that McAuliffe was equally a person of great courage, who was closer to an awareness of
the true risk than NASA management would have us believe?
Let us make recommendations to ensure that NASA officials deal in a world of reality in understanding technological weaknesses and imperfections well enough to be actively trying to eliminate them. They must live in reality in comparing the costs and utility of the Shuttle to other methods of entering space. And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed,
schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.
For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.
An example of how weaknesses in personalities interfere with intelligent exchange of technical information is given next.
It shows how fear and personality and institutional worship can interfere with open technical discussions at the very highest levels of engineering and physics. Feynman narrates his first meetings with Niels Bohr, at the time practically worshipped as a God within the physics community...
I also met Niels Bohr. That was interesting. He came down, his name was Nicholas Baker in those days and he came with Jim Baker, his son, whose name is really Aage. They came from Denmark and they came to visit, and they were very famous physicists, as you all know. All the big shot guys, to them, he was even a great god, they were listening to him and so on. And he would talk about things. We were at a meeting and everyone wanted to see the great Bohr. So there were a lot of people and I was back in a corner somewhere, and we talked about, discussed, the problems of the bomb. That was the first time. He came and went away and all I could see of him was from between somebody's heads, from the corner. Next time he's due to come, in the morning of the next day he's due I get a telephone call. "Hello, Feynman?" "Yes." "This is Jim Baker"; It's his son. "My father and I would like to speak to you." "Me? I'm Feynman, I'm just a..." "That's right. O.K." So, eight o'clock in the morning, before anybody's awake, I go down to the place. We go into an office in the technical area and he says, "We have been thinking how we can make the bomb more efficient and we think of the following idea." I say, "No, it's not going to work, it's not efficient, blah, blah, blah." So he says, "How about so and so?" I said, "That sounds a bit better, but it's got this danm fool idea in it." So forth, back and forth. I was always dumb about one thing, I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics; if the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition. I've always lived that way. It's nice, it's pleasant, if you can do that. So this went on for about two hours of going back and forth over lots of ideas, and then tearing back and forth, arguing. The great Niels always lighting his pipe; perpetually, it always went out And he talked in a way that was un-understandable. He said, "Mumble, mumble," hard to understand, but his son I could understand better. Finally he said, "Well," he says, lighting his pipe, "I guess we can call in the big shots now." So then they called all the other guys and had a discussion with them. And then the son told me what had happened was- the last time he was there he said to his son- "Remember the name of that little fellow in the back over there? He's the only guy who's not afraid of me, and will say when I've got a crazy idea. So next time when we want to discuss ideas, we're not going to be able to discuss it with these guys who say everything is yes, yes, Dr. Bohr. Get that guy first, we'll talk with him first.
This is a humorous and illuminating example showing fear, personality worship and groupthink even among groups at the highest levels of the technical hierarchy. Note that the exchange between Feynman and Bohr, being open and frank, is how people imagine scientific discussions actually work. People tend to imagine that people are generally not afraid to speak their minds or call out poor ideas and theories for being what they are.
Feynman: "I was always dumb about one thing, I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics; if the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition. I've always lived that way. It's nice, it's pleasant, if you can do that."
If you can get away with it. In truth, during much of our common history talking like this could get you killed (or worse). In professional circles talking this freely can get you fired. In the case of the WTC towers, pressure to conform and nod ones head in the "yes" position is much greater than is naively assumed, especially at the highest levels of the hierarchy.
It is so much easier and safer to say "yes, yes" than to cross the chain of hierarchy.
This is a retrospective view of incidents leading up to the Challenger disaster:
This author can practically guarantee that no such retrospective analysis of the WTC collapses will ever be done.
I'd like to be proven wrong, but I probably won't be.
Created on 01/13/2013 06:07 PM by admin
Updated on 06/07/2015 08:03 AM by admin