O'Keefe weighs in on shuttle failure. In other news, pope scores a hat trick

Today, NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe told a Congressional panel, among other things, that

  • flight controllers for the Columbia had received no data to indicate that the fragile thermal tiles lining its exterior might have been damaged on liftoff

  • data of such anomalies "likely would have showed up during that 16-day mission

  • the airframe and other systems of the Columbia, which had flown 28 missions, were inspected rigorously before each flight

This from a man with no scientific training whatsoever. How does he know whether the data indicated if tiles had been damaged? How does he know if data would have shown up during the mission? Who is he to decide whether airframe inspections are “rigorous”? Why should Congress, or anyone, trust his answers? Obviously, someone is telling him what to say, but he has no basis to judge whether his handlers are feeding him the truth or a bunch of malarkey.

Perhaps before we try to continue our space-related endeavors, we ought to put someone in charge of NASA who has the background to understand which end of the rocket the fire comes out of. Christ almighty.

Um, what the hell are you talking about? He’s an administrator – his job is to assemble all the information coming from the organization and summarize it. His job is not to go down to the lab and analyze computer data and perform stress tests on thermal tiles. Sending some engineer or scientist in to talk to Congress would be far less useful than someone at the top of the organization who has all the data and is used to interacting with politicians.

Also, how do you know that he has no scientific training?

In any technical organization with any sense, the top management is technically trained. They may no longer be practicing engineers, but they can at least be assumed to know vaguely how the machinery works. Sending an engineer or scientist to talk to Congress is exactly what ought to be done.

Sean O’Keefe has a bachelor’s degree in political science (which is of course not a science) and a master’s in public administration. He’s never held a technical position.

The president would never consider appointing someone with those qualifications to head the National Institutes of Health or the CDC, now, would he? Maybe I don’t want the answer to that.

I did just remember that during the Apollo days, NASA was headed by James Webb, a career politician. But in those days, there was no doubt who was really in charge, and they all wore white jackets, I guarantee.

Well, I work at a national lab, and I can tell you that for this particular task, it really doesn’t matter that he doesn’t have technical training. He’s summarizing the organization’s work – you don’t need an advanced degree to be capable of understanding science at the level he needs to understand it.

I think it is great when the people at the top of research organizations have a scientific background, so they’ll have a realistic sense of what can be done and how long it will take. However, the actual tasks they do all day are far more suited to someone with a political science and public policy degree than a physics degree.

Hyperelastic are you an idiot? Seriously. He has been given the information by his engineers and scientists. And he has just as much ability to analyze the reports that NASA science-types have given him as some Congressman. O’Keefe is perfectly qualified to give a report to Congress.

—Sean O’Keefe has a bachelor’s degree in political science (which is of course not a science)—

Hey, at least political science isn’t a (shudder) humanity. :slight_smile:

Hey, I was lead to beleive the Pope was playing hockey…maannnn, what a rip!

But when a fire killed Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee who do you think explained it to Congress; James Webb or some guy in a white coat?

How does he know his advisers aren’t blowing smoke up his ass? If I were testifying before Congress, I’d want to be able to actually understand what I was saying. What if someone asks a question? :eek:

And to say that it is only necessary for him to be as qualified as a Congressman in order to testify before Congress is setting a very low bar indeed.

:rolleyes: Thanks for answering my question.

Dude, it’s not like he’s handed a speech to read and just reads it out loud to Congress. He talks to his people, and then goes to Congress and explains the situation. Also, what advisors are you talking about? Where have you gotten the idea that NASA is a Machiavellian web of intrigue and lies?

If your problem with O’Keefe delivering the report to Congress is that you think the people below him are feeding him misinformation to cover something up, then the problem is way worse than whether or not he took physics in college. Also, you’d be something of a loon.


Hi-larious! :rolleyes:

If you read Richard Feyman’s Surely Your Joking Mr Feynman he comments on the differences in opinions held by management and engineers at the plants which manufactured the faulty Challenger parts. His appendix is here and says in part:

It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could properly ask “What is the cause of management’s fantastic faith in the machinery?”

No one person will be an expert on all parts of the shuttle, no matter who goes up before congress they will be relying on reports and meetings with the those that do understand the specific areas in question.

I was pissed when a Congressman made a joke about time to speak and O’Keefe laughed at it and other comments. The subject doesn’t seem to be a laughing matter.

I don’t mean to say ‘I told you so’…well, actually, yes I do…

The New York Times reported today that on January 24, NASA and Boeing analysts concluded that “the [foam] debris hit the wing’s underside at about 500 miles an hour, smashing into fragile tiles that protected Columbia from searing heat.”

Contrast this to O’Keefe’s statements to Congress on Feb. 12 likening the foam’s impact to “a styrofoam cooler blowing off a truck in front of you on the highway”.

Uh huh…a truck going 500 miles an hour. He needs to stick to the bean counting and leave the technical issues to people who know what they’re doing.

By the way, Giraffe, he’s not just an administrator, he’s the Administrator of NASA, which means top dog. He’s responsible for everything that goes on there.

Uh, Hyperelastic, how old are you? Because this statement of yours

is exactly why he’s the one testifying before Congress! It’s his ass in the sling, not some buck-toothed Professor Frink type engineer who made a bad call, it’s O’Keefe’s ass that Congress is going to string up if it turns out that NASA could have easily prevented the shuttle disaster. What do you think would happen if O’Keefe sent one of his underlings to testify before Congress? He’d be accused of not taking the investigation seriously and of being out of the fucking loop! Not to mention, it would totally devistate the morale amongst NASA employees. Why? Because they know that they’ve got a boss who won’t stand up for them when the chips are down. O’Keefe’s doing the right thing, and rumor has it that he’s a spaceflight fanatic, so whilst he may have a degree in political science, he’s probably no fucking slouch when it comes to what NASA does and how things work.

IAC, what the fuck kind of qualifications do you have that enables you to declare O’Keefe unfit to testify before Congress?

O’Keefe glibly reported to Congress a vital technical fact that was fully an order of magnitude different from what NASA analysts had already determined. This wasn’t the only important mistake in his testimony, either. Obviously, he didn’t read their report, or if he did, he was unable to separate the important conclusions from the details. Engineers who make these kinds of errors in high-profile briefings are frequently reassigned to the “Launch Facility Toilet Monitoring Team”.

Tuckerfan, you are raising the political issue of who will take the heat if NASA is found to be at fault. If the Challenger accident is any indication, it ain’t gonna be O’Keefe, or any other NASA employee. In fact, the failure investigation board as presently chartered is explicitly forbidden from assigning blame. It seems to me that an organization that is so reluctant to engage in self-criticism and so careless in its interactions with Congress is not ready to develop a new toothbrush, let alone a man-rated launch vehicle.

To answer your other question, I have a doctorate in engineering mechanics and several years’ experience in aerospace engineering, including many failure investigations.

Hyperelastic, I think you’re being a bit silly. Sure, there’s tension between the scientists and the management at NASA, but talking to the press is his job. That’s why they hired him.

One of the engineers mentioned that foam sometimes comes away from the tank and hits the windshield leaving a smear.

I wonder if the Times is misquoting or misunderstands. Is the shuttle traveling at 500 mph when the foam comes loose? Foam isn’t very massive by virtue of being foam, so I presume it loses momentum rapidly, but how is the foam velocity calculated?



Hmm. I guess I’m misremembering when I’m thinking that it was NASA which took responsiblity for the Challenger disaster and not Morton-Thiokol. I guess NASA paid out all those millions to the Challenger families just for the hell of it. And I can imagine a perfectly good reason why the accident investigation board’s job isn’t to assign blame, it makes it easier for them to figure out what happened, since no one has to worry that if they talk to them, that they’ll be made a scapegoat. The blame assignment can go to someone else.