We are at the end of the worst week of NASA history.
Every accident that took the lives of the crew and destroyed the vehicle took place in the space of one calendar week, of course separated by decades.
Monday, January 27th, was the 53rd anniversary of the 1967 fire in Apollo 1 that took the lives of Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Ed White, during a full test on the pad.
The next day, January 28th, is the anniversary of the 1986 Challenger disaster when the main fuel tank exploded 73 seconds after launch.
And today, February 1, is the anniversary of the 2003 Columbia disaster during reentry when undetected damage to a wing during launch allowed hot plasma enter into the wing, burning through the internal structure until the wing tore off the shuttle and tore the vehicle apart.
Spaceflight is inherently a very risky undertaking, but from the records and investigations of these events a pattern emerged that NASA’s higher levels of management failed in the task of proper risk mitigation and letting Quality Assurance and Quality Control standards slide. One would think that after the first time that failure would have been permanently rectified, but bureaucraps being what they are, it wasn’t.
I was pleased to have ended my career working at a place where the standard in every section was:
“If there is a question, then there is no question. Whatever it takes do it.“