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“Although a (Jacobs) Ladder serves no direct scientific purpose, having one is a requirement for recognition as a “mad scientist” (the preferred term is “ethically-undaunted science worker”) and it is the internationally recognized symbol of “forbidden science in progress.” Having one in operation greatly facilitates engaging the services of reliable resurrectionists, infernal device contractors, and members of the International Congress of Hunchbacked Henchmen.”
-Steampunk Magazine

History repeating

Filed under: Engineering,Space — mgrusin at 8:44 am on Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Administration changes are always times of upheaval at NASA.  A panel, led by former Lockheed-Martin CEO Norm Augustine, is currently (5/09) reviewing the state of NASA for president Obama.

Mr. Augustine led a very similar review in 1990, and their report is interesting to read in light of the last 19 years of NASA history.  (It appears that many, if not all of their recommendations were followed.)  I particularly liked the conclusion, which puts risk and blame in perspective:

“We believe that the legacy our generation should leave to the future is that we pioneered the exploration of space, and thereby made important discoveries that will prove of benefit to all mankind.  However, space activity is inherently difficult — involving advanced technology and taking place over great distances.  It demands reliance upon machines, often very complex machines, which are designed, tested and operated by mortals.  It involves rewards which may be intangible.

As we labor under such challenges, we should insist upon excellence.  We should strive for perfection.  We should demand the utmost of those to whom we entrust our space endeavor.  But we should be prepared for the occasional failure.  If we as a nation are to place a greater premium on letting nothing go wrong, on not making errors, and on ridiculing those who strive but occasionally fail, than we place upon seeking potentially great accomplishments, then we have no business in space.”

Report of the Advisory Committee On the Future of the U.S. Space Program  (December 1990)