T-minus-nine shuttle launches and counting. It seems that last evening’s flawless launch of STS-119 kicked off the general media’s awareness that the space shuttle program is at long last coming to what we all hope will be a peaceful end. Over the weekend the networks and the cable news shows discussed the coming retirement and the statistical dangers of continuation.
Only one show that I saw mentioned the loss of the two shuttle crews. Former NASA administer Michael Griffin was interviewed; stressing the 12% risk of another fatal accident should we continue flying until 2015.
We can expect some soul-searching this April 12th, on what will be the 28th anniversary of the first shuttle launch. We can expect comparisons to what NASA promised and what the space agency delivered. And comparisons to the shining promise of the shuttle era at the start of the Reagan administration and the more tired image of an American space program that almost three decades later will rely on the Russians to continue our contributions to, and utilization of, the space station.
We can also expect reporters in the coming months to look back and question again the sometimes too cozy relations that exist between space industry reporters and the agencies and companies they cover. How would you rate the industry coverage over these past three decades? Did the press inform and advise as best you—the reader would have expected?
Some in the media and Washington will soon turn their attention towards what exactly did we get for our $200 billion spent on space station and space shuttle. How realistic was NASA’s promise of $8 billion for space station Freedom? That’s a fair question in today’s soul searching about federal discretionary spending. Did we get what Congressional politicians promised and if not, can the causes of the cost overruns, late programs and missed opportunities be articulated, so that future programs avoid similar fates.
I’m eager to witness this countdown to our industry’s contemplation and the resultant advice for moving forward. Some good must come from all this.