A Taurus XL Rocket on its last successful launch in 2004 (Wikipedia)

Failures on Climate Change

NASA lost another payload that was to be launched to orbit on an Orbital Sciences Taurus XL rocket on Friday because the nose cone failed to separate en route to orbit. The rocket was carrying the Glory satellite, a member of a cluster of satellites to study climate change, in this case by observing aerosol abundances in the atmosphere. Aerosols reflect light from the Sun before the light can be absorbed by the ground. Three out of the last four launches on the Taurus XL have failed for the same reason, and two of them were carrying a satellite that was intended to study Climate Change and the third was to study ozone in the atmosphere. This has led to some people to discuss conspiracy theories. Regardless, there is now a good deal of concern that important measurements needed to better forecast climate change will not occur in a timely fashion due to these launch failures and due to the $600 million cuts to NASA climate observational programs by Congressional Republicans (who do not believe in Climate Change, but do believe in Biblical Unicorns). NASA is trying to defend itself from claims of incompetence, which frankly happens a lot when budget cuts lead to cutting corners. Says Rick Obenschain, Deputy Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center:

“To make any connection between our investigation of the 2009 … mishap and Friday’s failure of the Glory launch at this time would be purely speculative and wholly inappropriate.”

Of course. It would be wholly inappropriate to consider that a mishap due to one failure of a nose cone separation with another on the same launch system carrying the same type of satellite. That is the statement of a bureaucrat trying to defend his bureau.

During the presentation of the results of the inquiry, physicist and Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman embarrassed the NASA community with a simple and elegant description of the problem that destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger – stiffness in seals on the rocket boosters at low temperatures. Watch here:

His work on the committee led to another perspective, encapsulated in bullet points from the Challenger Disaster investigation

Shrinking and unpredictable budgets became problematic. NASA was consistently asked to do more with less (the eternal hope of budget administrators everywhere).

The Reagan administration put more and more pressure on NASA to keep a regular schedule of launches. President Reagan’s dream of space weapons was dependent on keeping to the schedule. Launch delays became more problematic for NASA administrators.

The “can-do attitude” of the 1960s became a “make-do attitude.” Cost-saving mechanisms became the norm. Engineer salaries did not keep pace with inflation, and out-sourcing became commonplace.

Budget cuts made redundant safety systems less desirable. If the engineers found a mechanical problem, the classification of the problem became not just an issue of safety, but also of budget. So if a mechanical problem occurred, but didn’t immediately endanger life, it could be classified as a “concern” rather than a “problem.” In other words, if it didn’t work like we expected, but nothing bad happened, then we’ll just ignore it.

The o-rings had been a concern before. Cracks had been found in the o-rings after previous flights. However, since no disasters had happened, the cracks were seen as “normal,” rather than a “problem.”

–Courtesy of problems.olhoff.com

In essence (and I’m paraphrasing Feynman here): Continued budget cuts eliminate redundant checks and balances in systems that were there to ensure safety. Cutting back too much on the budget for an exploratory program like NASA guarantees there will be problems.

We should understand that the Challenger Disaster occurred during the lifetimes of all of the Members of Congress. It is known that scaling back programs leads to technical trouble. Therefore, scaling back Climate funding is a useful fait accompli for a Climate Change denying Congressman who calls for deep cuts to science budgets. The subsequent claim that either the net result was unexpected or that they have confidence that an organization can do more with less only serves to led plausible deniability to the Congressman. Yet most Climate Change denying Congressmen receive a good deal of campaign funding from oil companies that would be adversely impacted should there be a viable renewable alternative to oil – and these same companies lobby Congress intensely on the issue of Climate Change.

In short – whether by direct or indirect interference is no matter but the oil companies who hold the GOP purse strings are setting back Climate Change research upon which rely in order to better understand human impact on its own surroundings.