Xah Lee's Unixism

Larry Elmore ljelmore_ at _comcast_._net
Sat Sep 4 04:08:22 CEST 2004


Rupert Pigott wrote:
> Larry Elmore wrote:
> 
> [SNIP]
> 
>> The gaskets wouldn't have been necessary if the SRBs had been built in 
>> a single piece instead of having to be assembled from seven sections. 
>> The problem was that one-piece SRBs are too big for land transport, 
>> and for political reasons (i.e., buying support), the SRBs were to be 
>> built in Utah by Morton-Thiokol. Ergo, multi-section SRBs with gaskets 
>> "required".

Erk, _four_ sections, not seven. Not sure where that came from. :(

> I would hope that Morton Thiokol's experience at building a diverse
> range of rockets might have been a factor in the decision too. I
> suppose they might have systematically fired every rocket scientist
> they had (wouldn't put it past a PHB) to save cost though. :)

http://www.ae.utexas.edu/~lehmanj/ethics/srb.htm

"Competition for the SRB Contract"

"Four companies bid for the contract to design and manufacture the solid 
rocket boosters (SRBs). Aerojet Solid bid the program at $655 million, 
United Technologies at $710 million, Morton Thiokol at $710 million, and 
Lockheed at $714 million. All the bids were relatively similar in both 
price and technology. Based on cost, the NASA advisory panel recommended 
that the contract be awarded to Aerojet; they believed that money could 
be saved without sacrificing technical quality by choosing the lowest 
bid. NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher overruled this recommendation 
and awarded the contract to Morton Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah. 
Aerojet appealed the decision and after many allegations and 
counter-allegations, the GAO (General Accounting Office) was instructed 
by Congress to investigate the matter. The GAO found that the contract 
award procedure was not improper. NASA regulations clearly stated that 
the decision was to be made by the chief administrator, not the advisory 
panel. However, the GAO could find no reason for selecting Morton 
Thiokol over Aerojet and recommended that NASA reconsider the decision [1]."

"Political Compromises in the Contract"

"The nature of the political connections between the Space Program and 
prominent figures of the state of Utah has long been debated. Utah 
Senators Jake Garn and Frank Moss have been active supporters of the 
Space Program, particularly when it benefits Utah-based industries. 
There is nothing wrong with this; Representatives of Congress are 
expected to be interested in furthering the activities of their 
constituents. The real cloud of suspicion hung over former Morton 
Thiokol employees who worked for NASA at the time of the contract award, 
and the head of NASA itself, Dr. James Fletcher [4]."

"Dr. Fletcher served as the President of the University of Utah from 
1964 through 1971. His connections with the state and its industries 
were numerous and far reaching, but he denied that these connections had 
any influence on his decision to award the SRB contract to Morton 
Thiokol. However, many people who observed the contract award process 
remained unconvinced. Fletcher's inability to provide solid reasons for 
the selection of Morton Thiokol over Aerojet did nothing to ease the 
controversy surrounding the decision; his reasons were vague and 
referred to minor points in the advisory committee's study. NASA's 
refusal to discuss whether former Morton Thiokol employees had been part 
of the advisory committee simply fueled speculation of wrong-doing. 
Whether Morton Thiokol used political influence to secure the SRB 
contract has never been determined, but lack of clear answers caused 
many to conclude that the contract may have been awarded improperly[1]."

> Too many ifs & butts. IMO. Folks caved to political pressure, but
> the blame doesn't just lie with the rank and file. The folks
> applying the pressure from the top would have known full well what
> they were doing. If they didn't they were unfit for the task, if
> not negligent anyways.

Oh, it appears to me the problem was almost entirely with the PHBs both 
at NASA and at Morton-Thiokol. Engineers at Morton-Thiokol knew there 
was a problem long before the accident, as did people at NASA.

--Larry



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