Panel downplays risks of launch; NASA manager calls finding ‘a cop-out’
A presidential panel studying options for the nation’s human space program downplayed launch risk as a significant factor Thursday in evaluating the dangers astronauts will face on future flights.
Doing so — for the purposes of the group’s report to President Barack Obama — means that all NASA, military and commercial rockets rate the same in terms of relative risk despite differing levels of maturity, complexity and crew safety.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board, in its final report, said the design of the next crew launch system should “give overriding priority to crew safety” rather than other factors such as low cost, reusability or advanced in-space capabilities.
One presidential panel member said the group was failing to acknowledge the level of crew safety NASA says will be achieved by the agency’s planned Ares I crew transport rocket. NASA risk assessments estimate the rocket will be twice as safe as existing alternatives and 10 times as safe as the space shuttle.
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