Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 26, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

NASA UPDATE....Four years ago, a pair of Air Force safety officials tried to hold up a shuttle launch because of a malfunction in the backup link that's responsible for destroying rockets in case of mishap. However, despite the downcheck from the safety team, the launch was allowed to proceed after a phone conversation between Donald Pettit, commander of the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, and Roy Bridges, director of the Kennedy Space Center. Because they kept this conversation offline and private, nobody on the shuttle launch team at KSC knew that the Air Force safety officers had responded "no go" during the final pre-liftoff poll.

NASA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that the conversation and subsequent overrule of the safety officers was unprecedented, and a draft report concluded that "Entire Florida Central Coast [was] placed at UNKNOWN but INCREASED risk." So what happened next?

Despite those findings, NASA Inspector General Robert "Moose" Cobb derailed the inquiry and declared the issue an Air Force matter last year, according to investigators familiar with the case. Sources in Cobb's office said they were forbidden from interviewing Bridges and Pettit or requesting crucial information from the Air Force.

"It was obvious to me that he didn't want to make the agency [NASA] look bad," said a former investigator in the office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He wouldn't do his job."

Cobb, a White House political appointee, is under investigation by an administration integrity committee after being accused of repeatedly quashing cases and retaliating against those who resisted.

Sounds like this fellow Cobb fits the Bush administration's mold for NASA political appointees perfectly. I wonder how long it will be before they give him a medal?

Kevin Drum 5:43 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Comments

Remember when America used to be the country that strived to do everything with the utmost quality?

Posted by: Bonnie on March 26, 2006 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Awesome, good work NASA.

After all, these rockets are only basically gigantic bombs filled with high explosives. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Posted by: La Brea on March 26, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

now hang on a moment. On the one hand your article states that Cobb is under investigation by an "administration integrity committee" and on the other hand, you impugn the entire Bush adminsitration for allowing political appointees to run the store. Which is it? is the Bush administration investigating him, or not? if yes, then your absurd comment about awarding him a medal is about the dumbest thing I've heard since the last time Bush opened his mouth.Keep the logic clean, or you play into conservatives' hands.

Posted by: Chris on March 26, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Now that this is in the open, Congress will use its authority to investigate the issue by making witnesses swear to tell the truth in front of the proper committees.

Posted by: Carl on March 26, 2006 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Washington Post story on the investigation here.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 26, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Chris: Click the link and read the whole story. It's taken four years to get to this point.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on March 26, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Sounds like this fellow Cobb fits the Bush administration's mold for NASA political appointees perfectly.

Doesn't look like a typical political appointee to me. However, his actions do call into question his previous positions, which might also explain a few things (see here):

Mr. Cobb was previously Associate Counsel to the President. In this role, he handled the administration of the White House ethics program under the supervision of the Counsel to the President and was responsible for administration of the conflict of interest and financial disclosure clearance processes for candidates for nomination to Senate-confirmed positions. Prior to joining the Office of the Counsel to the President in January 2001, Mr. Cobb worked for almost nine years at the United States Office of Government Ethics.

Posted by: has407 on March 26, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

I thought that the Shuttle rockets head out over the ocean. They'd have to go really astray to present danger to coastal areas.

Posted by: Peter on March 26, 2006 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Gee--a Bush appointee quashing an investigation? It's not like that hasn't happened before.

The question isn't how long it will be before they give him a medal. Rather, how long will it be before he resigns to spend more time with his lawyers.

Posted by: Derelict on March 26, 2006 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

Peter:

A Shuttle SRB, if it somehow got loose early in the flight regime, could travel a considerable distance under power before its propellant burned out, including back towards the mainland if it got turned around. The "destruct" system is designed to split the steel casing, releasing the pressure and effectively terminating the thrust, so the booster simply falls down from that point.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 26, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, Kevin, the Bush hatred never stops with you, does it? Always the carping, the nitpicking, the kibitzing. Can't you think about anything except hurricanes, military clusterfucks, corruption, illegal wiretapping, federal deficits, batshit religious fanaticism, nepotism, cronyism, bribery, plagiarism, global warming, peak oil, stagnant wages, homeland insecurity and so on? I mean, find something else to talk about, man!

Posted by: SqueakyRat on March 26, 2006 at 7:42 PM | PERMALINK

i can't get too excited about this one. the back-up system for the system to abort the mission with extreme prejudice may not be working? given the outright train wrecks of this administration, this seems pretty small beer.

the lack of investigatory zeal after the fact may be depolorable, but it's hardly unique to bushco.

your pal,
blake

Posted by: blake on March 26, 2006 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

I thought that the Shuttle rockets head out over the ocean. They'd have to go really astray to present danger to coastal areas.

Yeah, nothing to worry about.

Posted by: Space Shuttle Columbia on March 26, 2006 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Columbia was a completely different situation. The solid boosters were long gone. Columbia broke up on reentry from aerodynamic stress, and it's a frigging miracle nobody on the ground was hurt by the debris.

Of course, that brings up the whole foam debacle...

Something with a delicate TPS like the Shuttle should not be flown downstream of anything that drops chunks into the airflow.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 26, 2006 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder how long it will be before they give him a medal? Kevin Drum

Right after the NEXT space shuttle explodes on take off. You're doing a heck of a job Cobbie!

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on March 26, 2006 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Columbia was a completely different situation. The solid boosters were long gone.

Yeah, no biggie.

Posted by: Space Shuttle Challenger on March 26, 2006 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

I think what happened was the right thing for NASA to do though they shouldn't have obstructed an investigation. Our world is dying, we're not going to save it in time to preserve our civilization. We need to make sure part of the human race escapes. This is just a part of that.

Posted by: MNPundit on March 26, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

This is not really a Bush admin thing. Its SOP for NASA.

Posted by: still working it out on March 26, 2006 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Why didnt you include a callout (i.e., name) the Orlando Sentinel where you got this intersting item? You almost always name the NYT, LAT, etc.

Posted by: hh on March 26, 2006 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, that brings up the whole foam debacle...

SpaceX uses a removable foam jacket to solve this problem. Of course, on the Falcon 1's maiden flight last week, the jacket didn't release on liftoff. . . Mind you, that didn't cause the crash. A fire caused the crash. And the Falcon 1 doesn't have a destruct. Falcon 1 hit the ground. Luckily, there's no serious population on the Kwajalin Islands.

Posted by: Osama_Been_Forgotten on March 27, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Mike Furir Mike 119

Posted by: Mike Furir 89 on March 28, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Xin chao, Minh den tu HL, minh mong muon duoc lam quen voi tat ca cac ban. Thanks you

Posted by: phuong on March 29, 2006 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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