Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hutchison Can't Count

Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison

Kay Bailey Hutchison can't count.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the lame-duck U.S. Senator from Texas plans to argue Shuttle should be extended because it's supposedly safer than Soyuz.

Let's do the basic math for her.

Fourteen astronauts have died on Shuttle — seven on Challenger in 1986, and seven more on Columbia in 2003.

Soyuz has suffered no deaths since 1971, during its early days. One cosmonaut died on the initial Soyuz 1 flight in April 1967 when his parachute failed. Three more died on Soyuz 11 in June 1971 when a valve was left open after undocking from the Salyut space station and the cabin depressurized.

Hutchison ignores the history of her own state. When Columbia broke up, its debris scattered over a wide area of the eastern part of Texas.

Her fellow Texan, President George W. Bush, appointed the non-partisan Columbia Accident Investigation Board to investigate the Columbia loss. CAIB concluded that Shuttle's design was fundamentally unsafe and recommended it be phased out. Read my April 26 article, "Why Bush Cancelled the Space Shuttle" for more details about why Bush cancelled the Shuttle.

Simultaneously with Shuttle's cancellation in January 2004, then-NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe informed the astronaut corps that the administration was considering the Soyuz for crew rotations to the International Space Station. The January 30, 2004 Florida Today reported:

Some U.S. astronauts, including current space station commander Michael Foale, said they prefer flying on the Soyuz because it has a crew escape system not present on the shuttles.

Hutchison plans to cite two Soyuz flights in recent years where explosive bolts failed to work properly as reason for continuing Shuttle. But the Chronicle article quotes a NASA spokesman as saying the problem has been resolved:

NASA spokesman Mike Curie said the Russians conducted a thorough investigation into the two incidents, shared their findings with NASA and took appropriate corrective actions. NASA "independently performed high level checks to help ensure that the Russian conclusions were viable," he added.

"NASA is satisfied with the scope and depth and the changes made as a result of Russia's investigation," Curie said.

Hutchison claimed in her statement to the paper that NASA doesn't have access to Soyuz engineering information, but the NASA spokesman's statement would seem to suggest she's either lying or clueless.

Either way, it's shameful that she would put politics above the safety of American astronauts by lying about the relative safety of the Shuttle versus Soyuz.

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