Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Chuck Yeager on Commercial Crew

General Chuck Yeager, the man with the "right stuff."

While doing research on the Internet, I found a February 1991 interview with Chuck Yeager, the icon of the "Right Stuff" era. This was after the Challenger accident; Yeager was on the investigation board appointed by the President.

Twenty years later, it seems that what Yeager said back then could still apply today.

Excerpts from the Q & A:

What other problems do you see with NASA as it stands?

Chuck Yeager: Basically, the bureaucracy. It's a civil service organization. It's difficult to get dead wood out of it, it has a tendency not to let loose of operational programs and keep on doing research and development. The shuttle is a good example. We could probably run the shuttle program for about one-tenth of what it is costing today with a good civilian organization that's in it to make a profit.

(Blogger's note: That last sentence sounds like Yeager endorsed commercial crew twenty years ago!)

You've been outspoken about these things for many years, and I imagine that alienates some of the administrators at NASA.

Chuck Yeager: I don't lose any sleep over it.

Later in the interview ...

What do you think of the direction NASA is going in today? What do you think the big priority should be?

Chuck Yeager: I think that basically we are stuck with the shuttle. It's that simple, because of narrow-mindedness and not looking at what's available in the world. NASA doesn't have any choice; it's pretty well hamstrung as to what its goals are in the future and what they can accomplish. Since it's the only kid we've got, we've got to support it. If we look at the laboratories that we are building, space vehicles out in permanent orbit and also the moon as a possible launching site for deep space exploration -- manned and unmanned -- they should be supported about the same amount as far as I'm concerned. The year that I spent on the President's space commission, developing a master plan for what the United States should do in space for the next fifty years, was very interesting in that you went through all of these things. That was the year prior to the shuttle accident, and we went to our industry to get answers. What do you think we can do in space? We went to the academic world and NASA, who is supposed to be our experts in space. The one thing that we noticed when we started going to the different NASA centers, like JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), Marshall and others, is that these people don't even talk to each other! They don't even know what each division is doing. The different levels of supervision at NASA don't even communicate. For a whole year we sat and looked at this, and then bang, the shuttle accident happens, because of those characteristics. It was unfortunate.

Today, NASA has cleaned up its act quite a bit. They are being a little overcautious, which is costing them in payload with the shuttle. Also, they are over-budgeted. They don't get more money than they need, they are just spending a heck of a lot more than they need to. It's unfortunate, but that's the only space program that we have. Except the Air Force has been quietly developing space weapons systems the last 15 years, just for its own defense. That has paid off now in things like the Patriot missiles.

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