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NASA berated for poor attitude to safety

And Shuttle's launch delayed again

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Some members of a safety taskforce has accused NASA of cavalierly rushing to get Shuttle back in orbit. In their report, a group on the taskforce said NASA managers showed the same "disturbing" behaviour, including poor leadership and smug management, that contributed to the loss of Columbia, in 2003.

The group now berating NASA is the same one that chastised the agency this summer for planning to go ahead with the launch despite failing to meet three of the 15 safety upgrades recommended by the investigators of the Columbia disaster.

While acknowledging that the clarity of hindsight is a wonderful thing, the report goes on to say: "We expected that NASA's leadership would set high standards for post-Columbia work ... We were, overall disappointed ... It appears to us that lessons that should have been learned have not been," according to a Guardian report.

The Shuttle Columbia broke up in the atmosphere as it returned to Earth in February 2003. An investigation revealed that a hole had been punched in its heat shield by a piece of falling insulation foam, resulting in the destruction of the craft.

The group, a minority on the panel, appended its criticisms to the main report from the taskforce.

As well as repeating concerns about NASA's inability to deal with a build-up of ice on the external fuel tanks prior to the launch, the group said the agency's description of the fuel tank as "safe" and "safest ever" was misleading, and that NASA could not support the statements with evidence. It further criticised the agency for changing its standards in order to meet launch schedules.

However, Richard Covey, the main panel's co-chair, told The New York Times that the rest of the group was not worried by NASA's approach to safety. He described NASA's work as "competent".

In related news, NASA says it has scrubbed a possible November launch of the Shuttle Atlantis, pending the investigation into the foam that fell from Discovery during launch. Now, it says the earliest it will get back into space is in March next year, and that rather than Atlantis, the larger Discovery will be on the launch pad again. ®

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