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  1. #1
    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Question The Case of the Columbia Shuttle Disaster (Ethics)

    The central ethical issue

    * What should NASA have done and said about the known possibility that Columbia might not survive re-entry?

    Facts about the case.

    * Foam struck Columbia's wing at launch.
    * Videos of the launch showed this, so NASA knew about it.
    * Past foam strikes had caused minor scratching of wing heat tiles. If the heat tiles had major damage this time (broken or missing), then Columbia would crash.
    * NASA had the means to examine the wing, but chose not to.
    * NASA also chose to not tell the crew anything.

    Available options.

    * Don't find out, and don't tell (the one taken).
    * Find out, but don't tell.
    * Don't find out, but tell (in the form of a warning).
    * Find out, and tell.

    Ethical analysis.

    * Don't find out, don't tell.
    o Utilitarian perspective - what could be the benefits to anybody from running the space program this way?
    o Kantian Perspective - puts people carelessly at risk for the glory of NASA.

    * Find out, but don't tell.

    o Utilitarian Perspective - depends on benefits that might follow from running the mission to conclusion.
    o Kantian Perspective - denies respect to crew.

    * Don't find out, but tell.
    o Utilitarian Perspective - depends on amount of resources needed to find out and on the benefit that would follow from telling.
    o Kantian Perspective - even though it respects the crew by telling, it writes them off without proper evidence as being unworthy of a rescue effort.

    * Find out, and tell.

    o Utilitarian Perspective - especially when costs to NASA of simply not finding out are taken into account.
    o Kantian Perspective - respects crew in all ways.



    I'll repeat the question,

    What should NASA have done and said about the known possibility that Columbia might not survive re-entry?

    Last edited by TranceNRG; 02-03-2009 at 01:13 AM.
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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  2. #2
    Huitzilopochtli commands Weightaholic's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by TranceNRG View Post
    The central ethical issue

    * What should NASA have done and said about the known possibility that Columbia might not survive re-entry?

    Facts about the case.

    * Foam struck Columbia's wing at launch.
    * Videos of the launch showed this, so NASA knew about it.
    * Past foam strikes had caused minor scratching of wing heat tiles. If the heat tiles had major damage this time (broken or missing), then Columbia would crash.
    * NASA had the means to examine the wing, but chose not to.
    * NASA also chose to not tell the crew anything.

    Available options.

    * Don't find out, and don't tell (the one taken).
    * Find out, but don't tell.
    * Don't find out, but tell (in the form of a warning).
    * Find out, and tell.

    Ethical analysis.

    * Don't find out, don't tell.
    o Probably against Utilitarian ethics - what could be the benefits to anybody from running the space program this way?
    o Against Kantian ethics - puts people carelessly at risk for the glory of NASA.

    * Find out, but don't tell.

    o Maybe OK by Utilitarian analysis - depends on benefits that might follow from running the mission to conclusion.
    o Against Kantian ethics - denies respect to crew.

    * Don't find out, but tell.
    o Maybe OK by Utilitarian analysis - depends on amount of resources needed to find out and on the benefit that would follow from telling.
    o Probably against Kantian ethics - even though it respects the crew by telling, it writes them off without proper evidence as being unworthy of a rescue effort.

    * Find out, and tell.

    o Probably OK by Utilitarian analysis - especially when costs to NASA of simply not finding out are taken into account.
    o OK by Kantian ethics - respects crew in all ways.



    I'll repeat the question,

    What should NASA have done and said about the known possibility that Columbia might not survive re-entry?

    What would you have done?
    RIP TwiloMike. :(


    Humankind cannot bear very much reality.
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  3. #3
    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Weightaholic View Post
    What would you have done?
    I'd rather wait for this thread to cook a bit, then I'd take a bite.
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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  4. #4
    Huitzilopochtli commands Weightaholic's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by TranceNRG View Post
    I'd rather wait for this thread to cook a bit, then I'd take a bite.
    I think I'll leave you to it.

    I'm not sure there's a palatable choice to be made. I think they'd all leave me wanting to get very very drunk afterwards.
    RIP TwiloMike. :(


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  5. #5
    Registered User EDC's Avatar
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    Did NASA have a means to save these people? Could Columbia+the ISS keep everyone alive long enough for a rescue mission?
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  6. #6
    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by EDC View Post
    Did NASA have a means to save these people? Could Columbia+the ISS keep everyone alive long enough for a rescue mission?
    Before the mission, before the lift-off, there were sufficient concerns about the safety of the mission.

    After the lift off, based on the calculations on the ground, there wasn't anything that could be done to save the astronauts.
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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  7. #7
    Registered User 72cutlass's Avatar
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    from wiki..

    Columbia retained an internal airlock, but was modified so that it could be fitted to accept the external airlock and docking adapter needed for flights to the International Space Station. This retention of an internal airlock allowed NASA to use Columbia for the STS-109 Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission, along with the Spacehab double module used on STS-107. If Columbia had not been destroyed, it would have been fitted with the external airlock/docking adapter for mission STS-118, an International Space Station assembly mission, in November 2003.
    So they couldnt dock with the space station either way. Given that they could not dock with the space station and i dont think they had anyway to repair any damage if they found it, I would've probably chosen not to say anything.

    My logic is two fold, one is they are trained to be perfect and reentry is tough enough. I dont think having even more risk involved wouldve made them anymore careful during reentry. Secondly me personally i would not want to be given a death sentence and told hey you are going to die at such and such time. I'd rather it just happen.

    That said it would be a hellish decision and i respect the guys at nasa command center no matter how they chose to deal with that issue. I'm sure everyone of them lost a lot of sleep.
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  8. #8
    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by 72cutlass View Post
    from wiki..

    So they couldnt dock with the space station either way. Given that they could not dock with the space station and i dont think they had anyway to repair any damage if they found it, I would've probably chosen not to say anything.

    My logic is two fold, one is they are trained to be perfect and reentry is tough enough. I dont think having even more risk involved wouldve made them anymore careful during reentry. Secondly me personally i would not want to be given a death sentence and told hey you are going to die at such and such time. I'd rather it just happen.

    That said it would be a hellish decision and i respect the guys at nasa command center no matter how they chose to deal with that issue. I'm sure everyone of them lost a lot of sleep.
    Margaret P. Battin and Gordon B. Mower, in their case study of this disaster, mention the following.

    Truthtelling even in fatal cancer diagnoses is now standard practice in medicine... Among the standard arguments for truthtelling are that people who are facing death should be allowed to have time to say goodbyes, to set their affairs in order, to make amends, or, if they're religious, to make whatever final confessions and prayers they wish. This is what it is to respect persons, as Kant might put it, to recognize them as ends in themselves, able to determine in accord with their own values how they choose to spend the last moments of their lives. This is a deontological response to the deep moral problem here: whatsoever the consequences, it would be wrong to lie to the astronauts or to deprive them of the truth. It would be wrong to rob them of autonomous choice during their last moments, and of the knowledge that these are their moments.
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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  9. #9
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    In all fairness to NASA, they didn't think the foam would do the damage it did.
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    accidentally the whole fl tenthirtytwo's Avatar
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    Perhaps a better question, or at least a related question, would be, if you were on the shuttle...would you want to know?
    As the last legion makes it's way to the skies, I can see in their eyes
    They've already died inside, but as for the outside, I'll take their ****ing heads!
    I will never be what they want me to
    I live by my own path in life, no turning back now
    I won't be held down, forced into a shallow grave built upon their empty ways
    There's no turning back
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  11. #11
    Approximately Accurate GregariousWolf's Avatar
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    Issues surrounding the Challenger explosion have become fundamental curriculum in the topic of professional ethics.
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  12. #12
    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by Thinman View Post
    In all fairness to NASA, they didn't think the foam would do the damage it did.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_S...isk_management

    In a risk-management scenario similar to the Challenger disaster, NASA management failed to recognize the relevance of engineering concerns for safety. Two examples were failures to honor engineer requests for imaging to inspect possible damage, and failure to respond to engineer requests about the status of astronaut inspection of the left wing. Engineering made three separate requests for Department of Defense (DOD) imaging of the shuttle in orbit to more precisely determine damage. While the images were not guaranteed to show the damage, the capability existed for imaging of sufficient resolution to provide meaningful examination. In fact, the CAIB recommended subsequent shuttle flights be imaged while in orbit using ground-based or space-based Department of Defense assets.[6] NASA management did not honor the requests and in some cases intervened to stop the DOD from assisting.

    NASA's chief thermal protection system (TPS) engineer was concerned about left wing TPS damage and asked NASA management whether an astronaut would visually inspect it. NASA managers never responded.

    Throughout the risk assessment process, senior NASA managers were influenced by their belief that nothing could be done even if damage was detected, hence this affected their stance on investigation urgency, thoroughness and possible contingency actions. They decided to conduct a parametric "what-if" scenario study more suited to determine risk probabilities of future events, instead of inspecting and assessing the actual damage. The investigation report in particular singled out NASA manager Linda Ham for exhibiting this attitude.[7]

    Much of the risk assessment hinged on damage predictions to the thermal protection system. These fall into two categories: damage to the silica tile on the wing lower surface, and damage to the reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC) leading-edge panels. (The TPS includes a third category of components, thermal insulating blankets, but damage predictions are not typically performed on them. Damage assessments on the thermal blankets can be performed after an anomaly has been observed, and this has been done, at least once after the Return to Flight following Columbia's loss.)

    Damage-prediction software was used to evaluate possible tile and RCC damage. The tool for predicting tile damage was known as "Crater", described by several NASA representatives in press briefings as not actually a software program but rather a statistical spreadsheet of observed past flight events and effects. The "Crater" tool predicted severe penetration of multiple tiles by the impact if it struck the TPS tile area, but NASA engineers downplayed this. The engineers believed that results showing that the model overstated damage from small projectiles meant that the same would be true of larger Spray-On Foam Insulation (SOFI) impacts. The program used to predict RCC damage was based on small ice impacts the size of cigarette butts, not larger SOFI impacts, as the ice impacts were the only recognized threats to RCC panels up to that point. Under 1 of 15 predicted SOFI impact paths, the software predicted an ice impact would completely penetrate the RCC panel. Engineers downplayed this, too, believing that impacts of the less dense SOFI material would result in less damage than ice impacts. In an e-mail exchange, NASA managers questioned whether the density of the SOFI could be used as justification for reducing predicted damage. Despite engineering concerns about the energy imparted by the SOFI material, NASA managers ultimately accepted the rationale to reduce predicted damage of the RCC panels from possible complete penetration to slight damage to the panel's thin coating.[8]

    Ultimately the NASA Mission Management Team felt there was insufficient evidence to indicate that the strike was an unsafe situation, so they declared the debris strike a "turnaround" issue (not of highest importance) and denied the requests for the Department of Defense images.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_S...ncy_procedures

    The CAIB determined a rescue mission, though risky, might have been possible provided NASA management took action soon enough.[25][24] The CAIB determined that had NASA management acted in time, two possible contingency procedures were available: a rescue mission by shuttle Atlantis, and an emergency spacewalk to attempt repairs to the left wing thermal protection.

    Rescue

    Normally a rescue mission is not possible, due to the time required to prepare a shuttle for launch, and the limited consumables (power, water, air) of an orbiting shuttle. However, Atlantis was well along in processing for a March 1 launch, and Columbia carried an unusually large quantity of consumables due to an Extended Duration Orbiter package. The CAIB determined that this would have allowed Columbia to stay in orbit until flight day 30 (February 15). NASA investigators determined that Atlantis processing could have been expedited with no skipped safety checks for a February 10 launch. Hence if nothing went wrong there was a five-day overlap for a possible rescue.

    Repair

    NASA investigators determined on-orbit repair by the shuttle astronauts was possible but risky, primarily due to the uncertain resiliency of the repair using available materials.[25][24]

    Columbia did not carry the Canadarm, or Remote Manipulator System, which would normally be used for camera inspection or transporting a spacewalking astronaut to the wing. Therefore an unusual emergency EVA would have been required. While there was no astronaut EVA training for maneuvering to the wing, astronauts are always prepared for a similarly difficult emergency EVA ? to close the external tank umbilical doors located on the orbiter underside. During launch these doors are open for the propellant feed lines from the external tank to supply the main engines in the orbiter tail. If they fail to close after jettisoning the external tank, it constitutes a thermal protection breach which could destroy the orbiter upon re-entry, requiring an emergency EVA to close them manually. Similar methods could have reached the shuttle left wing for inspection or repair.

    For the repair, the CAIB determined the astronauts would have to use tools and small pieces of titanium, or other metal, scavenged from the crew cabin. These heavy metals would help protect the wing structure and would be held in place during re-entry by a water-filled bag that had turned into ice in the cold of space. The ice and metal would help restore wing leading edge geometry, preventing a turbulent airflow over the wing and therefore keeping heating and burn-through levels low enough for the crew to survive re-entry and bail out before landing. Because the NASA team could not verify that the repairs would survive even a modified re-entry, the rescue option had a considerably higher chance of bringing Columbia's crew back alive.
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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    Rafidhi (رافضي) TranceNRG's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by tenthirtytwo View Post
    Perhaps a better question, or at least a related question, would be, if you were on the shuttle...would you want to know?
    That is a good question as well.
    However, this specific case study focuses on the following question.

    * Should they [NASA] have told the astronauts the truth? Why or why not?
    And David put his hand into his bag and took from it a stone and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead. And the stone sank into his forehead, so that he fell on his face to the ground.

    Thus, David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, and he struck the Philistine and killed him; but there was no sword in Davidís hand.

    (1 Samuel 17:49-50)
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  14. #14
    Registered User Barry Bonds's Avatar
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    I Know This Is O/T But....

    Why in the world can't the "greatest country on earth" build a billion dollar space shuttle that can take an impact from a piece of foam and not have a devastating failure?
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    Approximately Accurate GregariousWolf's Avatar
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    The heat shield is brittle. It is as light as possible, and only as strong as it needs to be to function as an ablative surface. Also recognize that during liftoff the acceleration is intense. Even if the insulating foam is not very dense, it still has mass and impacted the wing section with a great deal of force.
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