Program Promotion Can Distort Space Systems Engineering and Deny Risk



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49th International Conference on Environmental Systems


NASA’s spectacular success in the Apollo moon landings was achieved against the odds by an obsessive dedication to reducing the great risk. But risk analysis predicted so many astronaut fatalities that it was thought to be unreasonably pessimistic and potentially damaging to the Apollo program. Risk analysis was discontinued, risk was neglected in space shuttle engineering, and so the space shuttle design was unnecessarily dangerous. Since the Apollo era it has been understood that long human space missions would recycle oxygen and water to avoid the very high launch cost of directly supplying them. The development of recycling systems was justified by the need to increase material closure and reduce launch mass. When it was recognized that increasing closure leads to rapidly diminishing returns, the program goal was changed to reducing launch mass and reliability, cost, and risk were considered irrelevant. Systems engineering and especially the discouraging problems of risk and cost have been deliberately ignored because they detract from program promotion, with unfortunate results. Current human launch system design does account for risk and the result strongly resembles Apollo. Current life support design continues to assume recycling, even though the recent great reduction in launch cost now allows direct supply of oxygen and water with significantly better quality, reliability, cost, and risk.


Harry Jones, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), USA
ICES501: Life Support Systems Engineering and Analysis
The 49th International Conference on Environmental Systems was held in Boston, Massachusetts, USA on 07 July 2019 through 11 July 2019.


Space risk, Challenger, Columbia