Feynman Cites NASA’s Rocket Safety Fantasy
NASA exaggerated the safety of the space shuttle booster rockets to the point of fantasy, showing the agency either intentionally misled Congress or lacked common sense, a member of the commission that investigated the Challenger accident said today.
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman told reporters at a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena that NASA management kept insisting the chance of a catastrophic rocket failure was only 1 in 100,000, even though low-level engineers pegged the odds of disaster at roughly 1 in 100.
“It would appear that, for whatever purpose, be it for internal or external consumption, the management of NASA exaggerates the reliability of its product to the point of fantasy,” Feynman said.
Asked why he thought NASA officials overestimated the safety of the shuttle booster rockets, Feynman said he had two theories.
“One is that they actually misled people,” he said.
The other, he said, was that NASA managers really believed their own over-optimistic safety claims.
Feynman pointed to a history of problems with the O-ring seals that were designed to prevent solid propellant from leaking between the four sections of each booster as the rockets fired.