NASA’s pesky first A

Contributed by
Oct 25, 2007
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Yeah, the one that starts the word "aeronatics". NASA does a lot of research in air flight as well as space, but you hardly hear about it. Funny-- you sometimes don't hear much about their space stuff until something goes wrong... and evidently the same is true for that first "A" too.

NASA started a long-term program to interview pilots about safety issues they personally had experienced (scary landings, near hits, that sort of thing), and evidently the results were so harrowing that NASA officials closed the investigation and wouldn't release the results.

Um, what?

They wouldn't even release it when faced with a Freedom of Information Act request! According to Thomas S. Luedtke, "a high NASA official "*:

... releasing the data “could materially affect the public confidence in, and the commercial welfare of, the air carriers and general aviation companies whose pilots participated in the survey.”

Again I say: um, what?

Why on Earth (or slightly above it) would anyone -- least of all NASA -- worry more about public perception of air travel over the actual danger of travel? That doesn't sound like the NASA I know. Sounds more like the work of another political appointee. I'm guessing here, and I will happily eat crow if proven wrong ]Edit to add: He was appointed in 1999, by Clinton apparently]. But geez, protecting corporations over people?

And it does sound like things were bad:

One person familiar with the results told The A.P. that that pilots reported at least twice as many bird strikes, near midair collisions and runway incursions as other government monitoring systems show.

Yikes. It would be nice to know that if there are problems, then the airlines are told so they can maybe do something about it.

And this ticks me off for another reason: it's not like NASA is enjoying overwhelming public support right now. They need to do a better job at informing the public, not worse. Hello?

And geez, will I hear it from the goofy Moon Hoax crowd too. Like they need encouragement.

At least Mike Griffin made a statement saying this was bogus. But why wasn't he in on this from the get go? Seems like such an important announcement should have gone by his desk first. And he made this statement:

"I regret the impression that NASA was in any way trying to put commercial interests ahead of public safety. That was not and will never be the case."

Um, Mr. Griffin? It's not an "impression": it's what your senior official actually said.

Cripes, I hate the politicization of important science, and I hate the spin after it gets outed. Why can't people just be honest and do the right thing in the first place?

Hat tip to Space Law Probe and the zillion of BABLoggees who emailed me about this. * Yeah, "high official" made me laugh too.