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day permlink Saturday, 8 February 2003

permlink NASA handled it openly; surprise!

I really liked this column. But then, I would: NASA officials show the right stuff with candor on Columbia by Howard Troxler [St. Petersburg Times]
In the wake of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew, what have we not heard? No comment. We're not going to comment on that... I am not authorized to release that information. The agency has been honest, earnest, open, helpful and willing to say what it did and didn't know -- the exact opposite of the modern specialties of "public relations" and "communications."

Corporate executives, elected officials and government bureaucrats, take note. Not that any of them will.

...The reporters, naturally, tried to draw conclusions ... but Dittemore patiently kept undrawing them. He said what any intelligent person knows, but which briefers usually desperately try to avoid admitting: Everything he was saying could prove to be wrong tomorrow.

In short, NASA trusted Americans to have enough sense to hear what it knew and what it didn't. It is an example of honesty, integrity and respect -- respect for colleagues, for other agencies and for the people -- that ought to be a role model.
Related to this is a press conference Friday where Ron Dittemore alerted everyone that the information situation will be changing somewhat:
[Dittemore:] we close this week, I believe the chapter closes on the way we are handling these press conferences. We have been, in my opinion, as open as we can with you. We have expressed some of our feelings.

We have revealed to you data that we don't even understand. We've shown you information that we know now may have been wrong, and we are going to have to adjust it.

So you have been looking over our shoulder, so to speak, watching us go through this process. Typically, you never see this process. And whenever we have an investigation or any type of technical problem, this is pretty much typical. It is met with information that comes to your knowledge. Typically, the information is somewhat ragged and unreliable, and over time it gets better and we find ourselves sometimes contradicting ourselves and moving in different directions because of what the data's trying to tell us. It changes day by day, sometimes hour by hour. And so as you describe it we may change our tune, we may change our direction, we may reverse our course.

I think all those are acceptable descriptions of the process, as long as we are true to ourselves in trying to be rigorous about what the information means and what we need to do about solving the puzzle.

As for me, I don't believe you'll need me up here any time soon to talk to you about the information and the data. I think that chapter is closing.

As we have turned over the reins of leadership on this investigation to the investigation board, they will now--this investigation board, will now take over the handling of the briefings to the media and to the public.
- from the transcript of a Feb 7 briefing [PDF], found on NASA's Columbia page
I can't tell if he means that it'll be slightly less open, or just a different person giving lots of information. Either way, it's been a remarkable week; usually this much information doesn't make it to the public until months or years after an incident. permlink  

permlink poking my head up...

Sorry about the hiatus; been concentrating on other things. In the meantime, though, genehack started updating again, at least for a short bit. (Note that John's returned to his ancestral home at, back from his experiment at the .com.)

Not much to contribute to the shuttle talk; the web is alive with coverage, and it's not my area of expertise, so I'll be returning to my usual trivial matters fortwith. permlink  

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