The deputy director of NASA added, "It is important that we create an environment where people feel free to speak." The interview took place during the 18th Ilan Ramon Space Conference in Tel Aviv
"It is important that we create an environment where people feel free to speak." This is what Robert (Bob) Cabana, NASA's deputy director, says in an interview with the Hidan website during the 18th Ilan Ramon Space Conference held at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv.
As I recall, this was one of the recommendations of the commission of inquiry into the Columbia disaster, as reflected in the book "The Crash".
"I was the NASA station manager at the Kennedy Space Center for 12 and a half years between 2008 and 2021, when I was called to NASA headquarters in Washington to the position of deputy administrator of the agency."
“During flight STS-107, the flight in which the space shuttle Columbia crashed, I was the director of manned flight operations at the Johnson Space Center. I was in charge of the astronaut office and all planning operations. I accompanied the Columbia team on their journey to the launch pad. I was at the Kennedy Space Center to wait for the supersonic booms announcing the approaching landing, but they didn't come."
What did NASA learn from the Columbia disaster?
"I think we learned the hard lessons we had to learn already after the Challenger disaster and didn't learn until the Columbia disaster - to listen to warnings. We inculcate the need to stop normalizing abnormalities even if many times the malfunction occurs. Even if nothing bad happens, it does not mean that abnormal phenomena should be allowed to continue.
"In the case of the Challenger, it was hot gases that passed the first O-ring, but we didn't pay attention to that because until then nothing had happened. On the day of the launch it was unusually cold, and the rings were damaged, so the gas bypassed not only the first ring but also the second, and thus the seal was removed and in the end we lost the shuttle."
"Even before Colombia we had a problem with foam falling from the external fuel tank. But NASA people at the time did not see it as a problem. It could be that since nothing bad had happened until then, it was accepted as the norm. I see this as a failure of imagination. They did not take into account that something could happen at a critical time and cause damage, and that it should be repaired. Because of this, people who raised concerns were not listened to. That's why I think it's important that we create an environment where people feel free to speak, and that we really listen and act on their concerns."
Surely you knew Ilan Ramon?
A selection of chapters from the book "The Crash" by Avi Blizovsky and Yefa Shir-Raz, Kinneret Zamora Bethan Publishing House 2003
- Was NASA's organizational culture at fault for the shuttle Columbia? (from "The Crash")
- From the chapter "Ilan" dealing with the biography of the late Col. Ilan Ramon from the book "The Crash"
- Ten years since the Columbia disaster - from the book The Crash: Chapter 6: The good ones to fly
"Ilan was a wonderful man. I wish I could have known him better. I didn't know him well enough. I met his family, his wife Rona after the accident. And what I remember most about Ilan is his positive attitude towards life and his smile. He had a wonderful personality. Someone you respect and want to be friends with."
Our working relationship with the Russian cosmonauts and ground crew is good
We asked Cabana to comment on a number of issues related to space exploration. First, of course, the privatization of the flights to the International Space Station. And the second issue is the geopolitical issue after the Russians, who are partners of the US in the International Space Station, invaded Ukraine and found themselves isolated from the US, the European Union and the other partners in the space station.
"Our goal is to commercialize the activity in low Earth orbit. We don't want to continue maintaining a huge space station. We want to be one of many customers. That is why in the first stage the private flights arrive at the space station, eventually new modules will be built which will gradually become a separate commercial space station.
We operate within a program called Commercial Leo, and seek to launch the manned private space market into low orbit. Three companies have already applied for funding to help develop a commercial space station as a follow-up to the International Space Station. Obviously, the private space stations will not be as large or complex, but they will still provide the ability to conduct scientific experiments in low Earth orbit. We will continue to operate in low orbit as well, but NASA will be one of many customers."
"According to our planning, the International Space Station will operate until 2030 and by then there will be commercial space stations that we can use. In any case, this frees up NASA's budget to explore beyond Earth's orbit. In the first stage to fund the Artemis program, to land on the moon and be able to continue, to be able to eventually continue to Mars."
"From a geopolitical point of view, about the International Space Station. At the moment, there are challenges but I can say that we are working very professionally with our international partners on the space station including the Russians. Despite the existing tensions, we will work professionally with our Russian partners, both with the cosmonauts on the space station and with mission control to maintain the safety and operation of space.
The former director of the Russian space agency Dmitry Rogozin said thatRussia will stop turning on the engines that stabilize the station in orbit. What is the actual situation?
"You know he is already an ex. Just saying they need us for electrical power and we need them for propulsion. It is impossible to separate our modules on the International Space Station, we depend on each other."
Regarding the return to the moon, is it realistic?
“Certainly, the reactions to Operation Artemis 1 have been fantastic. The Heavy Launch System into Space (SLS) operated smoothly. We have conducted a test of the Orion spacecraft and we expect to fly crew members on Operation Artemis 2 to orbit around the moon, and then to landings on the moon. The Artemis program, unlike the Apollo program that took place during the 60s and early 70s, is an international collaboration, we are going together, not just the United States. The astronaut corps we have today is also much different than the white male pilot of the 60s. We have a very diverse astronaut corps and we can put the first woman on the moon. That when we explore beyond the Earth, it is important that we do it in international cooperation, and that everyone can see themselves as space explorers and know that they have the possibility to integrate if they have the right skills and the determination of the goal."
"The difference between this plan and the plans that have been started and stopped in the past is that we want to follow the path of Apollo, but we are not flying to the moon for a camping trip of two or three days. We want to stay for extended periods of time and do scientific research. We want to have resources at the landing sites. Utilization of resources on the moon will facilitate the stay of the astronauts. One of the reasons we go to the South Pole is the significant water ice we believe is there, which is hydrogen and oxygen, the fuel and air for breathing. I think it's also important as we look to continue to Mars to be able to learn how to operate for extended periods of time away from our home planet, on the Moon, we're a little closer to home. If something goes wrong, you can return in two or three days, as opposed to the months or years it would take to return from Mars."
"To achieve this I return to the need to create an environment where we pay attention to people's concerns in the technical issues in order to resolve them. Budget and schedule are always going to be a challenge in this business we're in. Space is a very difficult field and we make it look easy but it is very challenging. So I think the promise is that we continue to press forward that we work together and that we solve the technical problems.
How does Israel come into the picture?
"I spoke with the director of the Israel Space Agency, Uri Yaron. I think he has a great vision for Israeli space and commercial cooperation with the United States. We currently cooperated with Israel in the Artemis 1 mission, where we tested the radiation protection vest together with the German space agency DLR. In the future we are cooperating with Israel in the telescope Ultrasat Let Israel build and the US launch. We collaborate in the Genesis 2 project, which will have two landers and one satellite that will orbit the moon."