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Lockheed Propulsion Company, Thiokol Corporation, B-173677, June 24, 1974 - Part 4: Truth or Consequences




And they must be realistic in making contracts, in estimating costs, and the difficulty of the projects. Only realistic flight schedules should be proposed, schedules that have a reasonable chance of being met. If in this way the government would not support them, then so be it. NASA owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

Richard P. Feynman, Report of the Presidential  Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident

Using the Solid Rocket Motor requirement from the solicitation that appears in Part 3 of this article, you can see that NASA may have been thinking of Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) for Increments 1 and 2 and Full Scale Production (FSP) for Increment 3.  In FSP, NASA planned 385 Space Shuttle flights between 1981 and 1988 or a little more than 1 Space Shuttle flight per week.

Solicitation Increments Years Covered Planned Flights Planned Motors
1+2 1973 - 1981 54 108
3 1981 - 1988 385 770
Total Planned Flights & Motors   439 878

I cannot remember what time of day I placed the Space Shuttle example in my course for GAO Auditors but it always was after a break.  I had to prepare myself for it.  Perhaps, my voice would break.  Perhaps a tear would roll down my cheek while my voice was breaking.  It wasn't an act.  It's happening now.  

My first question to the class was:  How many flights did NASA plan for the Space Shuttle in each year?  The guessing  usually started at around 20 but before it reached  50 I would chime in with 50.  The second question was: How was the program sold to Congress?  It was Cost Per Flight.  The more flights you plan, realistic or not, the lower the cost per flight, realistic or not.  Of course, the  last question was:  How do you fix problems on a tight budget?  After that, I simply looked into the eyes of the class members. I didn't have to say anything, the answer was obvious.  If you want a complete aswer to that question, I suggest reading:  Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, by Allan J. McDonald and James R. Hansen, Mar 11, 2012.

Years Covered Actual Flights Actual Motors
1973 - 1981 2 4
1981 - 1988 25 50
1989 - 1995 46 92
1996 - 2000 28 56
2001 - 2005 13 26
2006 - 2011 21 42
Total Flights & Motors 135 270

Now, take a look at my 2nd table.  Let's see how NASA measured up to the solicitation's planned schedule.  I'll start with Increments 1 and 2 from the solicitation in the first table.  The solicitation planned for 54 flights between 1973 - 1981.  During that period, it actually achieved 2 flights.

For increment 3 which appears to be full scale production during the years 1981 - 1988, the solicitation planned for 385 flights.  During that period, NASA actually achieved 25 flights.

We might as well look at the entire program schedule.  The solicitation planned for the program to last from 1973 to 1988 (15 years) with 439 flights.  It actually lasted between 1974 and 2011 (37) years with 135 flights.

The simple facts are that the Space Shuttle Program missed, by a huge margin, the delivery requirements laid out in the solicitation for the SRMs and without the SRMs, the Shuttle was going nowhere.   The solicitation requirement was for about 1 flight each week during production for about 7 years. I was going to descibe how the 2,200 tons of the Shuttle was going to be built by different contractors and shipped to Florida for assembly but why belabor the point.  The best NASA could do was about 6 or 7 flights a year--not 1 per week.  The solicitation was issued in 1973 and since then no agency, no contractor, no country, nor the entire planet Earth has been able to come close to such a requirement for manned space flight.  Richard P. Feynman recognized it in 1986 as a bogus requirement.  The bogus requirement had its cost per flight purpose needed for Congress but meeting the requirement was an impossibility.   Just read the quote I added from the Packard Commission in Part 3.

So, how do we judge the Space Shuttle program against a bogus requirement?  That too is an impossibility.  Decide for yourself.


The source for the totals in the second table is from Wikepedia.com's List of Space Shuttle Missions

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