In response to the Commentary “NASA Forgets Key Lesson from Columbia Accident” [Jan. 20, page 19], the implication that commercial space doesn’t put the same emphasis on safety is inaccurate. The lesson learned from Columbia and Challenger should have been that NASA needs to adhere to its own safety rules: a low-temperature launch in the case of Challenger and lack of action after launch video revealed substantive debris impact in the case of Columbia. Regarding commercial crew, the current safety certs bids require Federal Acquisition Regulation adherence by anyone transporting NASA crew members.
Ares should have been canceled. A solid-fuel first stage for low Earth orbit? Solid-fuel boosters are good for ICBMs and skyrockets. The overpriced heavy lift came with no fundable missions.
The only part of that program that should be saved is Orion. It is by far the best choice for deep-space missions of any vehicle proposed by commercial or government agencies. Couple Orion with a European upper stage and a Falcon 9 Heavy and you have a system that is fundable, making possible Lagrange point, lunar, asteroid and Mars missions.
NASA should be developing the expertise for on-orbit vehicle and nonchemical propulsion systems production. Many of the human safety issues associated with deep-space missions could be mitigated on a very fast rocket.
The biggest “correction” needed by NASA is reduction of the political bullying. Budgets are cut and then NASA is forced to spend the paltry sums it is allocated on programs it doesn’t necessarily need or want.