In the late spring of 1942, the U.S.S. Yorktown aircraft carrier limped into the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, severely damaged from the Battle of the Coral Sea. The initial assessment found it would take 90 days to repair. But, a massive Japanese fleet with four aircraft carriers was steaming toward Midway Island, and without the Yorktown in the fray, America could only muster two carriers. So, workers desperately swarmed over the Yorktown, blacking out the electrical power to much of the rest of Oahu to free up enough juice to get the job done. They finished in only 36 hours and the Yorktown sailed off to glory in the battle that decided the War in the Pacific.
Colby Cosh writes in "Bureaucratic murder in space?" about the first launch of the Space Shuttle since NASA shamefully allowed the last one to perish without even trying to see if there was a problem, much less trying to fix it.
"These gentlemen hastily admitted that Discovery had suffered the very same problem--foam shedding from the interface between the orbiter and the main fuel tank--that had led to the deaths of the Columbia astronauts. As the press inquirers were quick to point out, two years and hundreds of millions of dollars had been invested in this specific problem, and the net benefit appears to have been zero or less....
"Thus is confirmed one of the wisest of human maxims: "If there's no solution, there's no problem." Discovery, apparently uninjured by the debris, is now locked in a high-altitude embrace with the International Space Station; when it comes home--if it comes home--it and the remainder of the fleet will have to be grounded for a more radical re-work of the fuel-tank design.
"It's a shocking disaster. And what made it more shocking were the continual protestations from Michael Griffin and Bill Parsons that Discovery's current mission was a "test flight" in which major anomalies were anticipated. Was this phrase used freely when the crew of STS-114--who, for the moment, seem to have dodged a large cream-coloured bullet made out of synthetic insulation--was being recruited? The original test flights of the space shuttle were conducted with crews as small as two members. Question for NASA: why are there five men and two women aboard a spacecraft whose engineering properties were apparently being "tested" for fundamental survivability? [More]
Lots of liberals who favored the Iraq Attaq later said they didn't realize how incompetent the US government would be in carrying it out. Yet, incompetence seems to be the defining note of most projects attempted by the government these days. I'm not sure why, but one problem is the tendency for any non-competitive institution to become less effective over time due to all those Parkinsonian processes at work whenever the attention is not concentrated by, say, having the Japanese fleet headed your way. The second is that rejection of reality -- made up of marketing spin, postmodernism, and old-fashioned American boosterism -- that is so characteristic of our country nowadays, especially of the Bush Administration. Third, a multicultural country tends to devote more effort to the politics of distributing pork than of putting the very best people on the job.