NASA’s Chronic Problems

I strongly agree with Michelle that NASA is a fine example of public choice theory at work. Political pressures impel NASA to sacrifice safety to propitiate environmentalists. The public choice problem has been a chronic issue. As the late, very much lamented Richard Feynman discovered in his investigation of the organization in the wake of the Challenger disaster, public choice and cognitive dissonance figured strongly in the misrepresentation of safety there, which led to the death of an ordinary schoolteacher:

Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the probability of failure is a thousand times less [than NASA’s engineers knew]. One reason for this may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working engineers…

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

Recent events at NASA have demonstrated that the failings Feynman identified may not be confined to management of astronautical engineering.