Shutdown, accusations of racism and launch delays – 2018 starting out rough for NASA
So far 2018 is not starting out very well for NASA. With a government shutdown that started on Jan. 20, slowing work, announcements that its Commercial Crew Program has suffered yet another delay and accusations of racism – the space agency has had years start better than 2018.
Starting the year off was the Jan. 11 announcement that the Space Agency’s partners in its Commercial Crew Program would not be launching astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018. Contrary to hyperbole that “…the hell we won’t fly (crew) before 2019.” – the hell they won’t.
However, schedule slips are nothing new, especially considering that NASA’s two core crewed programs have undergone all manner of managerial and politically-driven shakeups over the course of the past few years.
Politics are, as always, one of the core demons that has driven the space agency down from the heights of sending crews to the Moon in the late 60s and early 70s. One of the more-recent examples of how politics hampers space exploration efforts has been the government shutdown that went into effect on Saturday, Jan. 20.
Not even NASA’s social media efforts were immune from the effects of the shutdown and fortunately the shutdown came to a temporary end on Monday, Jan. 22 (the shutdown could possibly return on Feb. 8).
According to News Channel 13, some 85 percent of Kennedy Space Center’s workforce alone was not paid and the inability of Congress to do its job also caused the delay of one of the scheduled static test fires for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket (which is being readied for a non-NASA related test flight).
If having their operations shut down while they wait for Congress to sort out its mess wasn’t bad enough, there was the claim that the reason behind a recent International Space Station crew shuffling – was racial in nature.
According to a report appearing on The Washington Post the reason astronaut Jeanette Epps was pulled from her June flight – was because she is African-American. The claim was made by Epps’ brother, Henry Epps via the social media platform, Facebook (that post has since been removed).
Epps who had been training for her historic Expedition 56-57 flight (Epps would have been the first African-American to conduct a long-duration mission at the International Space Station), was replaced by Serena Auñón-Chancellor, who is Caucasian. Epps will report back to Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Other than a short release posted on the agency’s site denoting the crew change, NASA has remained relatively mum on the subject, as has Epps herself, who has only stated that she has no health of family issues.
NASA has weathered accusations of preferential treatment in the past. It was reported last year (2017) by Florida Today’s James Dean that the Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, former astronaut Robert Cabana, had played a role in illegal hires.
The agency has also had to deal with with awkward incidents involving astronauts. Such as the bizarre 2007 love triangle between Lisa Nowak, William Oefelein and U.S. Air Force officer Colleen Shipman – which resulted in Shipman being pepper sprayed by Nowak. Nowak, who served as a mission specialist on STS-116, viewed Shipman as a perceived romantic rival for Oefelein’s affections.
“But wait there’s more!”
On Jan. 23, 2018, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Scott Tingle carried out EVA-47 to help replace components of the “hand” on the International Space Station’s Canadarm2. Things did not work out as planned with NASA was working on a plan to re-install the old latching end effector (LEE) on an upcoming spacewalk after a problem was found with the new mechanism.
However, NASA’s ability to rally its forces and find a solution to tricky problems became evident with this latest problem when the agency worked out a software patch that helped to alleviate the issue.
With not even a full month into 2018, the space agency has experienced an array of issues that likely have not been helpful for morale. Despite this, the agency seems to be focusing on resolving the issues noted.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.