Both the Challenger and Columbia accident reports spoke of deep-seated cultural problems within NASA that needed to be addressed. Specifically, that the safety concerns of staff were often not voiced (due to the fear of being dismissed) or were overridden by management if they were voiced. Now it seems that it’s OK for staff to go public with their concerns, but they’ll still be overridden.
Let’s face it, NASA is in an impossible situation with the shuttle. It’s an ageing piece of junk, full of design flaws and safety problems and is not the machine that was originally envisioned. Unfortunately it’s all that they have and is required to finish the ISS (which suffers from all the same problems) and if they don’t launch, it effectively means the end of US manned spaceflight for the foreseeable future. So you’ve got the Concorde effect – two useless items, the only purpose of which is to maintain the existence of each other, soaking up money.
I’ve always been a big fan of space exploration, but this situation has become ridiculous and sad. At some point, someone has to say “enough”. Either reach some financial agreement with the partners and deorbit ISS, or just give it to someone who can sustain manned launches and make use of it (the USSR, India, China). Then retire the shuttle and develop the new manned vehicle. Or put the money into a moonbase. Forget Mars, people will be jelly by the time they get there. Or just forget this 1950s sci-fi vision of colonising the galaxy, accept that humankind’s destiny and responsibility lies on our beautiful planet and spend the budget on the vastly-superior science return of robotic probes. Just do something please, this is a farce.