It emerged yesterday that government auditors, former technicians and other experts had cautioned Nasa that budget cuts at the space agency were putting the lives of astronauts in danger.
As recently as last April, the chairman of the aerospace safety advisory panel had told Congress that Nasa’s management of the shuttle programme was causing grave concerns. “I have never been as worried for space shuttle safety as I am right now,” said the then chairman of the panel, Richard Blomberg. With space exploration sinking as a political issue, Nasa has undergone severe budget cuts in the past decade. Funding for the shuttle programme has been cut by 40% since 1990.
When an expert NASA panel warned last year that safety troubles loomed for the fleet of shuttles if the agency’s budget was not increased, NASA removed five of the panel’s nine members and two of its consultants. Some of them now say the agency was trying to suppress their criticisms.