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Jun. 19 2009 - 9:21 am | 50 views | 2 recommendations | 4 comments

Some Stories are too Good to Check Out…

pad-rat

I wish I had a T-shirt like this (yes, that is a hint).

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — WESH 2 News struck a nerve with an exclusive report as NASA actively works to prevent shuttle sabotage from within its ranks.

While there is no indication that sabotage has ever or will ever happen, officials said it is on the space agency’s radar as the shuttle program winds down.

While the deputy manager of the space shuttle program has said publicly that NASA has had many discussions about the possibility of intentional damage to the shuttle, officials emphasized on Thursday that there is no evidence it has happened.

via NASA: Sabotage Possibility Investigated For Years – Space News Story – WESH Orlando.

It’s getting pretty ugly out there, Space Cadet Nation.

We all know every reporter worth his notebook wants to score a scoop – a big “exclusive” that will make him a newsroom hero – but sometimes the pressure to produce will lead a good scribe down a dark alley.

This item from WESH-TV in Orlando is a good example of how a rumor mixed with a hunch leads to some pointed, loaded questions, which in turn prompts some unclear, easily-misconstrued answers.  Voila – an Action News Sensation! Too bad it is not “sweeps” month…

But sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story. I suppose the “exclusive” has a little truthiness to it: a program in its autumn years, thousands of jobs about to disappear…surely the workers are desperate to do anything to keep the paychecks coming. Surely.

lh2-leak

Site of the Hydrogen Leak that has caused three shuttle scrubs.

But I am not talking about the workers who make the shuttle fly (men and women who proudly call themselves “Pad Rats”) – I am referring to the local TV reporters who are facing the imminent demise of their business. Might they be tempted to engage in a little sabotage of the truth to keep their jobs? Perhaps we should ask their managers about this?

Here is what I know to be a fact: The Pad Rats – and all the other shuttle workers at the Kennedy Space Center -  are the most committed, conscientious, diligent people on the planet. They take their risky business very personally – and are constantly focused on the safety of the men and women who strap themselves to the rockets they prepare for launch. It is inconceivable to me that they would do anything that would put them – or their fellow workers – in (greater) harm’s way.

And then there are a few practical things to consider:

First, the shuttle is set to retire at the end of 2010 – no matter how many flights are in the history books. Even if workers were adding delays by busting valves, crossing wires or siccing a woodpecker on the fuel tank foam, they would not be changing the date of that last paycheck one iota.

And no one does anything at or near a space shuttle alone. Ever. It takes a village to tighten a bolt on a booster. Every step is considered and approved by a safety guy. The work is watched by a quality control expert to insure it is done to spec. And the customer is present as well: a NASA civil servant is there to add his/her imprimatur and “buy the paper” documenting the work (remember, the wrench-turners who work on the shuttle are employed by the United Space Alliance and its subcontractors).

workers-with-astro

Astronaut Susan Still shaking some "Pad Rat" hands after landing in 1997.

And finally, there are the people actually doing the work. They also don’t do much of anything alone. So it is quite a gaggle at the site of every piece of important work aimed at getting a shuttle ready to fly. Might there be an unhappy camper in the bunch? No doubt. These days the mood is pretty sour in the Space Cadet Nation – especially in the Province of Shuttledom. It is never fun when the party is over. But any sabotage campaign would require a fairly large conspiracy by some people who are not wired to think that way at all.

Of course reporters are wired just the opposite way.


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  1. collapse expand

    The reporter who did the original story owes the men and women of the Kennedy Space Center an apology.

  2. collapse expand

    Thanks Miles! You show once again just how much you understand the mind-set of the boots on the ground who work so hard to make this all happen and their focus to make every flight safe for the crews we send up and bring down.

    First flight, last flight, it doesn’t really matter, the focus is always the same. Shame on WESH-TV

  3. collapse expand

    I guess this story is flashier than “The shuttle fleet is wearing out because nobody in their right mind in 1975 would have considered the possiblity these ships would still be in service in 2009.”

  4. collapse expand

    Glad you covered this, Miles. The news reporters in Central Florida (where I am proud to live and own a live events production company) have all become more sensational in their coverage of the news in the past few years… just as they have across our nation. News is no longer covered unless it is considered to have enough “pow” to grab the viewer’s attention. So reporters are grabbing at straws.

    Also, specifically to WESH, their space reporter, in a move that might look familiar to you, has been removed from doing exclusive reporting on science, tech, and NASA, and is also now having to cover local car wrecks, house fires, and even do weather reports for the Space Coast. So perhaps he was hoping to get the focus back to the space program, albeit with a poor choice of angles to sensationalize.

    Thanks again for your continued in-depth coverage for us space junkies. I’m still hoping I can work with you on a launch soon… I am in town and not working for this next attempt !

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    I am a 26-year broadcast news veteran - with nearly 17 years as CNN’s science, aerospace, technology and environment correspondent. I am an active pilot, airplane owner and a lover of all things that fly. I was slated to be the first journalist to fly on the space shuttle before the Columbia accident ended that dream. I am based in New York City - married with two teenagers and two dogs.

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