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Some safety improvements were skipped by NASA officials as they tried to meet unrealistic launch dates for the space shuttle Discovery, seven members of a larger oversight panel said in a scathing critique.
Poor leadership also made the shuttle's return to space more complicated, expensive and prolonged than it needed to be, the task force members said. In fact, some of the "disturbing" traits that contributed to the Columbia tragedy -- like smug, overbearing managers influencing key decisions - were still present in the months leading up to Discovery's flight, the panelists noted.
"We expected that NASA leadership would set high standards for post-Columbia work ... We were, overall disappointed," they wrote in the task force's final report Wednesday.
The seven critics include a former shuttle astronaut, former undersecretary of the Navy, former Congressional Budget Office director, former moon rocket engineer, retired nuclear engineer and two university professors.
Poor leadership also made the shuttle's return to space more complicated, expensive and prolonged than it needed to be, the task force members said.
The seven said NASA should have done detailed engineering reviews of the Columbia accident investigators' recommendations before committing to short-term launch dates. That way, they said, the space agency would have better understood the foam loss and seriously considered alternative approaches, such as a completely redesigned fuel tank or hardening of the shuttle's thermal skin.
"At the end of 2 1/2 years and $1.5 billion or more, it is not clear what has been accomplished," they said.