Aviation lessons from Space

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The unique intricacies of Commercial Space Transportation are beyond the scope of this Journal. The powerplant, orbital control, reentry thermodynamics and a whole host of other subjects are not within our ken. However, the minutes of the NTSB meeting on SpaceShipTwo provide excellent lessons for aviation, too.

In particular, the opening and closing statements of the Chairman are well worth reading. The report of the investigator-in-charge also is instructive. The human factors analysis includes observations which are relevant to aviation.

The most telling comment may have been that of Chairman Hart when he analyzed where the problem may be (not yet a “probable cause”)—he seems to intimate that the FAA office, the operator and the SpaceShip designer, all, did not adequately account for the burden on the pilot in the reentry phase. He commented:

“The assumption was these highly trained test pilots would not make mistakes in those areas, but truth be told, humans are humans…And even the best-trained human on their best day can make mistakes.”

Member Sumwalt added:

“My point is that a single-point human failure has to be anticipated…The system has to be designed to compensate for the error.”

That observation clearly has relevance to aviation. It would be wise for all involved in the SMS process for airlines, manufacturers and other safety organizations to read all of these documents. Mr. Hart summarized that by saying, “Many of the safety issues that we will hear about today arose not from the novelty of a space launch test flight, but from human factors that were already known elsewhere in transportation.”


Board Meeting: Commercial Space Launch Accident – SpaceShipTwo

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