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Safety was not a high priority

Dear Editor:
The space shuttle Columbia disaster in February 2003 which killed seven astronauts was the result of safety practices that had been flawed for 20 years. Even after the Challenger was destroyed in 1986, NASA did not make safety a higher priority.
The Columbia Accident Investigation Board report was released on August 26, 2003. It found that NASA mission managers accepted flaws in the system as normal. They did not recognize that these problems could lead to a catastrophe, and they discouraged dissenting voices.
The government and upper echelons of NASA exerted constant pressure to reduce or at least freeze operating costs for the shuttle. Safety and support upgrades were delayed or deferred, and the infrastructure was allowed to deteriorate. To stay on schedule, NASA accepted more and more risk. The disaster resulted from a problem that was well known to NASA engineers.
The reports finding should give us all pause. Cutbacks may be inevitable. Governments must control costs. The private sector must stay competitive. However, it is false economy to cut back on safety. Time and time again, costly, preventable catastrophes happen because potential risks in the system are accepted as normal. Time and time again, improvements to safety-related infrastructure are marginalized and considered “frills.” This attitude must never be allowed to take hold in Canada.
Emile-J. Therien
Canada Safety Council