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A scathing indictment of NASA

There's no denying that NASA procedures are in desperate need of an overhaul, but let's not write off the future of the space administration quite yet.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board released its findings earlier this week -- and they were brutal.

Referring to the Feb. 1 shuttle accident that killed seven astronauts, the 248-page report stated, "Management decisions made during Columbia's final flight reflect missed opportunities, blocked or ineffective communications channels, flawed analysis, and ineffective leadership. Perhaps most striking is the fact that management ... displayed no interest in understanding a problem and its implications."

In a nutshell, the report found a flawed "culture" at NASA; one that made meeting deadlines -- rather than ensuring safety -- a priority. Administration officials, it said, exhibit a high degree of complacency not unlike the one that existed prior to the Challenger disaster. It's an attitude, investigators noted, that could very well lead to another shuttle tragedy.

Reports don't get much bleaker than that, but the space program isn't doomed.

Even Investigation Board Chairman Harold W. Gehman Jr. doesn't think so. Gehman noted that if the board had been tasked with finding all the "good things" NASA does, the resulting report would be thicker. That just wasn't the case in this situation.

The board has offered 15 recommendations to be made before the next shuttle flight, along with major changes to be made over the long term. Their implementation is to be ensured through the policing of outside agencies.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe has accepted responsibility for flight schedule pressures, errors and safety oversights -- and seems sincere in his desire to comply with all of the recommendations.

We hope he is. Meeting launch deadlines is of little consequence when safety issues are overlooked and disasters happen. Now, the space program will likely be delayed again for months or even years.

It's too bad NASA didn't learn the first time.

Kevin Courtney