Columbia crypto box

Jay D. Dyson jdyson at
Sat Feb 8 13:32:44 EST 2003

On Sat, 8 Feb 2003, Matt Blaze wrote: 

> Your snipe at NASA is probably uncalled for.  A sentence fragment quoted
> from a spokesperson at press conference almost certainly does not
> reflect the professional judgment of the people who designed the system. 

	It should also be noted that the STS is not under ground control
during its ascent, orbit or descent.  The STS is in contact with the
ground, but it is an autonomous craft.  The STS computer control system
functions independently of human intervention (apart from tape loading by
the on-board crew).  And for those who may wonder, yes, two copies of the
mission flight programs are always sent up with the crew. 

	In short, all phases of the STS flight plan are built on the same
rules of the sky for every aircraft: they are based on total failure of
communication with ground-based flight control. 

	As an aside, I've been seeing a *lot* of criticism in the popular
press about the alleged antiquity of the STS computers; all asking why
NASA isn't using the latest technology in its shuttles.  Folks, I ask you
to take the latest bleeding-edge technology and subject it to significant
G-forces followed by introduction into a microgravity environ, have it
bounced around during re-entry and then _guarantee_ that it won't
experience a critical failure at the worst possible moment.  That
floating-point error in your Pentium may seem catastrophic when you're
working in AutoCAD, but just have a look at the French Arianne rocket if
you want to see what such an error does to a spacecraft in flight.

> Do you really, honestly belive that none of the people designing a
> secure communication system for the shuttle were even remotely
> acquainted with the basic principles of the subject?  Or did you just
> want to make a snide remark at the expense of people who are obviously
> now the subject of enormous scrutiny?

	Speaking from current and longitudinal experience, I can assure
you that all of us at NASA are living in a fishbowl.  Yet in spite of the
criticism (both warranted and unwarranted), rest assured that no-one is
being harder on us than ourselves.  America lost another seven astronauts
in the shadow of the Challenger disaster anniversary.  On February 1st, we
lost another seven family members and are now faced with the grim task of
determining how we may have failed them.

	It seems that NASA's technological advances are both a blessing
and a curse: a blessing in that we have made regularly-scheduled space
travel possible...and a curse because we made it _look_ easy.

	Folks, it's called "rocket science" for a reason...


   (    (                                                         _______
   ))   ))   .-"There's always time for a good cup of coffee."-.   >====<--.
 C|~~|C|~~| (>------ Jay D. Dyson - jdyson at ------<) |    = |-'
  `--' `--'  `------------- Scienta est potentia. -------------'  `------'

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