US panel members say shuttle lunch dates unrealistic

NASA officials as they tried to meet unrealistic launch dates for the space shuttle Discovery, some members of an 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 seven 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 said.

"We expected that NASA leadership would set high standards for post-Columbia work ... We were, overall disappointed," they wrote.

The critique by the seven was included in the final report of the full 26-member task force, which was released Wednesday. NASA planned a news conference for Thursday, reports the AP.

According to MSNBC the 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.

“NASA needs to learn the lessons of its past ... lessons provided at the cost of the lives of seventeen astronauts,” they said, referring to the seven killed aboard Columbia and 10 others who died in the Challenger and Apollo 1 accidents years earlier.

In a teleconference with reporters, task group leaders Thomas Stafford and Richard Covey, both former astronauts, distanced the panel from the individuals' opinions, which were included in the final report as supplemental papers.

"Those observations stand on their own," Covey said. "We're not going to comment on those."

In a preliminary report released in June, the panel said NASA failed to meet fully the three most critical recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, informs Washington Post.

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