Crews call shuttle training 'grossly inadequate'

January 29, 1991|By Orlando Sentinel

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's astronauts say their space shuttle training suffers from technical glitches, inexperienced instructors, outdated textbooks and a shortage of simulator equipment, according to an internal agency report.

The report, based on a survey of the astronaut corps, found that, although shuttle crews have managed to make up for shortfalls in the program by teaching themselves, the training system is "grossly inadequate" for handling more than 10 flights a year, something the National Aeronautics and Space Administration hopes to do starting in 1993.

"When you finally fly you are extremely well-prepared, but it is only as a result of your own initiative, and it is an extremely inefficient process," an astronaut said in the survey. "If the Air Force trained pilots this way, we could only afford to have a couple of squadrons."

Another astronaut said: "Instructors frequently can't answer questions pertaining to the function of a particular switch. This is ludicrous. The astronaut office is partly responsible because, in general, we've given up on the trainers and just train ourselves."

The survey responses, which provide a rare look inside the astronaut corps and its concerns, are included in a study that NASA's inspector general conducted to determine whether shuttle training has improved in the five years since the Challenger exploded.

The presidential commission investigating the January 1986 disaster found that the simulators used by astronauts to mimic every facet of a shuttle mission frequently broke down. They also discovered that a shortage of simulators was causing a training jam among crews preparing for different missions.

The inspector general's follow-up report, recently obtained by the Orlando Sentinel under a Freedom of Information Act request, indicates that the problems still exist. The report's authors urged NASA officials at Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the astronauts live and train, to solve the problems as quickly as possible.

The internal study, completed in August, was based on a 1989 survey sent to the 93 men and women then in NASA's astronaut corps. Seventy-four, or 80 percent, of the astronauts responded to the questionnaire.

NASA officials say they have already taken steps to solve the problems, which they blame on a lack of money for new equipment and the loss of veteran instructors who retired or left the agency after the Challenger accident.

NASA is training 12 shuttle crews, composed of 63 astronauts, for flights scheduled for launch through September 1992.

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