[/caption]Oh dear. This is a tough lesson in “don’t sell NASA defective goods!”
It would appear that even NASA suffers from common infliction of shoddy contractors. Have you ever hired a plumber to find the leaking got worse? Have you hired a landscaping company who accidentally ripped up your prize hydrangeas? Have you purchased a passive flight releasable attachment mechanism interface plate only to find it had been damaged just before you attached it to your spaceship? Well, you’ve probably hired a dodgy plumber (possibly called Joe) or an unreliable gardener at some point, but these contractor problems pale into insignificance when compared with the life-or-death products sub-contractors produce for the US space agency.
It would appear that one such contractor, a 60 year old man from a space manufacturing company near Houston, attempted to pass a small, yet critical, part for NASA to fly on board Endeavour back in March this year. Unfortunately it was defective, possibly endangering the crew of the shuttle, and now he’s in for the high-jump after attempting a cover-up…
Richard Harmon from Cornerstone Machining Inc., near Houston, TX, was indicted yesterday by a grand jury, charged with fraud involving space vehicle parts and for making a false statement to NASA personnel. According to the charges, Harmon attempted to cover up damage to a part used to secure payloads inside the cargo bay of the shuttle. The damage occurred during the manufacturing process of the impressively named ‘passive flight releasable attachment mechanism interface plate,’ so to cover his mistake, Harmon is accused of welding the piece. His action had weakened the plate by up to 40%.
To make matters worse, Hermon is then accused of falsifying certificates stating that the product had been manufactured to the high standard required by NASA. The local US Attorney’s office said:
“The part was designed to secure cargo to the payload bay of the Endeavour during a flight to the International Space Station in March 2008. According to the indictment, the part, called a passive flight releasable attachment mechanism interface plate, was damaged during the manufacturing process. Harmon is alleged to have covered up the damage by causing it to be welded without informing Spacehab. Harmon is accused of delivering the part to Spacehab without disclosing the damage and falsely certifying the materials and processes used in machining the part complied with the requirements of applicable drawings.”
So what is this passive flight releasable attachment mechanism interface plate anyway? As a subcontractor to Spacehab (one of NASA’s suppliers), Cornerstone Machining Inc. prepares parts for use on missions such as space shuttle launches. The plate has an important function; it secures cargo in place during shuttle flights. Should this part fail, cargo may become loose inside the shuttle, endangering the crew, possibly having disastrous consequences for the mission. It was very fortunate that a pre-flight inspection turned up the fault.
“Had NASA not discovered the damage and used the damaged part as planned, it could have cracked open during flight, allowed cargo to come loose and, possibly, resulted in the loss of the spacecraft and personnel aboard,” said Tim Johnson, acting U.S. attorney in Houston.
Although Harmon has not pleaded to the charges, it’s not looking good. If he is convicted for fraud and for making false statements, ultimately putting the shuttle and US astronauts at risk, he faces a huge $500,000 fine and 15 years in jail.
So the moral of the story is: don’t mess with government agencies, let alone NASA…
Sources: Chicago Sun-Times, Houston Hair Balls