The IASA Chairman’s NASA


(Mrs. Lyn S. Romano “Meets” Discovery – “Up Close & Personal”)




Place:               KSC (Kennedy Space CenterFlorida)

Date:                29 May 2002

Time:                10:43AM (Security badge issued)





Once you’ve read through my Report, I hope that you will hit this link and look over some of the Shuttle Photos

You will then be in good shape to make an informed “comparison” with some airliner wiring photos (at this link)


"In the press grandstand where I watched Discovery rise against the cloudless sky, the media hit the abort button on cynicism. The Earth shook to the sounds of man, three miles away. The candle lit. . . only someone stripped of awe can leave a launch untouched.

— Jonathan Alter, 'Newsweek' magazine, 9 November, 1998




I was recently granted the honor of being invited to Kennedy Space Center (hereinafter referred to as KSC). The purpose of this invitation was to enable me the opportunity of inspecting the wiring of the space shuttle – Discovery – during “her” 20-24 month maintenance mode, and it was an experience I shall never forget, for many reasons.


Greeted at Orlando Airport by Ms. Kim Knight (KSC), I knew immediately I was a welcomed guest.  As we headed for KSC I had no real idea of what to expect, but Kim could not have made me feel more welcomed and relaxed – something I desperately needed as I tried to make sense out of how I “got here” in the first place.


I cleared the first, of many, security checkpoints at 10:43AM. We navigated our way through the corridors of the NASA building, stepped onto the elevator and rode it up to the 5th floor for my meeting with the gentlemen that I would spend the next 6 hours with.


I had spoken to and corresponded with one of the gentlemen I would be meeting with - on many occasions prior to my visit. He is with Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, Texas (hereinafter referred to as JSC) and he is responsible for the shuttle fleet’s safety. I should mention here I had never had the opportunity, before 29 May 2002, to meet him personally. The other gentleman I would be meeting, for the first time without the benefit of previous contact of any kind, heads up the electrical engineering group at KSC.


As I sat across the table from these two men, with the “over the top” expertise they possess in their respective fields, I was struck by the fact it took only minutes of discussion for them to realize I possessed more than a basic understanding of the wiring issues confronting the world of commercial aviation. It did not take long for them to learn of my eagerness to be educated about the same wiring concerns confronting them in their realm. Not once did I feel they were “assigned” to pay me lip service of any kind, to “get this over with” or “Give the lady the fluff ‘n’ stuff treatment”. For that, I am eternally grateful. I have had more than my share of that “fluff ‘n’ stuff treatment” during the course of too many meetings over the past three and a quarter years.


The “plan” was to have lunch before heading over to inspect the wiring of Discovery, but I suggested we skip lunch and head straight over to the Orbiter Processing Center, because I was more than anxious to “get right to it”. Thankfully, they agreed without hesitation, and we were off.


After clearing security, once again, I was led into the building that houses – Discovery – during “her” down-time.


As I stood beneath this magnificent “bird”, staring up at the thermal tiles that protect the shuttle from burning up on re-entry, I could barely breathe, let alone sort out the conflicting emotions of what brought me here.


It did not take me too long to realize that it was the 229 souls who perished aboard swissair Flight 111 on 2 September 1998, when that American manufactured aircraft, (an MD-11) plummeted into the cold, dark waters in close proximity to peggy’s cove, in Nova Scotia, Canada brought me here. Each and every one of those human beings, who in my estimation did not have to perish that night in such a horrific way, are/were exactly what brought me here.


*To date, the final report surrounding the crash of swissair Flight 111 has not been released by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (hereinafter referred to as the CTSB). However, much of the CTSB’s investigation has focused on:


1.                  The wiring of that aircraft (from type to installation)

2.                  The In-Flight Entertainment System’s wiring and installation

3.                  Inadequate wire testing standards

4.                  Inadequate material flammability standards


….as well as a myriad of other aviation safety issues not in effect at the time of the swissair crash, which could have possibly prevented this particular aviation disaster from occurring. Due to these facts, I cannot accept (as many in aviation circles seem to have), that the crash of swissair 111 was in fact, just an accident*.


Differences - and No Indifference

This clarified for me just how I ended up at NASA. I suppose I was meant to witness first hand how NASA is addressing the wiring concerns they have been confronted with, in order to see for myself what they had been telling me for several months, since my initial communication with the gentleman at JSC.  What was he telling me? Specifically, NASA is most concerned with providing the human beings that board their shuttles the highest level of safety humanly possible. The safety they deserve. We all know disasters happen, BUT, when there are means to ensure the safest possible environment, either in the commercial aircraft realm or the space shuttle realm, they need to be aggressively undertaken, something NASA has chosen to act on and not just talk about. Talking about it, rather then acting aggressively seems to be the course the commercial realm of aviation has chosen instead.


To give you a “snapshot” of Discovery, here are “her” statistics:


WING SPAN:                                                            23.79 meters

LENGTH:                                                                  37.24 meters

HEIGHT:                                                                   17.27 meters

PAYLOAD BAY:                                                       18.3 meters x 4.6 meters

PAYLOAD WEIGHT (launch max):             24,948 kilograms






SEA LEVEL:                                                              1,670 kilonewtons

VACUUM:                                                                 2,100 kilonewtons




LENGTH:                                                                  47 meters

DIAMETER:                                                             8.4 meters

GROSS WEIGHT (full)                                             750,980 kilograms




LENGTH:                                                                  45.46 meters

DIAMETER:                                                             3.7 meters

THRUST @ LIFTOFF:                                             14,685 kilonewtons

GROSS WEIGHT (approx):                         589,670 kilograms


Having taken a long look at the thermal tiles from beneath the shuttle, it was time to walk up the steps of the scaffolding that surrounded Discovery, to clear another security checkpoint, enter the air wash chamber, then don our “Bunny Suits” (A “Bunny Suit” is what I am wearing in the photos that accompany this report) before being granted access to crawl into the shuttle Discovery. All those tasks now complete – I find myself standing in the Midbody portion of the shuttle. I cannot possibly put into words the feelings associated with that moment. Therefore, I will report only on what I saw – and not what I was feeling at that time.


To my right, upon entering the shuttle is the crew’s bathroom. Just beyond that, still on my right, is an opening revealing the Payload Bay. This cavernous, empty, bay area is beyond my scope. What was it they told me? How many school buses fit into this area? That’s just to give you an idea of the enormity of “space” I am referring to when confronted with this portion of the space shuttle. Once I was able to pull myself away from the Payload Bay area, the electrical engineer lifted a floor panel in the Midbody section to reveal the work they are accomplishing in their ongoing modifications to the wiring contained throughout this ship. “The Belly” is how I would refer to this portion of the shuttle.


NASA Refuses to “wear a Wire”

Some of the configuration changes being tended to are in the area of the Midbody Crossover Bracket Redesign. Wire trays have been redesigned to “eliminate interference that has existed between the Orbiter Midbody Centerline Purge Duct and the wire harnesses contained in the mainframe crossover trays”. This is being accomplished by the use of tie-wraps and harness routing as well as a Teflon wrap to protect the harnesses in contact areas. Wire bundles will rest on vulcanized rubber, providing another measure of safety.


The fleet wiring investigation (which NASA takes very seriously) “gave birth” to the redesign of these wire trays. They specifically curve around the Purge Duct and allow the harnesses to be mounted on the far side of the tray. This is being accomplished not only as an enhanced safety measure, but also to accommodate future growth.


As I look around the Midbody section, I can see how much attention is being paid to ensure the bend radius of the wiring is smooth, as it “snakes” its way up, around and through the craft. Adequate wire separation is also apparent. This being a very “hot topic” item of discussion in the commercial aviation realm recently, I was quite impressed to see this vital safety enhancement already being tended to by NASA.

The pristine conditions stunned me. Considering Discovery is in the heavy maintenance mode, I would have expected far less – I was more than pleasantly surprised to learn quite the opposite. Although I have never been personally granted a physical, visual inspection of a commercial or cargo aircraft (and not for a lack of trying – I assure you) I have seen many photographs and have been delivered many written reports by experts in the aviation safety field who have. Those photos and reports would shock the average airline passenger. Comparing the shuttle in a heavy maintenance mode, to the reports and photographs I have seen detailing commercial aircraft (and I am not referring to a heavy maintenance mode in the commercial realm here, but those aircraft allowed to be transporting passengers on a daily basis) all I can report is that there is NO comparison.


There was not a speck of dust, lint, metal shavings or build up of “gunk” on any of the wire bundles I saw – on either the very visible bundles, or the ones within the “Belly” of the shuttle, which is considered a less than accessible area.  Therefore, the condition of the wiring I was granted to inspect on Discovery, even during this drastic maintenance mode, reassured me that the visual inspections NASA wire experts carry out are far more realistic and effective than any visual inspection that is carried out on a commercial airliner. I must reiterate at this point, I have never been granted access to a commercial/cargo aircraft during the same type of maintenance mode, and therefore, I can only base my findings on what I have been delivered by way of photographs and reports that have been directed my way by the experts in the commercial aircraft/aviation safety realm.


Having completed my inspection of the “Belly” and Midbody portions of Discovery, we head up the stairs to the Flight Deck. It was an awe inspiring experience for me to be standing in the spot where Discovery will, after having completed “her” 20-24 month down time, be once again navigated through space by one of our incredibly brave astronaut teams. Considering that experience would be far too difficult for me to put into words, I will continue with reporting what I saw, rather than what I felt.


The close quarters were mind boggling, bordering on claustrophobic. Looking up and seeing the “portals” through which the Discovery crew will once again “slip out” into space to accomplish whatever task is assigned, was awesome. A portion of the ship’s wiring here is of Russian origin/design. Any work needing to be attended to on this particular wiring is not undertaken at NASA, but in Russia.


The bundles run through the shuttle into pressurized zones – another vital area NASA tends to in “over the top” detail.


I cannot tell you how long (in minutes or hours) I spent on Discovery – Discovering for myself up close and personal, how everything I had heard from NASA before arriving for this inspection had just been confirmed. NASA takes the wiring issues that confront their particular realm of aviation very seriously and I am convinced they are doing everything humanly possibly to ensure a safe environment for the human beings they launch into space. Not only the Americans they send “up there”, but all the human beings in “their charge”. I find it very unfortunate not to be able to say the same for the commercial side of aviation – from the manufacturers to the airlines to the regulators that “cry” safety first and foremost.


No Cost/Benefit Sums Added Here

Astronauts and the Space Station (ISS) crews who board our shuttles for destinations we will most likely only be able to absorb through our imaginations, are not referred to as “occupied seats”. There is no price tag on their life and Cost Benefit Analysis (hereinafter referred to as CBA) has no place. Passengers boarding a commercial airliner are referred to as PAX or “occupied seats”. The price tag for a human life on board a commercial airliner is $2.7 million dollars, and a CBA approach to civil aviation disasters is considered an acceptable/necessary “tool”. To clarify this just a bit, for those unaware, CBA is the statistical methodology utilized to determine which aviation safety measures are cost effective to implement and which are not. Basically, if $2.7 million X the number of human beings killed in an aviation disaster is determined to be less expensive then the cost of implementing a specific safety enhancement – it is not deemed cost effective and therefore is not considered practical. The bottom line is then that the measure does not get implemented. To summarize, it’s far less expensive for the airlines or manufacturers to pay settlements AFTER a disaster, than to attempt a real “fix” BEFORE the disaster. In aviation circles this mindset is referred to as a Tombstone Mentality. Reactive instead of Proactive. Who is in charge of our safety? The gentlemen I spent many hours with at NASA weren’t aware of this CBA methodology, but I can assure you, they are now – were you aware of this? You do have the right to know, therefore, I felt compelled to include this explanation in my report at this time.


It was now time to crawl out of the shuttle and remove my “Bunny Suit” in order to inspect Discovery from the outside, before heading down to the “tool room”. “She” is as magnificent from the outside, as “she” is on the inside.


Strict precautions have been put into place to ensure the proper tool is used for the specific job requiring its use. They are all precisely calibrated, all sealed in plastic with detailed written instructions for the tool’s specific use. If a maintenance engineer is handed a sealed plastic “tool bag” that appears to have already been opened, he does not accept it. There is also a time limit as to how long the tool can remain out and they must be returned by the specified time. No tool is allowed to dangle from a tool belt. This precaution has been implemented to ensure (as much as possible) that no accidental damage to the wiring takes place while work continues in those specific areas of the shuttle. While speaking with the gentleman in charge, I could not help but think about the lives lost in the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 disaster, apparently due to shoddy maintenance and tool calibration practices for which the Federal Aviation Administration (hereinafter referred to as faa) were fully aware. I wondered how much of an impact NASA’s practices would have had in avoiding that particular disaster. Shades of the earlier Valujet disaster, Alaska Airlines had already been in court for several years, over the faa’s “complaints” regarding what they believed to be shoddy maintenance practices, so they were fully cognizant of the difficulties the airline seemed to be facing, tending to this most vital area of aviation safety.


Once my conversation/education was complete with the gentleman in charge of the “tool room”, we made our way over to the wiring training facility and I met with the man in charge of training any and all who will come in contact with the shuttle’s wiring.


In NASA a “Standard” is a Criterion of Excellence not a Requirement for Conformity

Physical examples of wiring are displayed here to enhance understanding about what is and is not acceptable when installing or maintaining the wiring on the shuttles. Also very useful for those who visually inspect the wiring. I “flipped through” training manuals used and having already personally viewed the Orbiter Wiring Training Video myself (a must for anyone at NASA who will be working on any shuttle wiring) I was once again impressed at the attention NASA has devoted to the wire systems on the shuttle fleet.


The culmination of my “field inspections” could not have been more profound. Upon completion of my visit to the wire training facility, I was taken over to the launch pad where Endeavor “sat”, encased in scaffolding awaiting what was to be “her” launch the following day (scheduled for 30 May 2002).


Once again I found myself not believing I was actually here. I was educated about how the shuttle first arrives at the pad – to when “she” launches. The following day – Thursday, 30 May 2002, Endeavor was to launch (on “her” way to the International Space Station) and I had been invited to witness this incredible moment from Banana Creek, approximately four and a half miles away from the exact site I was now being granted an up close and personal ‘visit’. The name of the mission Endeavor was set to embark upon the next day:


   STS 111   

The timing of my invitation to inspect the wiring on Discovery, and to witness this particular launch was an incredible coincidence that even those at NASA I mentioned it to were stunned to learn of. swissair Flight 111, the flight my husband Ray Romano took on 2 September 1998 – together with 228 other unsuspecting human beings – never made it to their scheduled destination. Endeavor’s scheduled launch – mission STS 111 – was ready to go the very next day. Would I be?


Returning to the offices at NASA – where I began the day approximately five hours earlier, the three of us had the opportunity to wrap up. It also gave me the ability to deliver a summary (of sorts) as to what I will do with the education and photos I had just been privileged to receive. The gratitude I feel for the generosity of time and expertise granted me during this visit by these two men (not to mention all those involved in making this experience possible for me - both at JSC as well as KSC) is something I will never be able to appropriately express. 


I did, however, have the ability to explain to each of them that I would be heading down to Washington DC the 12th and 13th of this month (meetings were already scheduled prior to my NASA visit) to meet with Mr. Sam Whitehorn (Senator Hollings chief of Staff) and Mr. Nicholas Sabatini (recently appointed to the position of Associate Administrator for Aircraft Certification at the faa – stepping into the position vacated in the Fall of 2001 by tom mcsweeny who left for a position with boeing) to deliver the details of my inspection of the wiring on the shuttle Discovery. I also told them I would bring with me the photos depicting NASA’s attention to wire safety, together with my report.


It would be my fondest wish come true (in the “life” I have been left with since the crash of swissair Flight 111) if upon receipt of these two items, the faa, as well as those in the position to actually get aggressive attention focused on this most vital aviation safety concern could be accomplished. If not these findings, I certainly do not know what it will take to get the attention that is so vital, but I have no intention of stopping there, if I am still met with deaf ears. It is my firm belief that the commercial arm of aviation should and must follow NASA’s lead…. for true aviation safety’s sake.


The United States government delivered $15 billion to the airlines, following the atrocities that took place on U.S. soil 11 September 2001. This was done to “bail out” the airlines when they were faced with their financial slump post 911. Considering the age of many of the commercial aircraft in the U.S. airline fleet, and the fact that a major percentage of that fleet contains not only dangerous wiring, but more than apparent lack of attention to proper maintenance procedures (as compared to the United States – NASA shuttle fleet), I feel compelled to take what I have learned during my recent visit to Washington DC.


After seeing the work being accomplished at NASA in respect of the wiring issues confronting them, and considering the budget constraints they have to work within in order to tend to these necessary upgrades and modifications, I cannot help but wonder where the $15 billion would have accomplished far more. NASA, or civil aviation? If NASA can take the aggressive measures they are concerning the wiring issue, the action I have now seen for myself, what does it take to get the same response time/attention in the civil aviation world? More people killed? That would certainly “up” the costings in the Cost Benefit Analysis mindset, but I daresay that is not a socially acceptable answer.


Is it the United States aviation industry, or those who regulate it, intention to keep aging aircraft flying at any cost? Without immediate and long overdue aggressive action to finally “make right” what has long since been a “discussion topic” while more and more human beings are needlessly killed? Will they be able to continue to use the Cost Benefit Analysis methodology when more and more of these aging aircraft fall from the sky? No matter whether it be on United States soil or elsewhere around the world? Considering the airline’s profit margins are apparently less than acceptable at this time, will any of that $15 billion ‘grant’ delivered by the United States government to the airline industry be put towards the many safety issues that have been allowed to fall by the wayside for far too long already? Have the all too deadly wiring issues that have been known about for at least 30 years been placed on the “back burner” as they have been for too long, now that the 911 atrocities make it easier for them to disappear from the ‘agenda’? Will the United States be able to remain the aviation “Super Power” it (outwardly) has been, because it is simply receiving an “injection” of cash to keep the aging aircraft fleet in the sky – at the risk of human life? How many human beings will it take to finally accomplish what should have been accomplished by those “powers that be”, to finally have them be able to state – truthfully – “safety first”? Thankfully, NASA seems to have figured out the answers to most of these questions, if not all of them.


The NASA Wakeup Call

NASA grounded their shuttle fleet for six months in 1999, in order to inspect the wiring after learning of unacceptable conditions during one of their missions. I suppose they were able to do that because they have the motivation to do so, for several reasons.


They cannot risk the loss of a shuttle, not only because the space program (their “industry” if you will) would suffer drastically, but there would also be (most assuredly) loss of human life. A fact that always enters into their safety discussions, at least the discussions I have had with them. NASA’s motivation is not profit – not in dollars and cents. I firmly believe NASA could find more than appropriate ways to utilize the same “injection of cash” the airlines were granted post 911.


If the regulators, manufacturers and airlines in the United States (and around the world for that matter) are as concerned with “safety first” as they profess to be, than why has the wiring issue been allowed to confront them to this very day? Will the U.S. be able to maintain their (outward) superiority in the commercial aviation arena, when more and more of those U.S. manufactured aircraft fall out of the skies? No matter where they happen to fall? Will the regulators continue to allow these conditions to flourish as they apparently have in the past? Will they continue to pick and choose the vital safety enhancements, utilizing the Cost Benefit Analysis formula?


$2.7 million X the number of human beings killed in an aviation disaster as their bottom line?


I realize how unrealistic it is to expect a rewiring program be put into effect for the aging aircraft fleet in this country, or any county around the world. Most especially post 11 September 2001. Therefore, what I hope to accomplish as I take the information I was granted during my trip to NASA is simply this:


If NASA has the ability to provide their shuttle crew the level of safety they are aggressively seeking – without a $15 billion “injection of cash” to make that happen - than certainly the commercial realm of aviation, from the manufacturer to the regulators, to the airlines need to do the same for the human lives they have been given the responsibility to protect, as much as humanly possible. After all, they keep telling us how safety is their primary concern, right? Now would be the time to finally show us they mean what they say. As NASA has shown me, not in words, but by their aggressive action to do whatever’s humanly possible to ensure the safety their crew so rightfully deserves. Are the individual’s lives that board the shuttle worth more than yours or mine?

One life is priceless, as I have said from 3 September 1998 to this day – and I will continue to say that, because it happens to be a fact. I do not need to rely upon Cost Benefit Analysis for my “findings”, as some in the aviation world apparently do. NASA has figured that out as well. When will the human beings that step onto a commercial aircraft be granted that same assurance? If rewiring of aircraft in the commercial realm is not realistic, then shouldn’t the regulators compel the airlines at the very least - - to deliver the same pristine and meticulously maintained wiring in their fleets as NASA has accomplished for their shuttle fleet?


I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every individual at both JSC and KSC who went “above and beyond” what I could have ever hoped for in order to make this trip not only possible, but one I shall never forget.


It was my decision to withhold their names from my report. I realize there might be many aviation safety minded individuals – upon reading this report – who would inundate their phone, fax and email lines – with only good intentions of course. Considering what the gentlemen and ladies employed by NASA (both at JSC and KSC) tend to on a day to day basis, I felt it appropriate not to deliver any of their names, in order to do my part in helping them accomplish the continuing aggressive measures they have undertaken towards real wiring safety.


God’s Speed,


Lyn S. Romano


IASA/US (International Aviation Safety Association)

Wife of Raymond M. Romano

Passenger on swissair Flight 111

Seat 9F


"Discovery is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought."

Albert Szent-Gyorgi


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