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A short-lived return to flight

NASA is halting future shuttle flights after learning a chunk of insulating foam broke off Discovery’s external fuel tank during launch. This is a problem similar to what caused the Columbia disaster.

So far it looks like Discovery doesn’t have any problems but the NYT had an interesting observation in an article today:

The more NASA looks for damage, engineers and other experts say, the more it will find. And the risks of overreaction to signs of damage while the shuttle is in orbit may be just as great as the risks of playing them down.

I remember where I was when I first heard of the Challenger and Columbia disasters as vividly as I recall where I was when I heard about the Kennedy assassinations and 9/11. As I’m not putting my life in danger, it’s easy for me to say that space flight involves risk and always will. Still, we need to have some sort of logical risk-benefit analysis if we ever hope to resuscitate our space program.


It’s a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one’s safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract.

Alan Shepherd

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