Thank God, and no thanks to a series of stupid decisions based more on politics than science, shuttle Discovery touched down at Edwards Air Force Base just now. Now if only NASA doesn’t risk another crew in this broken-down space jalopy.
It’s public knowledge that NASA knew before this flight that it had not corrected the very problem it had spent two and a half years and over a billion dollars trying to fix–namely the flying foam problem that downed Columbia. Yet NASA brass chose to fly anyway.
NASA also chose to put seven lives in jeopardy–a full crew–on this so-called test flight, even though the best plan for their rescue from orbit called for holing up on the International Space Station, whose Soyuz lifeboat can seat only three. Why didn’t NASA put a skeleton crew of two on this flight, as it did on Columbia‘s maiden voyage back in 1981?
NASA’s own estimates put chances of catastrophic failure on any given shuttle flight at 1 in 100. That’s under the best of conditions, with no flying foam involved. That’s a one in a hundred chance of being killed every time you climb in that thing.
Yes, spaceflight is risky, but it doesn’t have to be that risky. If NASA would just do the right thing and retire the remaining shuttles now, it could spend its money on technologies designed from the ground up for increased safety and stop needlessly risking lives.