Monday, July 3, 2006

NASA Rolls the Dice

Despite problems with the fuel tank insulating foam -- the same foam that doomed Columbia, NASA has decided to go ahead with tomorrow's planned launch of Space Shuttle Discovery. I question the wisdom of that decision, but Godspeed to Discovery and her crew.
The manned space flight program has always been my Federal boondoggle of choice, but I have never been a fan of the Shuttle program. I still remember my bitter disappointment, so many years ago, when Congress chopped the funding for the last three Apollo missions. Similarly, I was disappointed that NASA didn't expend more political capital to keep the Skylab space station in orbit -- because they wanted to develop the Shuttle. Once Skylab came down, the Shuttle was a bus without a stop, except for the stupid International Space Station.
The Shuttle has always been a white elephant that has never worked as advertised: too temperamental, too complex, and now, too obsolete. I have the suspicion that NASA wants to fly the Shuttle tomorrow regardless, because if it has to roll back to the VAB for more work on its fuel tank, or for another foam redesign, the bosses fear this will ground the program permanently. We should be so lucky.
I wish NASA would ground the Shuttles and build a simple rocket that worked, and head for the Moon again, or for Mars. Yes, there is a program, but I have yet to believe that it is serious. But that is for another day. Bon voyage Discovery.

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