Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is Space Shuttle Discovery Safe To Launch?



© NASA

STS-121 crew portrait taken on Apr. 5, 2006. From the left are astronauts Stephanie D. Wilson, Michael E. Fossum, both mission specialists; Steven W. Lindsey, commander; Piers J. Sellers, mission specialist; Mark E. Kelly, pilot; European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Reiter of Germany; and Lisa M. Nowak, both mission specialists.

On Tuesday, seven astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. for the launch of STS-121 mission. If all goes as planned by NASA, Discovery will lift off on Saturday afternoon. According to NASA's Web site, things are under control.

I have mixed feelings about this mission. The foam problem isn't completely fixed. But, NASA says it has a backup plan in case something goes wrong.

Today, The Houston Chronicle reported something that raises many questions about the mission:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Space shuttle Discovery's crew of seven arrived at the Kennedy Space Center today for this weekend's launch, a day after a top NASA engineer who praised his colleagues for voicing doubts about the wisdom of going ahead with the flight was removed from his job.

Charlie Camarda said in an e-mail to colleagues Monday that he was forced out as chief of the engineering directorate at the Johnson Space Center and that he had been offered another position working for NASA's Engineering and Safety Center.

Read more...

Camarda was on the STS-114 Discovery -- July 26-August 9, 2005 -- Return to Flight mission. So, he knows the shuttle very well. His removal from the position of Director of Engineering at Johnson Space Center make me concerned. He wrote in his farewell e-mail to his team and colleagues:

I cannot accept the methods I believe are being used by this Center to select future leaders. I have always based my decisions on facts, data and good solid analysis. I cannot be a party to rumor, inuendo, gossip and/or manipulation to make or break someone's career and/or good name. I refused to abandon my position on the MMT and asked that if I would not be allowed to work this mission that I would have to be fired from my position and I was. I am truly sorry I will not be there with my team after all our hard work. I will be there in spirit and I am only a phone call away if you need me. We have much to do to prepare to support this mission and I am sure you will be the ultimate professionals that I know you are and exemplify the spirit of "teamwork" which will be needed to get the job done. Please do not let this affect your focus at this crucial time! I have been offered a position and will continue to support this Agency which I love and be a good team member.

Read the complete text of the e-mail.

It sounds like NASA administration wants to launch the mission knowing the risks involved. Does it need a strong case when submitting its budget for the coming years? They probably can't afford to stop the missions while waiting on a replacement of the old shuttles with safer ones to fly into the space.

I'm concerned for the safety of these seven astronaunts. I have a feeling that if anything bad happens to the shuttle or the astronaunts this time, it may be the end of the manned space program until other safety measures are put in place. Most of NASA's problems can be solved if the government raises the budget for NASA instead of cutting it. NASA doesn't have a lack of intelligent people. It has a lack of funds.

We spent billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan where most people don't seem to like us. But we can't afford to spend enough money to help the brightest among us to discover the unknown around us. What happened to JFK's vision?

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