Very Bad News for Discovery Crew

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From MSNBC:

A couple of short strips of material dangling from Discovery’s belly may require an unprecedented repair by spacewalking astronauts, if engineers determine there’s even a possibility that the problem could endanger the shuttle during descent, NASA said Sunday.

If this Space Shuttle does not come back in one piece, as much as I hate to switch sides on this one, it’s time to get the government out of the space program.

In Houston, flight director Paul Hill said two engineering teams were working “aggressively” on the concerns over the gap fillers, with heated discussions raging over what to do, if anything.

Despite assurances of a change in NASA’s management style resulting from the Challenger disaster, it sounds like the agency is still plagued by the same politics and egos that doomed that flight in 1986. Perhaps nothing could have been done to repair Columbia in orbit, but the continued denials of the insulating foam causing a problem didn’t give us too much confidenced in NASA’s management skills.

I hope the dangling particles really are nothing, but I really can’t believe that the shuttle program still has this many technical problems. Maybe it’s just an unworkable craft, but then why does NASA defend instead of designing something better? If people’s lives weren’t in the balance, this might be funny.