Key NASA officials who oversee the agency said they don't believe the shuttle is safe for launch, according to a Local 6 News report.E-mails sent to NASA's administrator from the agency's inspector general's office obtained by the Orlando Sentinel said they didn't believe shuttle Discovery should launch without more work to prevent foam insulation from breaking off the external fuel tank.Read more.
NASA already had a "no go" for flight from the agency's top safety official and chief engineer. However, NASA managers went ahead and gave the "go for launch" for Saturday.
Meanwhile, NASA declined Thursday to release documents from a critical safety meeting where managers debated whether to go forward with the shuttle launch.
I'm a huge fan of our space program, and it don't want to see it terminated or mired down in politics to the point where it becomes toothless. But real safety issues are another matter entirely. When NASA's own top safety dogs don't have confidence in the launch, it's time for a closer look. And this refusal to share the minutes of a meeting where safety issues were discussed is just alarming.
Now mind you, I'm not one of those people who say that we have to have an absolutely zero level of risk in space flight. It's simply not possible to achieve. Astronauts entering the program go in with their eyes open and the knowledge that they are engaging in some extremely dangerous, ground breaking work which may eventually cost them their lives. Space is not a friendly place.
However, even with that in mind, we also can't afford to ignore obvious, critical safety issues. The last shuttle we lost sustained damage to their heat shields, and reports on CNN this week are saying that the shielding can be damaged to catastrophic levels by having birds run into it? If that's true, maybe it's past time to take another look at the design.
Yes, they have improved the in flight monitoring and inspection process to see if any damage was sustained during takeoff. But what if you find the damage? Do we just dump the astronauts off at the International Space Station and hope for rescue? And who's going to rescue them?
If we have another disaster on the next flight, this could signal the end of our manned space program for a long time to come. We need to work smarter, not just harder.