This looks harrowing.
SPACE CENTER, Houston -- NASA officials said Wednesday they would ground future space shuttle flights because foam debris that brought down Columbia is still a risk.No butt-covering words there; that’s very refreshing. But why did the thing go up in the first place if the foam was a problem?
A sizable chunk of foam insulation flew off the shuttle Discovery's fuel tank during liftoff on Tuesday, NASA officials said. They do not believe it hit the orbiter, posing a threat to the seven astronauts when they return to Earth. But they plan a closer inspection of the shuttle to be sure.
"You have to admit when you're wrong. We were wrong," said shuttle program manager Bill Parsons. "We need to do some work here, and so we're telling you right now, that the ... foam should not have come off. It came off. We've got to go do something about that."
Parsons said, "Call it luck or whatever, it didn't harm the orbiter." If the foam had broken away earlier in flight, when the atmosphere is thicker, it could have caused catastrophic damage to Discovery.Recall that Columbia had its catastrophic problem upon re-entry into the atmosphere.
NASA has said all along that Discovery's mission was a test flight designed to check the safety of future shuttle missions. Parsons refused to give up on the spacecraft that was designed in the 1970s.It may be, just may be time to put all those billions of dollars into something more updated and reliable.
"We think we can make this vehicle safe for the next flight," he said, declining to judge the long-term impact on the manned space program. "We will determine if it's safe to fly."
Atlantis was supposed to lift off in September, but that mission is now on indefinite hold. Parsons refused to speculate when a shuttle might fly again.
Meanwhile, pray for Discovery and her crew.
UPDATE: This makes the breathing easier.
There is not an easy answer here. But understand that the foam as fallen off without incident for the life of the program with one exception, when the engineers learned their lesson about ice filled foam. That is why NASA felt there was no issue with Columbia’s foam debris that fateful flight. They had flight experience which said it shouldn’t be a problem.Read the rest from a NASA insider.
Well now the opposite is true. Now they have cameras all over (which are really cool, btw) to watch separation. But things fall off and the entire world is playing armchair engineer - stating nothing can fall off a rocket when it launches.
(Thanks to Mark Coffey)