(c) Keith Meyers/The New York Times
Whilst observers held their breath as the space shuttle Discovery blasted into space last week hundreds of scientists at NASA monitored every conceivable aspect of the take off after the Columbia accident which took the lives of all seven crew members.
To assist in this analysis NASA has assembled a database containing information about more than 15,000 recorded debris hits from shuttle flights since 1983 (see graphic below). Unfortunately there are no clear-cut answers to the problem and indeed the fragility of the craft is still a matter of speculation.
(c) Columbia Accident Investigation Report, NASA
As to most people space, and what we may find out there, fascinates me but it seems such a shame that exploring the final frontier may be put on hold for a significant amount of time because the aging shuttle craft are no longer up to the job. Right now the idea of humans landing on the Moon, let along Mars, any time soon seems pretty laughable.
Update: (02/08) The BBC are reporting that Discovery needs emergency repairs – ceramic strips have been spotted sticking out of the heastshield tiles of the shuttle, and NASA are worried they could cause overheating on re-entry. A spacewalk will be carried out to remove the offending material.
2 Comments Add New Comment
Richard Feynman (one of the people on the investigation team into the Challenger disaster)
I think it is impossible for space travel to ever be completely safe however it seems to me that NASA like any other company has a lot of bureaucracy. We live in a world where we want to see results, NASA would be considered to be failing if the delayed the launch of their shuttles yet at the same time launching them before all checks have been carried out is dangerous. Space exploration is one of the most visual and highly followed forms of scientific research and this puts pressure on NASA to perform to achieve its funding. I think Challenger illustrated there was something wrong with the way NASA worked and I think but can't say as confidently Colombia illustrated this hasn't changed. We can see NASA being painstakingly careful on this mission however the chances are they will once again become lax. When there is an accident it is widely reported so to convince the public space travel is safe NASA have to perform to a safety record superior to other forms of transportation and this requires they are always painstakingly careful despite the costs or make a choice as to how much a human life is worth.
On a scientific view point it is often argued that sending man into space serves little at the moment, we have been to the moon and explored it and can't yet reach Mars. However sending man into space captures peoples imaginations and hearts and maybe shows in some way the point to science to the general public (after all what could you use something like a transistor for :p). It has been argued the money could be better spent sending unmanned missions deeper into space. Personally I think human exploration is important because it is still uncertain what will be found and I think humans can explore in a more thorough manner. Either way I wouldn't like to put my life into the hands of an organisation that crashed a probe into Mars because one side worked in metric and the other in imperial.
Wow, that's a serious “comment” you made there – even better than what I wrote above! I agree about what you say at the end but if I ever had the chance I would be up there in a flash – pity I'm not an American or a genius!