Sunday, February 27, 2005

Shuttle Safety Weighs Heavily on Fuel Tank (

Shuttle Safety Weighs Heavily on Fuel Tank ( "'If you want certainty, you're in the wrong business,' said Wayne Hale, deputy space shuttle program manager. 'We are doing our level best to provide a maximum degree of confidence, but certainty is something we don't have a lot of.'

The external tank has dictated almost everything that NASA has done for two years under the rubric of shuttle 'Return to Flight.' Because of the Columbia accident, engineers altered the tank's design to minimize foam loss during launch and eliminated foam from the bipod that connects the tank to the forward part of the orbiter. Bipod foam was the source of virtually every large debris chunk that ever hit the shuttle undercarriage. "

as early as May 15, when a three-week launch window opens for a shuttle to lift off from Kennedy Space Center for the first time since Columbia disintegrated on reentry over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003.

if repairs to a damaged shuttle cannot be satisfactorily completed in space, NASA has devised a last-ditch plan for the crippled orbiter's seven-person crew to seek "safe haven" aboard the space station for at least 45 days, until a rescue shuttle can be sent to retrieve them. Atlantis will have this role initially and will be ready to fly by June 14, should Discovery run into trouble.

Some have urged caution, and perhaps a delay, in launching Discovery to buy more time to work on safety, but NASA in recent months has had some success making the point that "space is hard," and the space shuttle, even after 113 flights, is an experimental program.

much snipped


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