NASA plans for July 1 shuttle launch despite warnings
A large piece of flying foam from where the external tank connects to the shuttle, not the ice-frost ramps, struck a wing of Columbia during its launch in 2003, allowing fiery gases to enter the shuttle and kill the seven-member crew during descent. Griffin said the decision to fly poses no risk to Discovery’s seven astronauts because NASA has devised new inspection and repair techniques to the shuttle, and as a last resort the astronauts could stay at the International Space Station until a rescue shuttle arrives.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA managers on Saturday picked July 1 to launch the first space shuttle in almost a year, despite recommendations against a liftoff attempt by the space agency’s chief engineer and safety offices. The decision to launch Discovery on a trip to the International Space Station was made after two days of closed meetings by NASA’s top managers and engineers at the Kennedy Space Center. The flight would be only the second shuttle mission since the Columbia disaster in 2003. During a poll of top managers, representatives from NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and the Office of the Chief Engineer recommended against flying until further design changes are made to the external fuel tank. Despite their recommendations, the dissenting managers ultimately didn’t object to making a launch attempt, NASA officials said. The final decision to fly was made by NASA administrator Michael Griffin, who said he would shut down the space shuttle program if there was another vehicle lost like space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORE11 theater productions to see in Southern California this week, Dec. 27-Jan. 2“We enunciated a careful rationale for flying … that I believe mitigated the concerns expressed by the Office of Safety and Mission Assurance and the Office of the Chief Engineer, and in fact, they agreed with that,” Griffin said. That rationale was that the astronauts have inspection and repair methods to fix the shuttle and a safe haven at the space station, the tank will be redesigned in the future and a delay may create pressure on schedules in three or four years, Griffin said. The most contentious debate focused on whether the shuttle’s external tank should undergo further changes in 34 areas called ice-frost ramps, wedge-shaped brackets that run up and down the tank holding in place pressurization lines. About 35 pounds of foam already have been removed from an area of the tank where a 1-pound piece fell off during last July’s launch of Discovery. NASA described it as the biggest aerodynamic change ever made to the shuttle’s launch system. Representatives from NASA’s safety and chief engineer offices said at the meeting that the shuttle shouldn’t fly until the ice-frost ramps are redesigned.