Thursday, May 22, 2003

Official Would've OKd Shuttle Rescue

May 22, 2003
Los Angeles Times, The Nation

Official Would've OKd Shuttle Rescue

- NASA's human spaceflight chief says he would have backed the mission if the extent of Columbia's damage had been known.

By Ralph Vartabedian, Times Staff Writer

The chief for human spaceflight at NASA said Wednesday he would have approved the launch of another space shuttle to rescue the crew of Columbia if he had known the extent of its damage and that the crew was doomed.

A high-stakes effort to rescue the seven astronauts would have involved risks never encountered in the 40-year history of human spaceflight, according to astronauts, space engineers and an internal study that NASA is conducting.

Although the issue may seem academic, it is central to NASA's future because such a rescue mission is likely to be a key safety option once shuttle flights resume. William F. Readdy, NASA associate administrator for spaceflight, said the agency believes these rescue missions are possible. Readdy's statement also is a powerful acknowledgment that the agency had erred in thinking that nothing could have or should have been done to save Columbia, even if the agency knew the orbiter had catastrophic damage.

NASA was already preparing another space shuttle, Atlantis, at Kennedy Space Center and could have rushed it to the launchpad if the agency was willing to discard the usual procedures and regulations, according to a senior engineer at the launch site.

The Atlantis orbiter was mated to its external tank and solid rocket boosters by late January, a process that could have been accelerated if NASA officials had recognized the gravity of Columbia's problems in the days after the Jan. 16 launch, said the engineer, who asked not to be identified by name. Indeed, by Jan. 18, NASA had convened a team to assess whether Columbia's left wing had been damaged by foam debris, and a quick decision could have allowed for a launch of Atlantis by the second week of February, he said

Most curious...I will come back later and dive into this.



Post a Comment

<< Home