Friday, August 19, 2005

Delays, delays....

NASA has announced that the next shuttle flight will not be until at least March 2006. While I can understand the reasons for putting off the next flight, I am also concerned that it reflects the timidness in our modern society. The no failure is acceptable attitude that pervades our country will keep us from greatness if left unchecked. Yes, the foam falling from the tank during STS-114 was not good, but at least we knew about it while that knowledge could actually do some good. The shuttle has some flaws, but if our plans for its retirement are to be carried out, it only has to fly about 15 or 20 more times, so a big expensive fix is just not a reasonable thing. With the extra launch imagery and the on orbit inspection and possibility of repair, we won't see another Columbia type accident. There are far more things to be worried about on the Shuttle - the SRBs have worked well since Challenger, but they are still quite dangerous. The main engines on the shuttle have worked nearly flawlessly, but are some of the most complex components on the shuttle and I cross my fingers for the 8 minutes they are burning on each flight. We've never had a return to launchsite abort and hopefully never well - I've heard that astronauts and mission contollers are uncertain that they would even work.

What we need is to get on with the shuttle program and go finish the ISS and retire the old shuttle fleet. We need to learn our lessons from the shuttle and factor those into the design and construction of its replacement and get on with human exploration of the solar system. It will be dangerous, but if we learn our lessons, we can make the best of it and go to the Moon and Mars much more safely than we might have without those lessons. Exploration is not for the timid and not for the foolhardy. There is a balance and we need to find that balance and get on with things. The Universe awaits us.


Blogger Chris said...

I agree with the false premise of no failure is acceptable. America has that mind set for all it's political endeavours. Especially during wartime. We need to be able to accept failure and grow from it. It's time for us to start taking leaps into the future of space travel, and stop taking baby steps...within reason, of course.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

I think we are on the same page, Chris. With reasonable precaution, we can minimize the risk while maximizing the return. It's time to take the future by the horns.

It's hard to imagine the current NASA doing what the 1960s NASA did in sending the first Apollo missions to the Moon. On the VERY FIRST manned launch of a Saturn V rocket, we sent Apollo 8 into orbit around the Moon! I doubt the current NASA would be able to do that.

1:24 PM  

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