Friday, July 07, 2006

Shuttle Issues

I know I'm going to sound grumpy again about the Shuttle. I watched the July 4th launch coverage live and have to admit that I cross more fingers now than I used to and only uncross some of them at SRB separation instead of all of them like I had in the past. Watching the ET cam is pretty cool, except that now you can see every small piece of foam fall off in real time that would have never been seen before. And of course, the news media focuses on each and every small bit of foam or minor tile damage that would not have been seen in the past until after landing. It's nice to have these new images, but the media in particular are clueless about the context of the new data. The shuttle, as far as foam shedding and tile damage is concerned is safer today than it ever has been. What I worry about now are all the things I worried about on STS-1 when Columbia went into orbit for the first time - we know now about the SRB O-rings and the foam shedding and tile damage (and both those issues have been addressed to the point that the problem is very much under control). What was obvious 25 years ago was how dangerous the main engines are and that was what I always had expected would take out the first orbiter. Hopefully with 17 more shuttle launches to go, we will have no further catastrophes and we can retire a remarkable but flawed vehicle and get on to the business of exploring our solar system.

For the latest on Discovery's current mission, check out this link.