Scrap the clunker
The Space Shuttle Atlantis has had its return to earth delayed.
HOUSTON - Shuttle astronauts spotted three more pieces of debris floating in space outside Atlantis early Wednesday, but officials said it didn't seem their appearance would prevent a landing attempt Thursday.This comes from the same people who allowed the Columbia to return to earth. We all know what happened then.
The objects were sighted during stepped-up inspections a day after the discovery of two other mysterious objects forced a postponement of the planned Wednesday landing.
NASA downplayed the discovery of Wednesday's objects, saying the important question was whether an in-depth inspection of the shuttle showed no damage to Atlantis' heat shield. An initial examination had turned up nothing of concern, NASA officials said.
Every mission since that tragedy has seen increasing concerns about the shuttle's continued safety. These vehicles are 1970's technology that shouldn't be in use anymore. Every time they are put into the orbit, tbe brave astronauts on board are put into jeopardy. The risk is increasing with every launch.
Now brace yourselves. The Palm Beach Post agrees with me!
NASA designed the space shuttle to be the most sophisticated exploration vehicle of its time, but its time was nearly 30 years ago.Right now NASA looks like they will only quit when there are no more space shuttles left. Are more dead astronauts worth an international space station? Anyone remember Skylab? To TFM they aren't. How about you, what do you think?
Today, instead of unlocking the mysteries of space, the shuttle has become more famous for leaving mysterious debris and broken parts behind it. NASA had to delay today's planned landing of Atlantis after engineers spotted an object that may have accidentally flown out of the cargo bay. Three years ago, it was a flying piece of foam that struck the wing of Columbia and caused it to disintegrate, killing the seven astronauts aboard.
It is evidence of the shuttle's obsolescence that NASA still hasn't solved that problem. Foam still flies off the main fuel tank during launches. Engineers have more cameras to check for damage they cannot prevent. The line between calculated probability and luck appears more blurred than ever. With Atlantis, the once-sophisticated exploration vehicle is looking like a cartoon clunker that drops pieces of itself as it limps down the road. Americans expect excitement from their space program - but not this kind.
Once Atlantis returns, NASA needs to answer familiar questions about the shuttle's viability. The main purpose of the flight was to add solar wings to the International Space Station, and the agency says it will take another 14 missions to complete the $100 billion station. Given the continuing problems it cannot solve, NASA has to make a convincing case that all those flights are necessary before the shuttle is to be retired in 2010.
The engineers who designed the first shuttle thought they were building a vehicle that would last 10 years. The shuttle's longevity has exceeded all expectations, and now the worry is that NASA won't know to quit while it's ahead.
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