NASA Grounds Shuttle Fleet – Again
Once again, NASA has grounded its shuttle fleet because of its inability to ensure that an obsolete vehicle from the Reagan Administration can fly safely.
There will be no more shuttle launches until NASA engineers determine the effect of debris that fell from the shuttle Discovery during blastoff Tuesday, said Bill Parsons, space shuttle program manager. “We are treating it very seriously,” he told reporters. “Are we losing sleep over it? Not yet.” He added, “We will continue to do the evaluation.”
Discovery is due to return to Kennedy Space Center in Florida on August 7. The date of the next planned mission had not been set.
Earlier Wednesday NASA lead flight director Paul Hill said that, based on engineers’ “first-blush” analysis of falling debris, there was “no significant problem” with the orbiting shuttle. Hill spoke to reporters after astronauts, using a robotic arm equipped with a camera and laser, spent “one hell of a day” poring over every inch of Discovery, looking for surface damage.
Although the mission had been scheduled to search for damage, concern about the issue was heightened after videotape from an array of cameras trained on Discovery during Tuesday’s liftoff showed a piece of debris falling away from the underside of the orbiter.
The problem of things falling off the shuttle has been with the program since its maiden voyage. It begs the question, however, as why we continue to spend billions trying to salvage the concept of reusable, manned vehicles when most observers think single user, unmanned platforms are the most efficient way of handling most of the shuttle’s missions.