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Space shuttle… June 11, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Reading Aloft by William Langewiesche there was an excellent if depressing account of the loss of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. The inability within key parts of NASA to envisage that a problem could exist in relation to foam insulation from the external tank breaking off during launch and damaging the tiles on the wing of the orbiter so severely that it could destroy the shuttle on re-entry and furthermore the inability to even consider examining the shuttle while still in orbit meant that no steps were taken to see had damage occurred.

But what if it had, what if NASA had been appraised of the situation. What could have been done?

Here’s an overview of a possible rescue operation. What comes across most clearly is just how risky that would have been. It could have worked but it might also have led to the loss of a second orbiter. In a way it was a perfect summation of the sheer degree of risk in human spaceflight. That’s not a reason to stop such missions, but perhaps it means there should be a clearer understanding of the risks involved.

The return to upgraded Apollo era technologies is telling. Going back to go forward. But additional safety and rescue features are being built into capsules – and the simple fact that they sit at the top of the rocket stack is in and of itself a further protection in the event of a catastrophic malfunction.

I’m more and more convinced that the Shuttle was too soon, far too soon. Its one shining moment was the delivery of the Hubble space telescope, though that could have been lofted into orbit by other delivery systems. Simply put it locked all human space activity into low earth orbit with all that that entailed. That may not change substantially, it’s not difficult to envisage a situation where human presence in space becomes conspicuous by its absence, particularly once the ISS departs the scene (though the PRC is making great efforts to expand its presence there).

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