I suppose the only thing stupider than preparing for the last
disaster is to assume the last disaster was a fluke and live through a reoccurrence.
Still, there’s a strong sense of locking the door after the barn has burned
down when it comes to NASA’s obsession with foam popping off the fuel tanks
when the space shuttles launch.
Granted, the stakes have never been higher. With just six
missions remaining before the program ends, there will be no more chances to
review, recover and fly again if there’s another accident. More than anything,
the agency would like to retire the shuttle fleet with no more fatalities.
So, discussions about foam rule the day. NASA lives in the
shadow of the mistakes it made with Columbia, which was done in by a 2.2-pound
chunk of insulating foam that fell off its fuel tank during launch and hit the
ship’s wing, breaching the heat shield. The shuttle broke apart as it flew through the atmosphere for
landing, 16 days later, killing the crew.
Several tank redesigns later, and still the topic de jour during
this week’s review for shuttle Discovery’s launch Tuesday involved foam. The
size of the pieces under discussion ...