In a press conference held on Saturday June 17 at 11:30 PDT, NASA announced they plan to launch the Space Shuttle Discovery (flight STS 121) on July 1 at 3:43 p.m. Eastern time.
In the last launch, foam was seen falling from the Shuttle’s external fuel tank, and it was a fall like this that caused the loss of Columbia. This then held up the program for some time while the situation was evaluated. While some flight engineers appear to think there is still a problem with foam falling – and have even recommended “no go”, meaning they shouldn’t launch – they don’t think the problem is bad enough that the crew is at risk.
My opinion– this was weird. The NASA officials stressed, multiple times, that all engineers were allowed to speak freely, and some said they should not launch. However, they also said that the engineers understand the decision to launch. Even though this was said many times during the press conference, it never made sense to me. How can they recommend not to fly, but then agree to fly? Mike Griffin, NASA Administrator, tried to clear this up– he said that some engineers would have preferred to wait, while others felt it was okay to launch. Griffin knew that a decision needed to be made, and weighing the opinions of everyone, chose to launch. The chief engineers felt that this decision is fine, even if there are some specific concerns.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. It sounds strikingly similar to what happened shortly before the loss of Challenger in 1986. However, Griffin stressed over and over that the risks were minimal.
I am not an expert in this field, so I will leave the analysis of all this to others, and will link to them as they come online (like NASAWatch). For now, I just wanted readers to know NASA will be launching the Shuttle again soon.