As I write this article, there’s no way to know the fate of the seven crew members aboard NASA’s STS-114 space ship, commonly known as Discovery. Will they return alive? Or will their heat-shield clad capsule disintegrate in the atmosphere like their predecessor did, Columbia.

The crew is currently planned to return in one piece at 4:46am eastern time Monday morning at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Their mission, which NASA says was a success, was to restock the space station and test out heat-tile repair techniques while in space.

When and if Discovery returns in-tact and safely, the mood will be bittersweet. Shortly after the shuttle was launched, NASA announced it was grounding the shuttle fleet indefinitely.

Why? The space agency is concerned that it has not effectively stopped the problem of flying debris -- that can damage the shuttle during liftoff, which is believed to have caused the Colombia disaster.

That didn’t seem to be on the mind of the crew as they prepared to de-pressurize and leave the space station.

“We thank them for being such great hosts, said an upbeat Discovery astronaut in a goodbye-ceremony aboard the International Space Station. The crew was aboard the space station, being hosted by two native residents of the station, for the majority of its time in space. During their tenure in space, two members of Discovery’s crew performed three space walks, venturing outside of the controlled space station environment.

I put my money on seeing seven “alive bodies in worm out space suits return to earth this morning. I really do believe all will go well for the crew. But I fear for the shuttle program. It seems that although the program has done so much for humanity, it is a chapter that is destined to be ended forever. By 2009, the shuttle program will be retired.

Before then, I hope our government agency charged with space exploration will make us proud. I hope they will send many more of man, woman, and even dog, into space. I hope to see more experiments, more ground breaking research, and more highly funded projects take place.

We already know the earth is rapidly reaching carrying capacity; we need some room to grow!

I think the whole grounding is a kneejerk reaction to please the media and congress rather than having any real safety reasons.
It's almost certain that shuttles have always been hit by flying debris to some extent, and the damage was extremely minor (shuttles have made it back safely with large sections of their heatshield missing in the past, the little dents and scratches seen now are nothing in comparison).

That's not to say a replacement is way overdue of course. The initial plans when designing the shuttle system was for it to be replaced by the late 1980s.
Its intended replacement was almost ready to fly (awaiting the delivery of a final component and final assembly) when it was cancelled (X-33/VentureStar).
In fact, NASA and the US government under Clinton (mainly) seems to have done what it can to make sure the US human space program is killed off completely (note that the decision to kill VentureStar came just before Clinton left office, a final stab in the back of the pro-space people in the Republican party).

For a design that's almost 30 years old, the shuttle is performing remarkably well.
About the only thing where the shuttle didn't deliver as planned/hoped for was launch cost. This is still several orders of magnitude higher than it should be for a commercially viable system, far more than expected. In large part this is caused by the extremely long maintenance cycles needed between flights, making rapid turnaround (and thus high vehicle utilisation) impossible (the original estimates had called for a few weeks at most, the turnaround time is now nearly half a year).

The accident rate (2 accidents in over 100 launches) is low for space launchers (it's still too high of course, but it's better than the existing alternatives).


The shuttle was delayed another day. I also think it is doing remarkably well. I am also really ashamed that as Americans, who got to the moon in the late 60's, could not put together a mission within a year to return to the moon. We are looking at 40 years, folks.


First, I'd like to point out that the shuttle is called Discovery by everyone. STS-114 is just the name of this perticular mission.

I think you are being rather alarmist, as is the media in general. There is little question that the astronots will return safely. NASA has looked at the shuttle in unprecedented detail and determined it is safe to return. The shuttle has almost certainly survived with much greater damage than it now has, though we never knew about it, because NASA never looked.

It is bad news that foam fell off during launch, especially after a billion dollars was spent to try to prevent it, but there is now some evidence that the falling foam may have been the result of a repair that was made to the external fuel tank. If this is the case then it is unlikely that the problem is systemic. This should allow for a quick fix and a quick return to flight.

It seems to me that many people are looking for any excuse to the kill the shuttle program. It will be scrapped anyway in 2010 and they want to scrap it now. I think, though, that it is important that we hold on to the shuttle, so that the International Space Station can be completed, and so Hubble can be repaired (though that might already be a lost cause).

From what I hear the foam they used on this tank is a new version that was forced on NASA by new environmental regulations. This new foam is actually more brittle and more likely to fail than was the old stuff...

The contract with the external tank manufacturer responsible has I think already been cancelled pending an investigation.

Many are indeed trying to kill not just the shuttle but the entire manned space program.
Those people effectively want to condemn humankind to never leave the surface of the planet again, killing our species by strangulation and starvation.
Space is the only place we can go for resources and living space, let's not throw that away.

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