Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Last Shuttle Flight?

I was personally relieved to hear that the space shuttle Discovery had made a safe landing after returning from the Space Shuttle Program's first post-Columbia mission.

Further shuttle flights are on still on hold because NASA's people still need to solve the problem of debris coming off the external fuel tank. I very much wonder how long it well be before the space agency's decision-makers come to the conclusion that some other scientists have done: that the shuttle design itself is flawed and that a new vehicle is needed.

The Space Shuttles, today, remind me of the Canadian Navy's Sea Kings. In their heyday they had reputations as reliable workhorses, but as they got older, their weaknesses developed to the point of diminishing returns. You could probably still use them in an emergency, but right now you wouldn't want to rely on them. And arrogance coupled with bureaucratic inertia is delaying their replacement.

The Shuttles' grounding means there's a race of sorts on, between solving the fuel tank debris problem and bringing the next generation of spacecraft online. For NASA's sake, I hope the latter wins. The flight of Discovery would be an appropriate high note for the Shuttle program to bow out on.