Some experts say the current space shuttle fleet should have been retired more than a decade ago. We spoke with local NASA consultant Chuck Watson about NASA's decision to ground the fleet after a piece of foam insulation came off Discovery's external fuel tank during Tuesday's launch.
Watson hopes it'll be the last of its kind.
"We're talking about a 20-year-old piece of hardware," he said. "The design is 30 years old. We've learned a lot. We've learned a lot from shuttle. It's time to retire it."
After spending 2 1/2 years trying to fix the problem that destroyed the shuttle Columbia, killing its entire crew, Watson feels the shuttle is just a bad design, and fears it will continue to risk lives.
"Let's take five years to do this right, because if we keep taking chances like this, we're going to lose another crew," he said.
With a lack of funding and a lack of leadership to push for a new design, Watson says if this latest mission is successful, NASA is likely to postpone its retirement despite its age and its knack for losing pieces in flight.
"Unfortunately, what they'll probably do is keep trying to put a Band-Aid on it," he said.
But Watson says a bandage to patch up this archaic model is just not acceptable when a better-designed space vehicle could have been developed.
"We dodged a 600-mile-per-hour bullet," he said. "That piece of foam could have devastated the right wing had it hit, so I think we got lucky, but how long can you count on luck?"
The space shuttle Discovery is due back here on earth August 7. According to Watson, the crew should make a successful landing.
Reported by: Nicole Teigen, firstname.lastname@example.org