Monday, May 16, 2011

Lest We Forget

The Space Transportation System is a very, very dangerous piece of hardware...

STS 51 L Challenger 1986

As the STS program approaches its last few flights the media and the science blogosphere is busy extolling all the fine times and neat discoveries made possible by the space shuttle.  All the reverie and poetical waxing pays short shrift to the system's shortcomings.  It compromised crew safety from the conceptual stage of the program, arguably in exchange for features the program never delivered.  It has experienced catastrophic failure and killed its crews twice in 133 missions.  Yes, the shuttle blows up once every 66 missions, so far.  I certainly hope Endeavor's final mission and STS-135 Atlantis do not change these unhappy numbers, but "it ain't over 'til it's over."

STS 107 Columbia 2003

Until all the shuttles are safely grounded let's keep our "fingers crossed."  Two more landings and one more launch and our astronauts can return to using a space vehicle that provides a proper launch escape system and (hopefully) a reentry vehicle that can't be killed by a chunk of foam insulation hitting it.

UPDATED: Here's a nice blog post by a writer who is not getting all weepy about the end of the Shuttle program.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I must have missed the memo.  I jumped the gun on dissing the shuttle.  Apparently the mainstream media and the blogosphere were waiting until the run up to the final flight of Atlantis to trot out the deadly shortcomings and massive cost overruns of the STS.

Godspeed, Atlantis!  May you bring your last crew safely home.

FINAL UPDATE: Atlantis returned without obvious incident, leaving the STS with a record of not killing it crew 133 our of 135 missions.  PZ Myers linked to this excellent summary of the many shortcomings of the STS written by Amos Zeeberg, Online Managing Editor at Discover magazine.  PeeZed's pharyngulates have reminded me there were other skeptical voices along the way.