Good to see the Discovery shuttle landed without incident. It was a relief. Considering they require perfect weather conditions to touch down and only get one shot at it, NASA came perilously close to another expensive embarrassment.
For all the breathless news reports, I couldn’t find a single one explaining what the point of this mission was. It took a bit of Googling but, according to The Washington Post, they were doing laps of the planet to determine the worth of the extensive redesigns and changes made to enhance the shuttles’ safety. I see. Oh, they also delivered a gyroscope to (and picked up two-and-a-half years’ worth of rubbish from) the international space station.
Basically, they were seven astro-guinea pigs and should be applauded for their bravery, especially considering what unfolded. Once again debris created problems on lift-off, just as it did with the ill-fated Columbia. Exactly where this debris comes from every time, I don’t know. It’s not as if they’re launching from beneath a volcano, Thunderbirds-style.
Anyway, protruding gap filler later caused consternation and then a torn thermal blanket had them despairing.
It was turning into a very special episode of Backyard Blitz, only without the battlers and water feature. Armed with forceps and a modified hacksaw, astronaut Stephen Robinson went on a spacewalk to repair the shuttle’s underbelly. It all sounded laughably lo-tech.
As for the blanket, space.com reported that it was damaged during the launch by a piece of debris -“ possibly a paper cover for one of the orbiter’s thrusters -“ which punctured the material and allowed air to puff it up.
Given each shuttle flight reportedly costs about US$500 million, wouldn’t you think they’d come up with a better safety measure than a blanket? Is it some sort of super-pashmina? What’s the big deal if it puffs up?
As it turned out, they decided to leave it alone and all was fine. It made me wonder if they were concocting problems. Just as Jamie Durie builds the tension every week, racing against time to install his Tuscan fountain before the unsuspecting owner comes home, NASA had the world riveted by its DIY drama.
I’m just glad it’s over and everyone’s safe. It’d be a terrible way to die -“ being burnt to a crisp wearing a jumpsuit and big space-hair.