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Space Shuttle Program Needs Scrutiny

February 04, 2003

Cancel the space shuttle now. NASA claimed the shuttle would be as reliable as a commercial airliner. We now know the odds of catastrophic failure are 1 in 56.

NASA projected the cost of each shuttle launch to be $5 million in today's dollars. The actual cost has increased a hundred-fold to $500 million per launch.

When fully operational, NASA planned to schedule 52 shuttle launches a year. The current schedule is four per year. Yet NASA plans to continue operating the shuttle until 2020, when the craft will be 40 years old. Its technology is already 30 years out of date and cannot exploit major breakthroughs achieved since then in rocket motor design, electronics, materials science and computer technology.

The time has come to retire the shuttle and mothball the space station, which is already $21 billion over budget and still four years from completion. The huge savings could be used by a revamped NASA to develop a truly reliable and cost-effective manned space program.

Dan Emory

Newport Beach

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The Columbia perished after NASA caved in to politics and cost-cutting to move space shuttle work from California to Florida. I have to wonder what might have fallen through the cracks in such a move of technology and skills for one of the most complex, risky and unforgiving technical projects in history.

Frank Wortham

Lancaster

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Should the lives of seven astronauts and a billion-dollar-plus spacecraft have been put at risk to conduct experiments that the director of public information for the American Physical Society called "like junior high science projects" (Feb. 2)?

Howard Lockwood

Lake View Terrace

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It is a wonderful country we live in where, within a few hours of this major catastrophe, the people responsible for space flights went on world television and told us everything they know and don't know.

Contrast this with much of the rest of the world. In similar catastrophes it is days, weeks or months before they even begin to share what happened, then much of it in half-truths, and certainly never sharing their feelings.

The families of our brave astronauts can take some solace in the fact that what happened to them was instantly shared with the world, giving the world a window to see what really makes the U.S. a respected world leader.

Freeman Gosden Jr.

Los Angeles

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Before the countless pundits, "experts," vested interests and others preempt and co-opt the discussions, I would like to see three questions addressed: Will the investigating entities establish Web sites allowing anyone to make suggestions and render opinions, to utilize the collective wisdom of people outside of the investigating organizations?

If there were a suspicion of something amiss upon liftoff, why wasn't a visual inspection, either via spacewalk or mechanical-arm camera, conducted of the exterior? If there were no such visual capabilities in place, why weren't there? In times of trauma such as this, why isn't there broadcasting media time mandatorily set aside to counsel children?

Conrad G. Tuohey

Laguna Hills

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