Space Shuttle Discovery sits on the pad awaiting another leak (actually 2) to be repaired. this time in the pressurization system on the right maneuvering system. About two weeks ago they were fixing a fuel leak. Maybe this is routine as shuttle launches go, or maybe it is showing that time and space are beginning to take their toll.
(Shuttle Image courtesy Larry Tanner, United Space Alliance. Click for larger image.)
I fear that we are pushing our luck with each launch of these complex machines. Although well maintained and serviced, they are still operating with equipment and systems that are beyond their specified operating lifetimes. From an engineering perspective, that’s not a good thing to be doing. It angers me that we, as a country, have not had the foresight and energy to build a successor to the shuttle fleet such that we could retire these work-horses and continue exploring space and servicing the International Space Station (ISS) without interruption. We dropped the ball as far back as the 1970’s when the last Apollo missions were canceled.
At this point there are no quick answers. Commercial space flight may come about in the near future, but that is highly dependent on how successful the initial flights are, and if these companies can make money off the venture. I’m not very comfortable being tied into using another country to get to the ISS, but for now that is all we’ve got.
For today, I hope Discovery has a flawless mission and returns safely to Earth with her crew. The time has come for her to return to Mother Earth and reach no longer for the stars.
Till next time –