Careful with those clippers

A couple of thoughts on the emergency repair of the shuttle tile fillers that will take place soon.

This kind of unrehearsed response to a potential calamity is precisely the kind of thing we need to be comfortable with if we are ever going to leave Earth orbit again or go to Mars. So, on the one hand, I feel that there is a bit of overreaction from NASA at play here — that filler fabric has come undone thousands of times before and it was not the result of any impact at launch. But this could also be a sign of a new risk-tolerant NASA, the “old” NASA so to say. Not a NASA that accepts risk cavalierly but one that has confidence that a task that has not been dissected from every angle and rehearsed for months might still be worth the effort. Jim Lovell (of Apollo 8 and 13 fame) has suggested that one of the problems with NASA post-Challenger has been a reluctance to embrace the unknown, to push boundaries where the risk seemed worthwhile. Certainly NASA has attempted first-of-a-kinds since Challenger, but this statement rings true. Conducting this ad hoc repair is a good thing for NASA’s confidence, even if not 100% necessary.

Good luck, Stephen Robinson!