Cracks in foam are the least of NASA's problems...

Cracks have been found on the foam of the ET. All indications are that NASA plans to push ahead with a launch in spite of it.

The foam on the ET was an obvious design flaw. The design intent for it's existence has now been proven to be totally useless and is bound to be non-existent in future shuttle flights.

I think most engineers marvel at how NASA could turn a general design concept of the Shuttle External Tank, which is essentially a giant soda pop can for Rocket Fuel, into the engineering mess it is today taking 20 months to make and host to a plethora of foam and ECO sensor issues.

What's worse is that none of these issues are really new. The shuttle has always had foam. The shuttle has always had foam falling off the ET sometimes striking the shuttle. The shuttle has always lost tiles after every flight. NASA figured it was a minor concern. The risk was reasonable.

More than a hundred flights later and a catatrosphic failure occurs. A reasonable risk for sure.

And that's the ultimate paradox for NASA. On one end it seems as if NASA takes too few risks. Safety Nazies dressed as bearaucrats everywhere strangle it in tangle of regulations from politicians interested in nonsense that negatively constrains designs. But also after every failure NASA seems to get injected with a little risk-adverseness that impedes it's ability to innovate. At the same time, NASA can seem to be downright destructive when it comes to ignoring simple issues like tiles misteriously dissapearing from the shuttle hull every launch. It is the ultimate paradox of safety vs risk. Managing it is the key.

Burt Rutan solidly comes down on NASA on the risk side of things. NASA doesn't take enough risk we are told. Though looking at some of these issues myself, I can't say it's easy to see NASA being safety conscious enough when it comes to things such as the ECO sensors. They just implement a solution and hope that it worked only to find out later on at launch or on another flight that it didn't. That's not what I would call "good engineering."

Regardless, they are launching that puppy. And we are all forced to watch and pray.

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