NASA decides to launch shuttle despite concern over wing damage

by Dan Billow

NASA mission managers have overruled a safety group's call for further studies on cracks on Space Shuttle Discovery's wings and are finalizing the schedule for next week's planned launch.

The countdown starts this weekend even though there are still doubts about the condition of the shuttle.
Some safety engineers at NASA believe Discovery should not launch next week because of damage to its wings, specifically the panels on the edge of the wings that were involved in the Columbia disaster.

The tiny imperfections in the wings now are almost too small to see with the naked eye, unlike the big hole, more than a foot wide, blasted into Columbia's wing.

Mission managers believe the risk of a fatal failure is very small, and so they gave the go.

"The flight readiness review board decided that we were in acceptable risk posture to go fly," Wayne Hale of NASA said. "Which is not to say that we completely and perfectly understand the problem that's been laid out, we're going to continue to work very hard on it and as the data comes in we will continually re-evaluate our position as we go from flight to flight, and if the risk grows to an unacceptable level, we will take action."

So, is it safe to fly Discovery?

The forthright answer from Hale is no.

"I didn't say it was safe, and I wouldn't say it was safe," Hale said.

Discovery is scheduled to launch on Tues. Oct. 23 at 11:38 a.m.