By MIKE SCHNEIDER
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. Jun 27, 2006 (AP)"” Space shuttle Discovery's crew of seven arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday for this weekend's launch, a day after a top NASA engineer who praised his colleagues for voicing doubts about the wisdom of going ahead with the flight was removed from his job.
Charlie Camarda said in an e-mail to colleagues Monday that he was forced out as chief of the engineering directorate at the Johnson Space Center and that he had been offered another position working for NASA's Engineering and Safety Center.
He did not offer a specific reason in the e-mail for his removal. But in a statement issued through NASA public affairs officials late Tuesday, Camarda said he was reassigned because he didn't "see eye to eye" with the management style of Mike Coats, the director of the Johnson Space Center.
Discovery is scheduled to lift off on Saturday. At a high-level flight-readiness meeting this month, NASA's top safety and engineering officers recommended against a launch until further design changes are made to the external fuel tank to prevent foam from breaking off and hitting the shuttle the very problem that doomed Columbia in 2003.
But the two officials were overruled by NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, who said there was no risk to the crew members since they could use the international space station as a safe haven if Discovery were damaged by foam during liftoff.
The Discovery mission would be just the second shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster, which killed seven astronauts. Camarda is a former astronaut who flew to the international space station aboard Discovery last year during the first flight after the Columbia accident.
In the e-mail, Camarda praised his colleagues for voicing their opposition to launching Discovery without further changes. In the statement issued late Tuesday, however, Camarda said that he supported the engineering position that came out of the meeting to fly and that he had been assured he would be part of the mission management team.
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"I cannot be a party to rumor, innuendo, gossip and/or manipulation to make or break someone's career and/or good name," Camarda said in the e-mail. "I refused to abandon my position on the (mission management team), and asked that if I would not be allowed to work this mission that I would have to be fired from my position and I was."
The e-mail was first reported by Florida Today, the Houston Chronicle and the Web site collectSPACE.
NASA spokesman James Hartsfield said he could not comment on Camarda's departure but added that open communication on safety was encouraged during the flight-readiness meeting.
Camarda's replacement was Steve Altemus, former deputy director of the engineering directorate, which provides engineering design, development and testing for space flight programs in Houston.
Discovery's seven-member crew, led by Steve Lindsey, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center in five T-38 training jets Tuesday morning. Lindsey said he was optimistic the shuttle would get off the ground as scheduled on Saturday.
"We've been training for an awfully long time," he said. "We're as prepared as we're ever going to be."
On the Net:
NASA at http://www.nasa.gov
Astronaut ready for rescue mission if foam strikes shuttle again
Email Print Normal font Large font Richard Macey
July 1, 2006
THE NASA astronaut Brent Jett is ready to command a mission he hopes he will never fly.
A veteran of three orbital trips, Jett will be left on the ground early tomorrow, Sydney time, when the shuttle Discovery blasts off carrying five men and two women on a 12-day flight.
But Jett will be ready to ride to their rescue if something goes seriously wrong.
Tomorrow's launch, which may be delayed by bad weather, will be only the second since Columbia broke apart as it returned to Earth in 2003, killing its seven crew.
Columbia was destroyed by a one-kilogram lump of insulation foam that broke off the shuttle's fuel tank soon after launch, punching a hole in the spacecraft's left wing. Its crew circled the world for 16 days, unaware they were doomed.
During the two years the program was grounded NASA decided future shuttles should fly without the piece that killed Columbia's crew, foam that covered where the orbiter is bolted to the fuel tank.
But when launches resumed last July yet another foam chunk broke off, narrowly missing Discovery. The Australia-born astronaut Andy Thomas vented his disappointment, declaring from orbit that he was "very, very, troubled ... such a thing could happen" again.
The program was grounded for another year. Again the solution was to remove the part, this time long foam strips that protect external plumbing and wiring from being buffeted as the craft streaks skywards.
But when NASA officials met last month to sign documents approving tomorrow's launch, NASA's safety chief, Bryan O'Connor, who is a former astronaut, and its chief engineer, Christopher Scolese, both scratched out the pre-typed words "I concur with proceeding with this mission" and inked in notes saying "I am no go based on the loss of vehicle risk".
Their worry centred on still other foam parts called called "ice frost ramps". Each shuttle fuel tank has 36, covering clamps that hold plumbing in place.
Foam from ramps has fallen off many previous shuttle launches, resulting in them being declared "probable/catastrophic," meaning that they could destroy a shuttle if not fixed.
But O'Connor and Scolese said they would not appeal the decision to launch tomorrow because, even if Discovery is so badly damaged it can not return to Earth, NASA has a plan to save the astronauts.
Under the plan, Discovery's crew would press on to their destination, the International Space Station, and use it as a safe haven, camping alongside one American and one Russian already there. All Discovery's air, food and water would be transferred to the station.
"Once the shuttle consumables are depleted," NASA said, "the unmanned shuttle would be remotely commanded to undock by Mission Control in Houston and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere."
As early as next month Jett and three other astronauts would blast off in another shuttle, Atlantis, to bring Discovery's stranded crew home.
But the daring rescue would involve risks, including the same chance of falling foam.
While NASA insists that it is not under pressure to push its launch schedule, it is committed to mothballing the shuttles in 2010. With 16 or 17 more flights needed to complete the space station, time is running out.
Every flight is a risk, argues the shuttle manager, Wayne Hale. He was recently quoted by CBS as saying: "We gamble the program every time we launch the vehicle in a thousand ways ... we take a calculated risk."
Discovery will deliver 12 tonnes of supplies to the space station, plus a third station crew member, the German Thomas Reiter. The crew will also make spacewalks to practise repairing the shuttle in orbit.
See, what bothers me about this is, it seems to lack common sense. Lets say Discovery goes up and they find that the heat shield is damaged beyond repair, so they put the STS-121 crew into the International Space Station and then scramble Atlantis to fly STS-300 (The rescue mission) What the heck happens is Atlantis goes up and it's heat shield gets damaged too? Now you've got two crews, plus the ISS Astronauts stuck in space and NO plan C.
"Those Who Don't Learn From The Past Are Doomed To Repeat It."
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