NASA has adopted further safety measures aiming to lower any risks to the general public during the launch and landing of the Space Shuttle – once space flight missions resume later this year.
Several changes will be made to the current safety measures – including the restriction of public access to the closest viewing sites at Kennedy Space Centre, in Florida. It has been estimated that NASA can now accomodate only 20,000 to 25,000 spectators on the sprawling Florida launch complex and out of those, there will be further restrictions to the number of spectators allowed near the three mile exclusion zone.
Also under review is the strong possibility of diverting landings where necessary to the more remote and less populous emergency runway at White Sands, New Mexico – a site that has only been used once previously for a Shuttle landing, by Columbia on STS-3 in 1982.
Such would be the case for a Shuttle with critical damage or an impaired flight control system, or if an Orbiter crew faced hazardous weather conditions in Florida. Although KSC will continue to serve as the Shuttle’s primary landing site with Edwards Air Force Base, California as its main back-up, the remote New Mexico site would pose the lowest public risk in an emergency for landing.
“Philosophically, what we are trying to do is ensure we do not add significantly to the overall risk the public already accepts in their daily lives,” remarks Bryan O’Connor, NASA’s Chief of Safety and Mission Assurance, in justifying such measures.
O’Connor and other officials who joined him were less certain of how such safety measures, once enforced, would likely affect spectators when gathering to witness the launches and how they would react.