STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins has reiterated that the risks they take as astronauts are worth it, while noting the US must hold on to its leadership in space exploration, as a new space race builds up steam.
Collins was speaking to an audience about their recent journey into orbit on Discovery at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Alabama.
The crew presented a 15 minute show of images taken during their 15 day mission to re-supply the International Space Station (ISS) and evaluate new processes in checking the Orbiter for damage from debris on ascent.
Problems with foam liberation from the External Tank (ET) put pay to NASA’s ambitions to use the mission as a launch pad for the rest of the flight manifest, problems which are currently being solved with the help of MSFC ahead of next May’s Return to Flight 3.
Foam loss from the ET during the ride uphill requires no explanation as to the risk it holds, with Collins commanding the first Shuttle mission since the loss of Columbia and her crew of seven during re-entry on STS-107.
It was a chunk of foam striking the left wing of Columbia that caused a breach which allowed super-hot gasses to tear up the vehicle just minutes from home.
Still, former fighter pilot Collins isn’t one to shy away from risk.
‘This mission was worth the risk. Was it 100 percent safe? No, I knew it wasn’t 100 percent safe,’ said Collins to WAFF 48 News. ‘But we had very high confidence that we would all come back safely because we’re all involved with the work that had to be done in the return to flight effort.’
The STS (Space Transportation System) program currently has 19 flights remaining on the NASA manifest before a 2010 retirement of the fleet, kicking off with Discovery once again – on STS-121.
NASA is then planning a two year hiatus in manned space flight missions before the next step in the history of the US space program and President Bush’s Vision of Space Exploration (VSE), as a return to the Moon by around 2018 is targeted – providing the US administration supports the VSE by way of funding.
Collins hopes that will be the case, as the Russians and Chinese continue to plan an assault on the US domination of travelling outside the orbit of Earth.
‘This is a do-able program,’ added Collins on the plans to return to the Moon. ‘Our country needs to do this.
‘We need to keep leadership in the world in space exploration.’