The latest Iowan to fly aboard a space shuttle says he’s confident NASA will conclusively fix problems with the orbiter before it flies again next year. Astronaut Jim Kelly says he was angry when he first learned a three-foot chunk of foam flew off the external fuel tank during Discovery’s July launch, narrowly missing the spacecraft. A similar foam problem doomed Columbia in 2003, killing the crew of seven. (Photo above shows Kelly)
Before -his- liftoff, Kelly says NASA assured everyone, it wouldn’t happen again and that the problem was fixed. Kelly says “For us to climb on board, we thought all of those problems were fixed. That was our approval of the whole process, strapping in for launch. I can tell you I was angry and disappointed at the time. Obviously for us, we were fortunate that it did not strike the vehicle.” One of the changes NASA made after the loss of Columbia was to enable astronauts with the training and the tools needed to make repairs to the orbiter in space. They also added a host of videocameras to the shuttle and its massive external fuel tank, which is covered in the troublesome insulating foam. He says multiple cameras were in place and the engineers know when the foam came off and from where so there’s much more information available about that piece and other things that happened with the external fuel tank that have never before been seen.
The Burlington native says critical design flaws have been clearly shown and he’s glad the shuttle will be retired in a few years, in favor of a better vehicle. Kelly hopes there are more spaceflights in his future and applauds the new push to return to the moon and to land people, not robots, on Mars.