Despite Objections, NASA Decides to Launch the Space Shuttle on July First

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NASA has set 1 July as the target launch date for STS-121. The announcement was made from Kennedy Space Center this afternoon.

The decision was not unanimous, however. During the Flight Readiness Review the Safety Office and the Office of the Chief Engineer objected to flying this mission because of frost ramp issues but, according to Bill Gerstenmeier, they "understand" the decision to fly.

Mike Griffin said: "We are not in the situation we were with Columbia. We know we have a problem, we have elected to take the risk." Griffin said that he does not believe that there is a risk to crew safety on ascent and that if a foam shedding event occurs that it will not affect the ability for the shuttle to reach orbit. However, a foam strike could present cause damage to the shuttle's thermal protection system and pose a risk to returning the shuttle from space - as was the case with Columbia.

If there is damage Griffin feels that NASA has options available to deal with contingencies. Among the options available to NASA: using the space station as a "safe haven" for up to 82 days for the shuttle crew while a rescue shuttle is prepared and launched.

However, Griffin was rather clear about what would happen if there was a larger problem. "If we have another major incident with the launch of the shuttle I would not want to continue with the program." Griffin added later "If we lost another vehicle I will tell you right now that I would be moving to shut the program down. I am sorry if that sounds too blunt for some but that's where I am."


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