Friday, October 31, 2003

Report backs night re-entry: "NASA could reduce the chance of killing or injuring people on the ground in a Columbia-like disaster if the agency landed shuttles in the middle of the night, an analysis released Tuesday concluded. What's more, the analysis said NASA should perform a detailed study of the risks that debris from a disintegrating spaceship might pose to general aviation and commercial aircraft when shuttles are re-entering Earth's atmosphere.

"And in a finding that mirrors those of a Florida Today analysis published on May 11, the study also said the chance of casualties on the ground would have increased significantly had Columbia broken up less than a minute earlier on Feb. 1. More than 40 tons of wreckage then would have fallen on the southern suburbs of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the newspaper found, exposing three times as many people—and three times the number of homes—to shuttle debris. …

"The newspaper's examination also revealed that in 22 years of shuttle flights before the Columbia disaster, NASA—which is responsible for ensuring public safety during shuttle re-entries—never studied where wreckage would fall in such a catastrophe. NASA now is conducting its first-ever shuttle re-entry risk assessment. The idea is to evaluate the relative risk to all people and property under every possible flight path into its three primary landing sites—Kennedy Space Center, Edwards Air Force Base in California and White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico."

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