Ed Driscoll

"Has Environmentalism Doomed The Shuttle Program?"

That’s a question that Investor’s Business Daily asks in its “Issues & Insights” column:

After 2 1/2 years and $1.4 billion spent to make the space shuttle safer, the same problem that doomed Columbia now plagues Discovery. Has environmentalism doomed the shuttle program?

After the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry in 2003, a scathing report by the Columbia Accident Investigating Board noted the contributions NASA’s “organization and culture” made to the shuttle disaster.

But the root cause for both the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia due to thermal tiles damaged by chunks of insulating foam falling off the large external fuel tank, the earlier loss of Challenger, and the repetition of the foam problem with Discovery, may be the decision imposed on NASA to use parts and materials that were more environmentally friendly.

In 1997, during the 87th space shuttle mission, similar tile damage occurred during launch. NASA’s Greg Katnik stated in his December 1997 review of the problems of STS-87: “During the STS-87 mission, there was a change made on the external tank. Because of NASA’s goal to use environmentally friendly products, a new method of ‘foaming’ the external tank had been used for this mission and the STS-86 mission.”

NASA was just responding to pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency to stop using Freon, a fluorocarbon that greenies claim damages the ozone layer, in the manufacture of its thermal-insulating foam. But the politically correct foam was known to be less sticky and more brittle under extreme temperatures.

Hannes Hacker, an aerospace engineer and former flight controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, states: “The risk of a piece of debris falling off and causing significant damage to the shuttle’s thermal protection system was 10 times greater with the new material than the old material.”

Indeed, NASA found in 1997 after the first launch with the politically correct substitute that the Freon-free foam had destroyed nearly 11 times as many of the shuttle’s ceramic tiles as had the foam containing Freon.

Similarly, the explosion of the Challenger after hot gasses burned through an O-ring joint on one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters came after NASA was encouraged to use a new type of putty to protect the O-rings