Spaceflight is among the most demanding of all human endeavors. It is intolerant of mistakes and errors. In order for a rocket to get into low Earth orbit, in slightly more than 500 seconds, it must go from a standing stop… bolted to a launch pad on the ground… to 17,500 mph (25 times the speed of sound), over 100 miles high. Acceleration like this requires the controlled release of huge amounts of energy… rates of energy release that would make a top fuel dragster look like a kiddie car!
And that’s where the danger and the challenges lie. Even the tiniest of mistakes can have huge consequences: a slightly contaminated bonding surface; a barely visible part misalignment; even the smallest “off-ratio” mixture of a two-part material can directly lead to catastrophic consequences.
There has seldom been a time of greater uncertainty in NASA’s history: Will shuttle really end as planned? Will the next launch vehicle really be canceled? What does the future hold for human spaceflight ? All great questions… but all are huge sources of distraction.
In these turbulent times, we’ve ALL got to stay completely focused on our assigned tasks and not lose our concentration. Now, perhaps more than ever, we’ve ALL got to keep our eyes on the ball!
Our astronauts and our nation expect nothing less.
NASA External Tank Project Manager
Marshall Space Flight Center