Congress stirs on shuttle

I noted last week that members of Congress had been quiet, at lease in public, about NASA’s decision to proceed with the STS-121 launch despite no-go recommendations from two key officials. Now, after Monday’s surprise reassignment of astronaut and JSC engineering director Charlie Camarda (which now appears to be associated with “management style” rather than a specific shuttle safety issue), some members of Congress are now raising the issue with the space agency, according to this morning’s Houston Chronicle:

Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, who sits on the House space subcommittee, sent a letter to Griffin on Tuesday requesting a meeting to discuss safety concerns related to Saturday’s planned flight.

The meeting is scheduled for this morning before Griffin travels to Cape Canaveral.

“It is my understanding that the decision to launch the Discovery was made notwithstanding the serious concerns of NASA engineers over potentially fatal design flaws of the external fuel tanks,” she wrote. “Space innovation need not be accompanied by unnecessary sacrifice or loss, nor unnecessary delay.”

The Chronicle article also reports that the staff of the House Science Committee “are talking with agency officials about the Camarda case”. However, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) gave a vote of confidence in NASA and administrator Mike Griffin, commending him for creating an atmosphere where “t is considered acceptable to, raise concerns and questions.”

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