Four Fixes to a Safer Shuttle

These safety upgrades, and tons of cash, could get the space shuttle flying again.

Illustration by Jason Lee

The final report from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board is due this month, and NASA meanwhile is conducting its own review in preparation for a return to flight. Both are expected to point the finger at a chunk of foam insulation that struck the shuttle’s wing during launch. A series of impact tests done at the Southwest Research Institute showed that a piece of foam weighing about 1.7 pounds and moving at 779 feet per second could have dislodged or damaged one of the T-seals that separate the wing’s protective carbon panels, allowing super hot gases to seep inside the wing as Columbia reentered Earth’s atmosphere on February 1.