Question: The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on its 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on its 2003 return to Earth. The Challenger exploded shortly after launch in 1986. An Apollo I spacecraft imploded in lire on the launch pad in 1967. In each case, the lives of all crew members were lost. The hugely complex shuttle may look a bit like an airplane, but it is very different. In reality, its overall statistical reliability is such that about 1 out of every 50 flights will have a major malfunction In fact, there have been almost 130 shuttle flights to date.
NASA has cut safety inspections by more than 50% since 1989. Employees often face a cumbersome process for bringing safety issues to management. And the agency continues to face pressure to launch the shuttle on missions to the space station and elsewhere. Of course, as one aerospace manager has stated “you can be perfectly safe and never get off the ground.”
Given the huge reliability and maintenance issues NASA faces (e.g., seals cracking in cold weather, heat shielding tiles falling off), should astronauts be allowed to fly? (In earlier Atlas rockets, men were inserted not out of necessity but because test pilots and politicians thought they should be there.) What are the pros and cons of manned space exploration from an ethical perspective? Should the U.S. spend billions of dollars to return an astronaut to the moon?

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  • CreatedJuly 23, 2013
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