Widespread Environmental Damage seen from Shuttle
- Widespread Environmental Damage seen from Shuttle
HOUSTON - Commander Eileen Collins said astronauts on shuttle
Discovery had seen widespread environmental destruction on Earth and
warned on Thursday that greater care was needed to protect natural
Her comments came as NASA pondered whether to send astronauts out on
an extra spacewalk to repair additional heat-protection damage on the
first shuttle mission since the 2003 Columbia disaster.
Discovery is linked with the International Space Station and orbiting
220 miles (352 km) above the Earth.
"Sometimes you can see how there is erosion, and you can see how there
is deforestation. It's very widespread in some parts of the world,"
Collins said in a conversation from space with Japanese officials in
Tokyo, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
"We would like to see, from the astronauts' point of view, people take
good care of the Earth and replace the resources that have been used,"
said Collins, who was standing with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi
in front of a Japanese flag and holding a colorful fan.
Collins, flying her fourth shuttle mission, said the view from space
made clear that Earth's atmosphere must be protected, too.
"The atmosphere almost looks like an eggshell on an egg, it's so very
thin," she said. "We know that we don't have much air, we need to
protect what we have."
While Collins and Noguchi chatted, NASA officials were deciding
whether a torn insulation blanket protecting part of the shuttle
surface could rip off and strike a damaging blow to Discovery when it
re-enters the atmosphere.
They said it could require another spacewalk to fix, which would take
place on Saturday if needed. A decision was expected on Thursday
Noguchi and astronaut Steve Robinson already have done three
spacewalks, including a landmark walk on Wednesday to remove loose
cloth strips protruding from Discovery's belly. NASA feared the strips
could cause dangerous heat damage when the shuttle lands on Monday.
The combined crew of Discovery and the space station, nine in all,
paid tribute on Thursday to the Columbia crew and other astronauts who
have died in space accidents. They took turns speaking while
television shots from the shuttle showed it passing over a sunlit
Earth, then into night.
"Tragically, two years ago, we came to realize we had let our God
down. We became lost in our hubris and learned once more the terrible
price that must be paid for our failures," said mission specialist
Charles Camarda. "In that accident, we not only lost seven colleagues,
we lost seven friends."
Columbia broke apart before landing on Feb. 1, 2003, and the seven
astronauts on board died.
Loose insulation foam from the fuel tank struck the wing heat shield
at launch 16 days before, causing a hole that allowed superheated
gases to penetrate and destroy the shuttle when it descended into the
NASA spent 2 1/2 years and $1 billion on safety upgrades after
Columbia, but videos showed loose tank foam at Discovery's launch last
week. The agency suspended shuttle flights until the foam problem is
A report in The New York Times suggested NASA was not as careful as it
could have been about the foam issue.
The Times said an internal NASA memo, written in December by a retired
NASA engineer brought back to monitor the quality of the foam
operation, complained that deficiencies remained in the way foam was
being applied to the fuel tank and warned "there will continue to be a
threat of critical debris generation."
A spokesman at Johnson Space Center in Houston told Reuters he had not
yet seen the Times report and could not comment.
Story by Jeff Franks
Story Date: 5/8/2005