By all accounts, NASA's long-awaited return to flight has not gone as smoothly as hoped. Shortly after Tuesday's launch of the space shuttle Discovery
--the first since the Columbia
shuttle's re-entry disaster in February of 2003--large chunks of insulation foam from the external fuel tank broke off and hit the wing. Discovery
appears to have emerged from the event without significant damage, but the same problem was responsible for the Columbia
accident. The incident comes as a blow to the agency, which has invested nearly a billion dollars and two and a half years of work to make the shuttles safer following the failure of Columbia.
In response, NASA has again grounded the shuttle fleet until engineers figure out how to avoid a repeat of the foam shedding. Meanwhile, Discovery
has docked successfully with the International Space Station, to which the crew is delivering some 15 tons of supplies.
Exactly what impact the debris issue will have on the future of the shuttle program remains to be seen. In hopes that Scientific American's past coverage relating to this topic will give readers some context for this developing story, we have compiled a list of stories below.
Free preview. Full coverage available from Scientific American Digital
Feeling the Pinch
Lost in Space
A Bad Fix for Hubble?
Readying for a Relaunch
Fly Me to the Moon
SA Perspectives: Breaking Out of Orbit
SA Perspectives: Houston, You Have a Problem
Rethinking the Shuttle
The Cold Odds against Columbia
Space Shuttle Investigation Continues
Lost in Space
Has the Space Age Stalled?