I guess it pays to be careful. They seem to be running out of spacecraft...
What a difference it would have made if they had simply used the already-proven first stage booster rocket from the Saturn V. It's a rocket that you can actually turn-off, unlike the giant fireworks rockets they use today. Furthermore, the first-stage was equipped with a simple guidance system that would allow it to reliably "hit the ocean" if a crew had to do something else that is currently impossible... namely, to eject the darned thing and fly back to a controlled (albeit dead-stick) landing at the Cape.
This would also have enabled the shuttle's engines to be conserved for maneuvering purposes (the first-stage has more than enough power to lift the shuttle on its own), and it would have eliminated the weak-point in the heat shield that is caused by the need to run fuel-lines through it from the external tank.
Both of the disasters were directly linked to the choice of solid-fuel boosters and an external, unshielded tank. Maybe what NASA should really do is to belatedly re-engineer what was (known to be) a fundamentally flawed design from the start. A sophisticated shuttle really deserves a proper launch-system, which it has never had.
Last edited by sundialsvcs; 07-13-2005 at 04:36 PM.