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How to Fix a NASA Disaster

The United States will have to decide whether it can afford safe human space flight

5 min read

NASA is broken. That's the fundamental message of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's 248-page report, released on 26 August. ”The past decisions of national leaders--the White House, Congress, and NASA Headquarters--set the Columbia accident in motion,” states the report, which details how decisions in Washington, D.C., played as much a part in the loss of Columbia and her crew as the errant piece of foam that fatally damaged the spacecraft's left wing.

As for the foam, there can be no question that 81.7 seconds after launch, a chunk of foam designed to keep propellants in the shuttle's huge external tank at cryogenic temperatures broke free. With the shuttle still accelerating, the chunk crashed into the fragile leading edge of the left wing two-tenths of a second later, at some 877 km per hour. The resulting hole, approximately 25 cm across, remained undetected throughout the flight.

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Top Tech 2023: A Special Report

These two dozen technical projects should make significant advances in the coming year

2 min read
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
Edmon DeHaro

Each January, the editors of IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.

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