Status Report

Comments by NASA Watch Editor Keith Cowing Appearing on CNN’s STS-121 Launch Coverage

By SpaceRef Editor
July 4, 2006
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Comments by NASA Watch Editor Keith Cowing Appearing on CNN’s STS-121 Launch Coverage

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you, Miles.

I want you to stand by, because we’re going to be talking with a guest shortly. Weather has been a problem. Falling foam, too. But NASA says all looks fine and Discovery is set to launch just minutes from now.

You see the countdown clock there, 28 minutes. It will be only the second shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster. A mission some see as critical to NASA’s future.

Keith Cowing is editor of, and he’s watching from Washington.

We appreciate you being with us today.


NGUYEN: Let’s talk about this issue of falling foam. And be real honest with us. I know that people have made a big deal about it, especially after Columbia, for good reason. Is NASA making a mistake by launching today?

COWING: I don’t think they are. As you heard from administrator Griffin and other folks, they are extra attentive to this issue. They went and looked at this crack from a dozen different angles, and they really thought about it and checked it through. And I think they know as much as they know, and that’s the only thing you can base these decisions on.

So I don’t think there’s a problem here with this decision.

NGUYEN: All right. So then let me ask you this: how critical is this mission to NASA’s future?

COWING: Every shuttle mission from now on is critical. This could be the last — every shuttle mission could be the last one.

Right now, NASA has a commitment to finish the International Space Station. The only way to do that is with a space shuttle, given that the space station was designed the way it was. And the sooner that they get the shuttle operational again, the sooner they could finish the space station.

Other than that, the issue is with the shuttle. It is not aging gracefully. It’s going to be retired. And there’s an additional pressure to get it retired so that they can replace it with the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

So there’s a lot of stresses operating here.

NGUYEN: Yes, there are. And you talk about the importance of this mission, but at the same time, Miles asked this question a little bit earlier, talking about launch fever. Is NASA under the gun? Is it really under a lot of pressure to get this shuttle in the air?

Because I have to bring this up. There were two top NASA officials who originally advised against it over the weekend, and reports of a third official who was fired because of speaking out against having this shuttle that we see, 27 minutes away from launch, take off.

COWING: Well, the issue here is not so much the technical decision, it’s just NASA’s inability to be very clear in explaining what it is they decided. In the original Flight Readiness Review decisions they said, well, we’re “no go” because something can happen to the vehicle, but we’re OK with the mission.

Now, that sounds a little oxymoronic…


COWING: … until you say, well, what did you mean by that? And by the time — they wouldn’t let these guys talk to the media, and then they did. And by the time the finally explained that what they really were saying is, I have a form here, and I have to say, check a box off, my job is to say that I would recommend not going because of damage to the vehicle. But, since there is a place for the astronauts to go in case there is a problem with the orbiter, it’s not a risk to the crew, so, I’m OK.

Now, maybe…

NGUYEN: I’m still confused.

COWING: Yes, well, it does take some parsing here, but, you know, that’s the problem, is that it’s really straightforward, that these guys were objecting based on damage to the vehicle, but not danger to the crew. But by the time it got out, it was so messed up. NASA just can’t seem to talk straight sometimes.

NGUYEN: All right. Well, we’ll be watching. Like I said, 25 minutes away from launch.

We want you to stand by, Keith, and be with us during that launch time.

HARRIS: Well, great. All right.

NGUYEN: And we’ll be checking in with you.

Keith Cowing, NASA Watch — the editor and chief of

Thanks for being with us and stand by, please.

SpaceRef staff editor.