The front pages of today’s New York Times and Washington Post sport large color photos of Discovery’s launch, each of which accompanies an article heralding NASA’s return to the space shuttle business. Prominent in both these stories is not only the mention of Discovery’s ill-fated predecessor, Columbia, but an admission that two pieces of "debris" came off the shuttle during its flight.
One could be cynical and attribute NASA’s candor to necessity; after the Columbia disaster subjected the agency to painful outside scrutiny and intense self-examination, it had no choice but to re-examine the shuttle program. Yesterday, to show that it had learned its lesson, NASA mounted cameras all over the launching pad to monitor for the slightest speck of potential trouble. Sure enough, it found some. As John Schwartz points out in his analysis, "all this inspection may be a mixed blessing."
It may, indeed. Still, the agency’s openness looks to be the right way to go. If NASA can bring back Discovery without a hitch, its reputation will be burnished. By extension, the American space program can anticipate a bright future.