NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 5, 2005

After 2 1/2 years and $1.4 billion spent to make the space shuttle safer, the same problem that doomed Columbia now plagues Discovery, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD). Has environmentalism doomed the space shuttle?

Spurred by pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NASA stopped using Freon -- a fluorocarbon environmentalists claim damages the ozone layer -- in the manufacturing of its thermal-insulating foam. The space agency switched to a more politically correct foam even though it was known to be less sticky and more brittle under extreme temperatures.


  • The risk of a piece of debris falling off and causing significant damage to the shuttle's thermal protection system was 10 times greater with the new Freon-free material than the old material, says Hannes Hacker, an aerospace engineer and former NASA flight controller.
  • In 1997, after the first launch with the politically correct substitute, NASA found the Freon-free foam destroyed nearly 11 times as many of the shuttle's ceramic tiles as had the foam containing Freon.
  • Similarly, the explosion of the Challenger after hot gasses burned through an O-ring joint on one of the shuttle's rocket boosters occurred after NASA was encouraged to use a new type of environmentally friendly, asbestos-free putty to protect the O-ring joints.

Malcolm Ross, who studied asbestos as a research scientist for 41 years at the U.S. Geological Survey, noted that the Air Force's Titan 34-D rockets had 50 straight launch successes before replacing the asbestos-based putty; then, at about the same time as the Challenger disaster, had two launch failures with the green substitute.

Source: Editorial, "Green for Launch," Investor's Business Daily, August 2, 2005.


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