Should We Launch?
IN FEBRUARY 2009, the engineers and scientists of NASA were wrestling with a grave, potentially life-or-death decision: whether to green-light the launch of mission STS-119, the next flight of the space shuttle Discovery. Every launch of a NASA manned spacecraft puts astronaut lives and millions of dollars of equipment on the line; reputation, political capital, and scientific standing also ride on a successful launch, but catastrophe can undo them all. For every mission, NASA would like the maximum possible certainty, but there are project pressures against endless debate and analysis to unravel every possible concern. Operational schedules are tightly wound and project milestones are critical. The issue here ...