That's the thought that goes through my mind as I read this NY Times article about the risk of 'catastrophic failure' (i.e., the ship is destroyed - let's not mince words). NASA now puts the risk at 1 in 100, but the 2 disasters among the 113 Shuttle flights give the ugly picture of 1 in 57. Many prominent scientists have long decided that most of what is accomplished in a Shuttle mission could be accomplished by unmanned missions, and at a fraction of the cost.
Officially, NASA says the Shuttle is needed to complete construction of the International Space Station, and then it will, in all likelihood, be retired. The cost between now and then will be astronomical (no pun intended), and that's with, God willing, no additional loss of life. Many space enthusiasts say manned missions are needed to maintain public interest in the space program and thus to ensure continued funding. Maybe so...and maybe we really do need the Shuttle to finish the Space Station.
Why, though, for God's sake, are we pushing through a mission with an admitted flaw that has not been fixed? It seems the height of folly to bend the safety rules on the very first flight after the last disastrous mission. Count me among the supporters of the space program...I'm a big believer in the scientific benefits...but even if we do need the Shuttle, does it really need to launch tomorrow?