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NASA Releases Text of Emails Discussing Shuttle Landing Failure Scenarios

NASA has released an email thread about the possibility of landing gear failures during the attempt to land the shuttle Columbia on February 1. At this point in the investigation, it is not clear whether landing gear failure contributed to the disintegration of the shuttle.

This information has been reported in articles in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press. All of these articles analyze the same emails and point out nearly the same features of them, namely that:

  1. Robert Daugherty said he was "erring way on the side of absolute worst case scenarios", and
  2. James Heflin said that in his email, Mr. Daugherty was "what-iffing, which is something we do a whole lot of".

The New York Times also published excerpts of the emails that NASA released. This is useful because hardcopy readers deserve the opportunity to read the main points of the emails in context, not just summaries of what the emails said.

The fact that NASA released these emails yesterday is interesting. One conclusion that can be drawn from it is that a major difference between this disaster and The Challenger is the volume of email communication that could be made public through official or unofficial releases. This both maintains pressure on NASA administrators and provides them with a way to reassure the public.

Of course, there will probably be hell to pay if any emails materialize that attempt to raise red flags without the kind of preambles that Daugherty put in his email.

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