NASA engineers who investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia in 2003 are wondering why their safety recommendations have been overruled shortly before the shuttle Discovery is due to take off in July.

Mike Schneider reports that chief NASA safety officer Bryan O?Connor has accused NASA of postponing what the investigators believe are essential design changes to the shuttle’s external fuel tank until after Discovery’s upcoming flight in July.

Pieces of insulating foam that broke off the external tank at liftoff were what caused Columbia to disintegrate, killing the seven astronauts on board. NASA engineers want to change the design of the tank so that the foam won’t fall off in the future, but top officials have vetoed that, saying they want to wait to see how the current design holds up before making any changes. Since we already know that there’s a major design problem, they are taking an unnecessary risk, probably because NASA doesn’t have the money to implement the needed changes. The organization has undergone major budget cuts recently.

A preflight review of Discovery is scheduled for June 16, and NASA will make the final decision at that time about whether or not the shuttle will fly in July.

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