American Hebrew Academy
Erik Ginsberg

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Space Shuttle Disaster?

Dwight Owen Schweitzer

I remember all too well in the early days of the space shuttle the news articles that discussed the heat shield tiles that were missing when early shuttle missions returned. There was much speculation at the time that this could be a potentially disastrous flaw in the design and attempts were reportedly made to change the adhesive quality and fix the problem. In the years since there has been little mention, at least in the public domain of this being an ongoing problem and it is reasonable to assume given the potential consequences that whatever was wrong was fixed.

Examining what we know so far, the facts are that a picture, taken while the shuttle was leaving, show something becoming dislodged from the underside of the left wing. What we also know is that the heat shield tiles play no role during takeoff, they only come into play to insulate the shuttle from the tremendous heat generated during reentry when the shuttle literally enters the atmosphere belly up.

We also know that a perimeter is established keeping observers a substantial distance away from the launch area, at least several miles. Keeping in mind however, that the basic components of the shuttle are well known and its configuration has been reproduced in kit form for any child to make one, the question must be asked if there is a way to bring about this kind of disaster purposefully given the precautions existing at the time.

I suspect that the answer is yes, given several assumptions, none too far fetched to be unworthy of speculation. Anyone who has witnessed a shuttle launch even on television is aware of two significant phenomena. The first is that the initial take off is relatively slow and the second is that the shuttle does not go straight like an airplane but revolves slowly exposing its underbelly to an arc of potential views and targets. There also exists rocket powered ammunition capable of traveling substantial distances at great velocities.

Given these parameters, is it possible for a sniper with a suitable weapon and the correct ammunition to put a shot into the area of the shuttle's wing where the wheel well is located, dislodging a piece of tile and making a hole sufficiently large to have the heat of reentry act as a blow torch, setting in motion the events known to have preceded the tragedy. Given the inexplicable dislodging of a portion of the left wings heat tiles known to have occurred during liftoff when the stresses on the shuttle are minimal and the speed relatively slow it is reasonable to assume that this is question that needs to be answered, even in the hypothetical sense. It is however a question one hesitates to ask at this juncture because the implications are no less frightening than the events of September 11th, equally unthought of as a likely scenario and one for which no one took public credit either.

It is not my intention to be an alarmist, or to raise questions just for the sake of provoking a response. Rather, my concern in asking the question of whether such a scenario were possible is to reinforce, if the answer is even hypothetically yes, the fact that this was not the act of a country for surely no country would risk the consequences of such an act. It is to reinforce the fact that our war is with those who can perpetrate such acts as that which occurred on September 11th and which might have occurred a few short weeks ago. Was it a coincidence that the first Israeli astronaut was aboard, giving Al Queida the chance to commit an act of terror against it's two sworn enemies in one single act and do so at the very object that exemplifies the best of what we are and the differences between us?

So I am called upon to ask if such a thing were indeed possible, and if so, to say beware of a war with a lesser enemy, Iraq, leaving this cancer time to continue to grow, silently spreading throughout the worlds body politic. Using the time we are focused elsewhere, to metastasize and carry out their avowed aim of undermining our belief in ourselves, our technology and our way of life. We must beware that in our righteous anger we are not provoked to the point that we lash out at the wrong enemy at the wrong time and the wrong place, leaving us all the weaker to root out the disease so casually functioning in our midst.

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