NASA also is reassessing a range of safety policies and requirements. The reviews will examine: how problems in flight are tracked and resolved; waivers that make exceptions to shuttle program requirements; analyses of critical components and their potential to fail; and the process used to certify that shuttles are ready for launch. Some of the reviews, such as the critical components analysis, might not be completed until the end of 2005.
In addition, NASA's Safety and Mission Assurance Program is getting a top-down review. An independent safety-review organization - an expected recommendation by the investigation board - is being set up at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.
NASA also will commission a study to determine the effectiveness of quality control inspections during ground processing at Kennedy Space Center.
Immediately after the Challenger accident in 1986, the shuttle passed through 44,000 Government Mandatory Inspection Points while being prepared for flight at Kennedy Space Center. By 1995, that number had been cut to 22,000 and was slashed again in 1998 to 8,500.
Similar reductions occurred at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the shuttle's external fuel tanks are manufactured. After Challenger, 5,000 government inspection points were required. After a review that ended in 2000, the number was cut to 228; it was raised to 586 last year.
Other parts of the new plan detail technical changes designed to prevent shuttle missions from suffering the same fate as Columbia's.
A broad redesign of the external tank will eliminate a foam ramp where insulation broke free during Columbia's flight and several others. Additional modifications will deal with potential debris from ice buildup on a line that carries superchilled liquid oxygen propellant.
Two other tank areas susceptible to foam loss are being examined for redesign. And tests are being added to make sure foam is properly sprayed on the tank. All the changes are expected by the end of the year.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.