Of course, the Columbia and Challenger accidents have reminded us we need to be ever vigilant. Despite more than two years of careful work to prevent foam shedding from the shuttle’s main tank, my STS-114 mission lost a large piece of foam on ascent, in a circumstance very similar to what happened to Columbia on STS-107. Preventing foam loss was a top objective for the return-to-flight effort, and while this turned out to be an embarrassment, I believe it sent a clear message—future boosters and spacecraft should be designed to protect the ship’s reentry system (the heatshield) because rockets will always shed “stuff” like insulation and ice during the tumultuous minutes of ascent to orbit. This is why we will see future spacecraft designed with the reentry ship on the top of the rocket, rather than beside it, as was the case with the space shuttle. The STS-114 incident was a very sobering reminder that a complex system like the shuttle can never be made completely safe, despite everyone’s best efforts. Our future space travelers will be safer due to the lessons learned from the shuttle missions.
Leinbach, Michael and Jonathan Ward. Bringing Columbia Home: The Untold Story of a Lost Space Shuttle and Her Crew. Arcade Publishing; New York. 2018. p. 294