Be very afraid.
NASA administrator Michael Griffin offered an optimistic assessment of the agency's preparations for the launch of shuttle Discovery as early as July 13. It would be the first mission since Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
"We look like we're in pretty good shape," Griffin told the House Science Committee. "Based on what I know now, we're ready to go."
Congress, however, wants to keep something flying.
Griffin sounded undeterred by the findings issued by a task force that said some of the most important long-term safety goals for shuttle flights have not been adopted.
After meeting Monday night, the task force concluded that the space agency still does not fully comply with three of the toughest recommendations from accident investigators in 2003.
The task force determined that NASA has put off long-term improvements to the shuttle's thermal shielding, thus failing to improve its ability to make emergency repairs in space. The group also acknowledged that delaying a summer launch a few months would not significantly reduce the risks of such space flight.
Be very, very afraid.
Griffin, the agency's 11th administrator, was greeted warmly by lawmakers who warned him that NASA faces tough decisions ahead on how to balance its long-term plans of retiring the space shuttles, conducting further work on the international space station, creating a new manned space mission vehicle and beginning the work on a mission to Mars.
Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., said the agency was "pretty much flying blind right now."
"NASA can barely give a definitive answer to a single question about its programs. That is not, believe it or not, a criticism," said Boehlert.