by David Sisler

The story was on page 12, below the fold. As placement goes, that is not a strategic spot, almost guaranteed to be overlooked. If it had not been for the title, I probably would not have read it. But the newspaper’s headline writer did a good job – even if the budget meeting’s composers did not.

“Shuttle pinholes caused worry

“Knight Ridder

“WASHINGTON — Experts have told NASA for years that simply covering the wings of a space shuttle while it sits on the launch pad could prevent a problem that investigators now say might have contributed to the destruction of the shuttle Columbia.

“But NASA ignored the recommendation, one of those experts told Knight Ridder on Wednesday [March 12, 2003], even though the idea had been endorsed by top materials researchers inside and outside the space agency.”

The story went on to state that since 1992, pinholes, as wide as three human hairs have been appearing on the wings of the space shuttles – Columbia first, then all the other ships in the fleet.

The pinholes, which begin appearing after approximately 10 flights, are caused by the corrosive salt air in the Cape Canaveral launch area.

A simple solution was proposed: using something like a painter’s drop cloth to cover the shuttle’s wings while the vessel sets exposed on Pad 39-A.

Returning to the Knight Ridder story: “Columbia, which was the oldest shuttle, broke apart at the end of its 28th flight after developing far more pinholes than any other shuttle, according to NASA technical reports.

“The Columbia Accident Investigation Board is looking at the pinholes as a possible contributing cause of the Feb. 1 explosion, board member Maj. Gen. John Barry said.”


As small as three human hairs.


Seven lives lost.

I read that story and immediately thought of Song of Solomon 2:15 – “the little foxes spoil the vines.”

That warning is echoed in Ecclesiastes 10:1 – “Dead flies will cause even a bottle of perfume to stink! Yes, a small mistake can outweigh much wisdom and honor” (The Living Bible).

And 1 Corinthians 5:7 – “Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (New International Version).

Little foxes. Small mistakes. A little yeast.

Little lies. Not big enough to make your conscience holler, “Hey! Wait a minute!” Nothing that would startle anyone if they knew the whole truth. Certainly nothing that would frighten anyone. In today’s politically correct culture it would be called “spin.” And it would depend on what “is” is.

A little theft. Hey, it was only a few paperclips. Just a pencil (and a used one at that). Or maybe it was credit, mistakenly given to you, for something someone else accomplished. After a while you can justify even the Enron balance sheets.

A little temper tantrum. Just a friendly wave on the Interstate, but when the other driver cut you off, you just had to respond.

A little disobedience. Nothing more than waiting until tomorrow to do what you were asked to do – and promised you would do – today. How long will it be until disobedience becomes defiance? And worse?

A little selfishness. It starts with taking the “bigger half” and before long it becomes entitlement. See also: a little theft.

A little laziness. It won’t hurt to miss church just this one Sunday morning. And after all, you really are tired!. It won’t matter in the scheme of things if you pass up your personal devotions and don’t pray this morning. And tomorrow morning you will be just as late, just as rushed.

But a little fox is still a fox. And he still destroys the new blossoms and eats the tender grapes. And then the farmer will wonder why his harvest failed.

And the little foxes become big foxes. Even more dangerous foxes.

And a few pinholes on the shuttle’s wings become death’s contrails across a bright Texas sky.


Copyright 2003 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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