Veteran NASA Engineer Quits Five Days Before Launch

Charlie Camarda
Charlie Camarda

A 30-year NASA veteran and top engineer at the shuttle program submitted an angry letter of resignation just five days before Saturday's scheduled Discovery launch.

"I refused to abandon my position on the MMT [Mission Management Team] and asked that if I would not be allowed to work this mission, that I would have to be fired from my position, and I was," wrote Charlie Camarda in an email sent yesterday to his colleagues at the Johnson Space Center.

Camarda had been the Director of Engineering at Johnson and played a major role on the Mission Management Team that is preparing for this weekend's launch.

According to sources at NASA, Camarda had feuded with Wayne Hale, Manager of the Space Shuttle Program, and Mike Griffin, NASA's administrator, regarding the treatment that Camarda's fellow engineers received when they raised concerns about the upcoming Discovery launch. Some engineers felt that more substantial changes needed to be made to improve safety. Specifically, some believed that even more foam needed to be removed from the shuttle's exterior to lessen the risk that falling foam would damage the shuttle during launch.

In 2003, falling foam from Columbia's external fuel tank damaged the shuttle, which eventually disintegrated, causing the deaths of seven crew members.

NASA had recently reassigned Camarda to the Safety Team at NASA's Langley Research Center, a move that would have cost him his seat on the Mission Management Team. NASA has not returned calls seeking comment.

Camarda was a mission specialist on Discovery's previous mission last year, the first after the Columbia disaster. It was his maiden voyage into space. At the time, Camarda was outspoken about his skepticism that the fixes made after the Columbia disaster would work. He kept his criticism up while in space when he made some fiery comments during a tribute to his Columbia colleagues.

"We became lost in our own hubris," Camarda said from space, "and learned once more the terrible price that must be paid for our failures."

In his email yesterday, Camarda reaffirmed his disappointment with NASA officials. "I cannot accept the methods I believe are being used by this Center to select future leaders," he wrote. "I have always based my decisions on facts, data and good solid analysis. I cannot be a party to rumor, innuendo, gossip and/or manipulation to make or break someone's career and/or good name."