NASA deadpanned its way yesterday through an environmental assessment statement that found "no significant impact" from the nation's eighth space shuttle flight.
Oh, there will be a little noise, the space agency allowed in a two-page Federal Register notice, and Challenger's fiery blastoff will result in some "spotting of vegetation" near the launch pad.
But it said the only "measurable long-term adverse environmental effect" will be the addition of several more pieces of space junk to the 5,000 or so bits of manmade debris already circling the globe. The shuttle's solid rocket motor will stay up there, as will the meteorological satellite being hauled up for the government of India.
The environmental assessment is required under the National Environmental Policy Act. Even though a full-scale environmental impact statement was done on the space shuttle program, NASA official Richard Ott said each flight requires one of the less-rigorous assessments because of changes in the shuttle payload.
"We'd like to have a generic environmental assessment so we don't have to do all this," he said. "But for the next couple of flights at least, we'll do the full assessments."
For this flight, NASA had to figure out the potential environmental impact of eight canisters of postage stamps destined to become the first "space mail" for sale to the public, as well as two canisters being shipped into space as the result of a readership contest sponsored by a Japanese newspaper.