Top engineer quits NASA ahead of shuttle launch

Storm clouds of all kinds gathering

A senior NASA engineer has quit just days before the countdown for the Discovery Space Shuttle, citing management differences.

Charlie Camarda, previously director of engineering at the Johnson Space Center, with a history of 30 years working for NASA, has stepped down saying he could no longer tolerate the way management decisions were being made.

In an email, obtained by ABC News, to colleagues at Johnson Space Center, he wrote:

"I cannot accept the methods I believe are being used by this Center to select future leaders. 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."

According to unnamed sources quoted by ABC, Camarda and NASA administrator Mike Griffin had argued over the way NASA management had treated safety concerns raised by engineers.

As the final preparations for launch get underway, some engineers still argue in favour of more changes to the craft before the launch is greenlighted.

Bryan O'Connor, head of safety at NASA, has advised that the launch should be delayed until all problems with insulating foam have been resolved.

Falling foam caused the fatal damage to the Shuttle Columbia in 2003, and more foam fell from Discovery's tanks during its Return to Flight launch last year.

However, mission commander Steve Lindsay says his crew are all excited that the mission has been okayed. "This is my fourth time doing it and I still get excited," he said.

The Shuttle is slated to launch on Saturday, barring any unforeseen technical problems. Weather trouble could yet delay things, and there are reports of cloudy weather on the way. If any problems do arise, NASA has a two-week window before this opportunity to launch is lost. ®

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