Space boffins at NASA were celebrating last night after the US space agency announced a radical plan to arrest the decline in funding that has threatened the department's survival, by staging another space shuttle crash.
Beaming agency chief Charles Bolden explained the new strategy to reporters this morning. "Rocket launches used to bring the nation together in a frenzy of media attention and government funding. To a man, the country wondered whether we'd screw it up and kill everyone on board. When we started to get it right, people's attention began to wane and we were in danger of losing the big TV networks."
Then came the Challenger disaster. "Bit of a stroke of luck, that one - kept us on the front pages for weeks. We first realised that we had something back in '86. Investigations showed that the explosion was due to a failed 'O' ring. At first we couldn't work out why it was called an 'O' ring. We guessed it was because when the engineer who designed that part of the rocket was told that it was his fault the thing exploded he just said 'Oh..."
Since the Global Financial Crisis, the main focus of the nation has shifted slightly from exploring the limitless firmament to "how can I not starve", and this has been reflected in slashed budgets. "The solution is simple - in six months we will launch another shuttle, which will explode almost immediately after take-off, killing all the crew and raining superheated rocket fuel down over the entire Cape Canaveral catering block. We have the technology, and we can easily blow that sucker up - it'll be massive."
NASA originally planned to stage the disaster when Discovery took off last April, but due to human error the craft arrived safely at the International Space Station, costing millions in unexpected mission costs. The engineer responsible is currently being trained for the world's first mid-takeoff space walk.
Although marketing experts have praised the initiative as "groundbreaking", others connected with the mission are less enthusiastic. "I'm not convinced," explained shuttle pilot Hank Ripcord. "I just don't think it's enough to really grab the nation by the balls - just having a crew of highly trained astronauts perish in a hellish inferno just seems a little passé to me. Now, if the flight was manned exclusively by civilians - maybe Muslims or Mexicans to get support from the Republicans, you'd be onto a winner." Take off is planned for the end of next month, pending the reply to an invitation for an exclusive front seat ride from the Scottish Minister for Justice.