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More on Columbia 518

Posted by michael
from the foamology dept.
RodeoBoy writes "It seems that regardless of what NASA and Boeing wants the public to believe there are still questions about damage to the shuttle's left wing. Some Boeing engineers have raised concerns that proper analysis of the damage was not done at the time, due to changes and cutbacks in Boeing. It is also coming out that more than one chunk of foam might have hit and damaged the wing. With Boeing having some financial troubles and NASA under public scrutiny again, what is the future of the space shuttle program..."
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More on Columbia

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  • by aerojad (594561) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:43PM (#5367116) Homepage Journal
    Find problem, examine problem, fix problem, learn from problem, push forward. Sure worked (and still does) for trains, planes, and automobiles...
    • All of which were invented and developed in the public sector.

      NASA is a monopolistic government agency which self evaluates, self polices and has little in the way of market pressures to deal with in order to continue to exist.

      It makes a difference.

      KFG
      • Is it possible for the public sector to take on something like NASA though? Could the money be gathered? I can see where you are coming from, that the program would be better if it wasn't 100% government controlled and operated, but could such a huge, broad-based organization such as the present day NASA be assembled to successfully maintain a shuttle program?
        • by kfg (145172) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:21PM (#5367368)
          Note that I didn't make any particular value judgment, per se. I was simply stating facts that make it difficult or impossible for NASA to operate under what would be called "normal" circumstances. They are not truly a scientific or engineering firm. They are a political agency with all the faults thereof, which just happens to be in charge of building things that go "Whooosh" into the sky.

          Certainly up to this point what they have accomplished would have been simply impossible otherwise. It would be like asking some ancient Egyptians to get together and build a pyramid in their back yard.

          However, even a cursory examination of the history of the whole shuttle project will reveal it to be a purely political affair.

          Apollo and its forbears may have had politics as their genesis, but then, at least for a time, the politics dictated that the politicians get the hell out of the way and let the engineers get the job done.

          That time has long since passed, whether public perception has caught up with the times or not.

          KFG
      • All of which were invented and developed in the public sector.

        And by the millitary.
        • by kfg (145172) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:28PM (#5367400)
          For the most part this is not true. The military has poured vasts amount of *money* into certain areas (notably airplanes, their involvment in the others is actually miniscule).

          Development, however, has almost all been by the private sector to compete for contracts. In other words, they develop a product and then try to sell it.

          Fokker, Sopwith, Boeing, General Dynamics, SAAB, all private firms that develop most of their products, even the military ones, quite independently.

          KFG

          • Yes, but one factor you've left out is that in most cases, the goverment also funds the development and research. Most companies aren't going to risk the capital to develope something the goverment "might" buy. Sure, they might throw some bones at certain projects and programs which have great potential, but in reality, no dough - no show.

      • by EugeneK (50783) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:47PM (#5367496) Homepage Journal
        What do you say about one of the above articles [miami.com] saying that the problems were with Boeing, not NASA? :


        Boeing transferred shuttle jobs to Houston in a consolidation that cost the company scores of its most experienced shuttle engineers in the past two years - including some of those who invented the methodology for debris damage and thermal analysis.

        ...
        Boeing did indeed worry that the move to Houston could lead to a loss of knowledge in the shuttle program. When the company realized that employees were not going to move from California to Houston, they set up a "Knowledge Capture Program" to prevent a brain drain.

        ...
        A former shuttle subsystems manager who still works for Boeing in California said the Knowledge Capture Program was "a total joke."

      • by Blorgo (19032) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:20PM (#5367661) Homepage
        Jerry Pournelle would agree with this. He once (seriously) proposed that Congress pass a bill paying $1 Billion to the first company that could fly to orbit: [jerrypournelle.com]
        I can solve the space access problem with a few sentences. Be it enacted by the Congress of the United States:


        The Treasurer of the United States is directed to pay to the first American owned company (if corporate at least 60% of the shares must be held by American citizens) the following sums for the following accomplishments. No monies shall be paid until the goals specified are accomplished and certified by suitable experts from the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Science:

        1. The sum of $2 billion to be paid for construction of 3 operational spacecraft which have achieved low earth orbit, returned to earth, and flown to orbit again three times in a period of three weeks.

        2. The sum of $5 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a space station which has been continuously in orbit with at least 5 Americans aboard for a period of not less than three years and one day. The crew need not be the same persons for the entire time, but at no time shall the station be unoccupied.

        3. The sum of $12 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a Lunar base in which no fewer than 31 Americans have continuously resided for a period of not less than four years and one day.

        4. The sum of $10 billion to be paid for construction and maintenance of a solar power satellite system which delivers at least 800 megaWatts of electric power to a receiving station or stations in the United States for a period of at least two years and one day.

        5. The payments made shall be exempt from all US taxes.

        That would do it. Not one cent to be paid until the goals are accomplished. Not a bit of risk, and if it can't be done for those sums, well, no harm done to the treasury.

        I had Newt Gingrich persuaded to do this before he found he couldn't keep the office of Speaker. I haven't had any audiences with his successors.
        Jerry Pournelle's Site [jerrypournelle.com] has several interesting articles on the space program. He's a science fiction author (see 'Fallen Angeles') at the Baen Free Library [baen.com] who worked in aerospace for many years, has testified before Congress and given speeches to the Air War College.
        • not worth it to any single company right now. Only boeing has the resources, and they get money whether or not they accomplish the above. If you want companies to be incentive-driven to accomplish these tasks, bump that price up at least 10 times per challenge. A billion won't even pay for chump change with space travel.
  • Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Otter (3800) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:43PM (#5367122) Journal
    ...regardless of what NASA and Boeing wants the public to believe...

    I haven't been following this closely, but why would NASA want the public to believe in a non-foam-related cause, rather than a foam-related one?

    I'd share your cynicism if they were saying, "It wasn't foam, it was Saddam!" But given a failure, why would the foam collision be worth burying in favor of something else?

    • Re:Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by $$$$$exyGal (638164) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:52PM (#5367172) Homepage Journal
      I agree. Here's another quote:

      speculated that NASA is downplaying the debris strike to fend off criticism it might not have done enough to get the astronauts back safely.

      There is no possible way NASA could fend off such criticism by just pretending mistake C happened instead of mistake G.

      • Re:Say what? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by S.Lemmon (147743) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:09PM (#5367301) Homepage
        Well, the foam hit was something they knew about and perhaps could have at least tried to take some sort of action on. May not of helped in the end, but if the analysis was really botched by Boeing, NASA could be criticized for relying in it too much and doing nothing.

        On the other hand, something like a random hit of space junk on re-etry would be something they'd have no way to avoid at all - just very bad luck.

        It's not too hard to see why NASA would perfer it to be something like the second case.

      • Re:Say what? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by zurab (188064) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:37PM (#5367449)
        There is no possible way NASA could fend off such criticism by just pretending mistake C happened instead of mistake G.

        Oh yes, there is.

        On one hand they have a very public evidence - foam or possibly ice - hitting and damaging shuttle's left wing. NASA says they and Boeing analyzed the incident and determined to be not of significant concern that would break up the orbiter. Now these articles, if you read them, bring out more evidence that these analysis were done by mostly inexperienced engineers. Moreover, as one article mentioned, they ignored several of the "worst case scenarios" brought out by the software they used for analysis. All this data is becoming public and directly blames NASA and Boeing for not being careful/accurate/[insert your adjective].

        On the other hand, NASA could conclude that the crash was a result of a long-standing defect (structural, mechanical, etc.) that nobody knew about until now.

        Now, in the former case, blame directly goes to NASA and Boeing for basically "screwing up". In the latter case, they could market the idea that "look, space travel is dangerous business, you can't see everything coming" and then shift attention to astronauts being heroes and so on. There is a big difference between saving the face, keeping the job and public perception, program funding, etc. not only on NASA's local level, but consider financial, political, and international stage; and on the other hand being directly blamed for the disaster. Also consider public opinion difference between these two scenarios.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      With apologies to The Onion:

      Bush on NASA: Saddam must be overthrown
    • Re:Say what? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nusuth (520833)
      One reason might be that prior to accident, at least one of the nasa guys (while discussing whether the foam might have damaged the craft and what would be consequences of such damage) described a possible damage scenerio which looks very similar to what happened to my untrained and underinformed eyes. Even though they could have done nothing at all to prevent that, once the craft is in orbit and damage is done, if that is indeed the culprit, they will get very bad publicity for ignoring even their internal consultants. Again.

      Check copy of e-mail communications after the foam incident [nasa.gov]

    • Re:Say what? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Because NASA *knew* about the foam collision from day one, and they had more than a *week* to analyze the event, and they *concluded* that it had no effect on the safe operation of the shuttle. If foam is the cause of the disintegration, then 7 people died because NASA's analysis was wrong. How's that for public image?
    • by kfg (145172) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:02PM (#5367256)
      people to know about the O-rings. The modern/post Apollo NASA has always been deathly allergic to admiting they just plain fucked up or cut corners.

      http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,77832,00.htm l

      KFG
    • "I haven't been following this closely, but why would NASA want the public to believe in a non-foam-related cause, rather than a foam-related one? "

      That explanation doesn't fit all the data they have. They haven't ruled it out yet, which is good because it means they're receptive to other ideas as well.

      Personally, I appreciate this method of investigation. Instead of finding a suspect and trying to find evidence that supports it, they're looking at the evidence and trying to find a suspect. The difference here could mean lives down the road.
    • I think some NASA contractors are hoping that they can lay the blame on space debris or even another contractor rather then take the blame themselves.

      Shuttle is and allways was a dangerous overrated toy. It is robbing the public of money that could be better used and taking the lives of men and women that could be doing more useful work then silly tests in space and housesitting a useless spacestation.

      If we aren't going to colonize space, the moon, or mars then keep people out of it. Or let those who want to go there PAY for it themselves.
    • Re:Say what? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by cybercuzco (100904) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:54PM (#5367533) Homepage Journal
      Its just that most journalists dont understand scientific uncertainty or getting all the facts before reaching a conclusion. Time and again NASA has said that they dont know what caused the shuttle to break up for the simple reason that they dont KNOW for sure what caused the shuttle to break up. They know it had something to do with the left wing, and they know that foam hit the left wing. They dont have the "smoking gun" that connects the two causally. While the media may be willing to jump to that conclusion, NASA isnt because there is not enough evidence to draw that conclusion.
      • Re:Say what? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by enkidu (13673) on Monday February 24, 2003 @12:01AM (#5368314) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, but scientific enquiry, also goes by the rule of Occam's razor where you don't make up stuff with unsupported evidence. Heck, the Challenger disaster *could* have been caused by martians beaming rays at the O-rings. But we had lots of evidence pointing to the culprit, low temperature failure of the O-rings.

        Currently, we have evidence of an impact near the wheel well tiles by a large object and a failure of containment near that point during entry. Despite the hopeful analysis by NASA: "It was all foam and it didn't hit any critical tiles, and even if it did, the Crater impact analysis program is wrong and the impact wasn't deeper than the tile and even if it did hit we got hit before and it landed safely so we'll be fine." I haven't seen any change from the same complacency and lack of rigor that influenced the decision to launch the Challenger all those years ago.

        That doesn't mean that I think journalists are great at scientific enquiry. However, the heads of NASA don't seem to be terribly scientific either. Here's some choice quotes.

        "Right now, it just does not make sense to us that a piece of debris would be the root cause for the loss of Columbia and its crew," Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore said.
        And
        Dittemore also discounted the possibility that ice had formed on the shuttle or the external fuel tank and could have damaged the tiles. ''I don't think it's ice,'' he said. ''I don't think this came off as a chunk of foam solidified with ice.''

        Based on WHAT? Whose jumping to conclusions now? It's called bullshitting until you get the results you want. For the record, here's my list of the mistakes I'm aware of in the analysis and conclusions surrounding the launch foam incident. Remember, this analysis was supposed to be the worst case scenario. And they concluded that there was "no substantial risk".

        • Assuming that the foam was all foam with no ice with out any supporting evidence.
        • Discarding the predicted results from the Crater program (3 inches).
        • Extrapolating based on the 1992 impact (a much smaller piece of debris).
        • Ignoring the possibility of damage to a critical tile.
        • Ignoring the possibility of damage to the tile increased turbulence over the wing.

        EnkiduEOT

    • "It wasn't foam, it was Saddam!"
      Dead right!

      The foam is probably made from petrochemicals,
      these were refined from crude oil,
      probably originating in the middle east,
      maybe even from Iraq!

      You don't have to be Donald Rumsfield to put two and two together and blame Iraq for this heinous atrocity!!!!! :-P

      Either that or the shuttle was shot down by an Al Quaida operated railgun lent to Osama by Saddam and fired from Cuba! (those railguns have long range you know).

      Honest.

  • by automag_6 (540022) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:44PM (#5367128)
    You know, it's quite easy to call the race after it's over. However, there are a whole lotta parts on a space shuttle that could lead to potential disaster, and all in all, I think reasonable precautions are being taken. Yes, you can't put a price on human lives, however, there's an associated risk with driving, flying, and launching into outer space, and I think reasonable precautions have been met. I find none of what happened to be neglegent or careless. That's just my $0.02 for what it's worth.
    • I agree. In aeroplane design they follow the law of diminishing returns. they calculate how much a particular frequency of accidents (caused by problem A) will cost them (law suits, insurance, bad press etc) vs. the cost to fix problem A. If A costs more to fix than the cost resulting in the accidents, they don't fix it.

      NASA works to (as I understand it) an even more restrictive version of the above. The probability theory involved is way above my head, so anyone is welcome to chime in and correct any misstatements. d.

  • by tcd004 (134130) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:45PM (#5367130) Homepage
    A column on the weaknesses of the shuttle program [knotmag.com]

    Comments welcome.
  • please NASA... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Captain Galactic (651907) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:45PM (#5367134)
    what would the astronauts want? would they want you to stop exploring space because of them? they knew the risks of exploration, and took them. and let's face it, with NASA down, down comes the ISS, which signifies the unity of the human race dedicated to one cause. don't dishonor the memory of all astronauts by going under.
    • They might want a better space vehicle though.

      The Shuttle really isn't the beast we can do now days, but NASA has been so heavily invested in the program better solutions haven't been looked into as much as they might have been. Even if this is the death-knell for the shuttle program, perhaps in the long run it may be the event that spurs NASA to develop something better.
  • by MondoMor (262881) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:45PM (#5367136) Homepage Journal
    Oh, come on. They're scientists. They're coming up with hypotheses and testing them. The more promising ones get more time until proven false or true.

    The media (and Joe Public) on the other hand, think science and space travel are just like Star Trek and that the problem is found and cured by successions of deus ex machina -- Plot Convenience Playhouse. So they pick up on Nasa's early interest in the foam theory, then think they're hiding something when Nasa says "It just doesn't seem to fit. We're not ruling it out, but we're following other leads for now."

    The media (and Joe Public) want sensational instant-gratification science, of which this investigation will be anything but.

    To the non-scientist, this whole careful, deliberate not-jumping-to-conclusions analysis is mind-numbingly boring. So they read their cultural biases into it and draw stupid conclusions.

    You'd think that "nerds" who read Slashdot would know better than to make a sensationalistic statement like "wants the public to believe"... but then again look at some of the "from the .... dept." snide remarks by editors.
    • by zurab (188064) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:56PM (#5367535)
      The media (and Joe Public) want sensational instant-gratification science, of which this investigation will be anything but.

      Obviously, you haven't read the articles, especially the one where engineers themselves employed by Boeing (before their department's move to Houston) question the methods and interpretations of results that were made by them. Quotes from miami.com article [miami.com]:

      "I don't understand how they can run the Crater program and get these results and discount them completely," said Professor Fischbeck.

      One scenario, for example, predicted a two-foot-long, seven-inch-wide swath of missing tiles.

      "When something like that hits you and your computer program tells you you're all the way through the thermal protection system for that big of an area, you're in big trouble," the thermal systems engineer said.

      "We had never seen a chart as bad as that."


      If this is indeed true, and Boeing or NASA engineers didn't evaluate the data carefully, or because of lack of experience,

      "This was their first flight," said the Boeing thermal systems engineer. "This was the first time they took over."

      then most of the blame does go to NASA and their decision makers. Nobody should jump to conclustions, but at the very least, these articles are disturbing.
  • This is all just sounding too close to the issue in 1986 of "we've got to get stuff into orbit 'cause we know that these problems never cause any real issues.."

    Also sounds like Ford and Firestone..
  • about the whole Columbia accident is that it happened during the reentry and not during the take-off. Does anyone know if there is more heat generated on lift-off or on reentry?
    I can only suppose that during the lift-off most of the work is done by the primary booster and the shuttle is simply 'riding the rocket' without putting too much stress on the damaged wing. However, during the landing the wing was under high stress and that was more important factor in the accident than the temperature alone.
    • by Tyler Eaves (344284) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:48PM (#5367157)
      Temperature on liftoff is a non-issue, as at the time it clears 99% of the atmosphere, it's only doing Mach 4 or 5 instead of the Mach 20 of reentry. Plus, It's not pointed such that it's generating any real friction.
    • by NMerriam (15122) <NMerriam@artboy.org> on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:09PM (#5367302) Homepage
      On lift-off, the goal is to have as little friction (and thus heat) as possible so as to maintain orbital velocity.

      On re-entry, the goal is essentially to cause as much friction (and heat) as the system can bear, so as to bleed off speed before hitting the thicker atmosphere.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:46PM (#5367144)
    But sending out those shuttles is akin to commuting to work in an eighteen wheeler.
    Now that the macho space race against the Soviets is over maybe NASA should consider some size and cost-cutting.
    Would anyone have a figure how much it would cost to send a space tourist to ISS on a Shuttle? I bet its a lot more than $10 million (allegedly the cost of sending them with a Russian mission).
    • The shuttle was supposed to be a reusable system, but it only technically is. The shuttle is essentially taken apart and rebuilt between launches. So much is replaced or at least repaired that the program is EXTREMELY expensive. Combine that with the technology being really old that it is expensive to maintain, as it isn't current technology.

      The problem is that the launches cost SO much that there isn't money for R&D into newer and cheaper solution. With a more rocket-style system like the Russians use, you can keep researching and deploying new technology, because its always a fresh start.

      The shuttle is the only vehicle capable of certain things, but at the same time, our manned missions haven't had major technology change in decades. We really need to figure out how to stop treating everything like a nail just because we have a great hammer... A small screwdriver would be better for some things... like screws...

      Alex
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:46PM (#5367145)
    Does anyone know how dense this foam is? I haven't found any mention of it. Is it like styrofoam density or is it much heaver than that?
  • by conner_bw (120497) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:47PM (#5367149) Homepage Journal

    Relax, this is all just a left wing conspiracy.
  • Cutbacks (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kravlor (597242) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:47PM (#5367153) Homepage

    I think that we'll get to the bottom of this eventually. Given enough time, of course.

    However, I must wonder about how much of the shuttle funds were diverted to help fund the ISS...

    In any event, the loss of Columbia and its crew should not be a terminating point for manned space exploration; we all have to escape from Earth in the end!

  • Columbia FAQ (Score:5, Informative)

    by MondoMor (262881) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:50PM (#5367160) Homepage Journal
    Is here: http://www.io.com/~o_m/home.html [io.com]

    Excellent work by this guy. No irrational conspiracy theories, no useless speculation, no NASA asskissing.

    Sorry if it's a dupe.
  • Unfortunently... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:53PM (#5367177)
    Shit happens. That's reality. Things are going to go wrong. Once that thing left the pad, (and at that point everything seamed as right as could be) there is nothing any engineering analysis could do. Even If they had worked 24/7 for the flight with every engineer at boeing and NASA working the issue and they had found there would be a problem there is nothing they could have done. The could have thought about it for the flight or have thought about it for 5 minutes and went to lunch, it would have had the same results. Everything will fail in time. And complexity accelerates this. NASA has list of plenty of single failures that will doom the shuttle.

    Far as engineers saying something during the flight in emails. Well I could send out lots of emails saying it will blow up every time it goes up. Some day I would be right, but that wouldn't mean I warned them. If an engineer thought differant about the sitution it doesn't mean NASA ignored them and some is at fault. There were others who didn't agree with him. NASA has to make a call, and the might make the wrong one. This wasnt' preventable far as we know. Maybe it will come back to being some pre-flight thing that was done wrong of neglected, then it's differant, but if it's something that went wrong after launch it very well may be no ones fault. Things like challenger were differant. There engineers told officals before launch about the O-rings. Bulk of the engineers knew there was an extremely high chance it would fail on that day. When it blew they didn't even have to ask why it failed, they knew. They just had to investigate to show they were right. That was a preventable accident that was the fault of not listening to engineers.
  • I predict they won't build another one.
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:55PM (#5367195) Homepage Journal
    who put that foam there. We must start the compaign to ban all foam from the United States of America. Think of the children! When, I ask you, when will the maddness end? How did it happen that we, as a country, did not see this one coming? All the products that could be potentially dangerous and/or used in a terrorist attack. First the trench coats, then the box cutters, the nail filers, the pointy umbrelas, the McDonald, and now the foam! We must open our eyes as a society. We must protect the children at all cost! The land of the Free and the home of the Brave must be cleared of all the dangerous items so that our children could go outside again. (wait, what am I saying?) Ban the outside! For the childrens' sake! It's dangerous out there, lets ban the outside!
    • We know who put the unsafe foam there.
      Eco-"aware" liberals did, because old, reliable one contains miniscule amount of the stuff that the Holy Ones of Enviromental Protection Order deemed too unsafe to exist. I'm too tired to go find the actual reference but you can dig up on Google news, I'm sure, if you want the details.

      -DVK
  • by molrak (541582) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @07:56PM (#5367204) Homepage
    The best outcome of the Columbia tragedy would be for NASA to get entirely out of the suborbital and orbital business altogether. As a pure launch vehichle, the Space Shuttle was not all that efficient, especially when considering the turnaround time involved. Handing over (what should be) relatively simple tasks to the private sector, would save millions of dollars of pork and mismanagement, thereby freeing said missions from a needless government bureaucracy and private sector 'contractors-for-life'. For it to remain viable, NASA needs to focus on extra-terran missions, both robotic and manned, if it wishes to remain a worthy vassal of the United States taxpayer.

    For that matter, even lunar missions would be a better use of money than testing the effects of near zero gravity on ants.
  • Is off limits.

    Joking about the incompetence of the program that caused the disaster is open season. [lostbrain.com]

    Or is it?

    tcd004
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The most important story of the past few days is the role of falling ice, not just "foam", from the central booster.
  • I volunteer! Pick me! I'll do it!

    Really though. I thought that space exploration was a pretty risky endeavour. NASA tries to be as careful as possible, but they have a limited budget and finite resources. Given the staggering risks involved, I'd say that they are still doing pretty well. This latest explosion will cause a new wave of safety checking which is all good stuff. How many of you wouldn't give you left nut to be on that next shuttle anyways. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

    No guts, no glory...

  • by Apreche (239272) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:03PM (#5367264) Homepage Journal
    What probably will happen is that our government will waste a lot more of our tax money and make a bunch of stupid decisions that nobody really cares about.

    What I say is we should do the following

    1. Sell the space shuttles to someone else, China?
    2. Make NASA a regulator agency, like the FCC of FDA.
    3. Privatize the space industry.

    This will result in money being spent to do useful things with space travel. People will be able to put up sattelites, space tourism will begin and eventually flourish. Someone might set up a hotel type space station. Or a moon base, or go to mars. All in all it should boost the economy by creating a new industry for people to work in and new companies to work for, as well as making life a hell of a lot more interesting.

    Of course there are reasons not to do this, but this is what I want, not necessarily the best idea in the world, or the most realistic one.
  • by Galahad2 (517736) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:05PM (#5367273) Homepage
    My dad works for Boeing and does lots of stuff with sattelites and space, though admittedly not rockets specifically. He can't imagine how insulation could've caused the damage in question. The insulation is extremely light and low density; it would've had to have been going rediculiously fast to have the force to cause damage to the tiles, and launching speeds aren't that fast until you're a few miles up. Ice is a more likely contender than insulation, since it's very hard etc, but it's rare to have a piece fall off that is massive enough to have much kinetic energy, and most of the ice is kicked off before the rocket gets going very fast.

    I find it pretty insulting when people try to imply that NASA and Boeing are being anything but absolutely forthcoming about information. Sure, it's in their best interest to displace blame, but this isn't the X-Files here. If NASA knows something, they're going to tell the public.
    • is the Houston Chronicle [chron.com]. Since nasa has such a huge houston presence, theres usually a front page story every day that catches angles regarding the shuttle that larger news organizations ignore.

      Today for example had interviews with some engineers at USA regarding the Cult of Safety, and a bunch of other things.

      They've got a whole ongoing section [chron.com] dedicated to the investigation and how its going.

    • by Inoshiro (71693) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:56PM (#5367536) Homepage
      The same ceramic tiles which, at least on Challenger and Columbia (the first two shuttles built), took years to install because they kept breaking my the force of being pressed by a human finger onto the hull.

      The original tiles were very delicate and obscenely hard to attach. New glues were developed, but it still took a long time because they kept breaking. It wouldn't take much to damage it, especially since Columbia was the first operational shuttle of 20 years service, with all the first-generation problems that implies!
      • However, the Columbia had recieved a complete modernization package recently. In addition, the tiles are replaced after every launch, so there are NO first generation issues in relation to the heat tiles.
      • This is all well and good, except that the tiles just got replaced with better ones a few years ago. In fact, most of the shuttle (except the airframe) was replaced. If anything, it's showing all the problems of a first generation overhaul, not of a tried and tested vehicle.

        +3 Informative? My ass. How about -1 Go read up on it before posting with bold turned on to emphasize the red herrings you lay down.

        The simple fact is that there are a lot of good people working for NASA and that they will try to figure out what went wrong. Contrary to the sensationalist crap that RodeoBoy spewed into Slashdot, each of those articles (to which he linked) pointed out that NASA is being very cautious and is making sure to judge all the evidence and doesn't want anyone (especially the ill-informed public) to start drawing premature conclusions. It would be a great disservice to the crew if we did not learn from this horrible tradgedy. NASA doesn't "want the public to believe" anything. In fact, they want the public to believe nothing. Instead, they'd like to look at the facts and leave unfounded beliefs out of it. Please be kind and give the investigation team a chance to at least bring some good out of this.

        Disclaimer: The company I work for has contracts with NASA. I work down the road from Langely Research Center. I am not involved (even indirectly) with the investigation.

  • It's not what "NASA or Boeing wants us to believe" that is important. It's what an investigation can determine. It'll take time for enough detail to emerge before we know.

    This kind of "us vs them" story indicates all that is wrong with the coverage. It will be methodical analysis, and maybe some luck, that will eventually tell the story. And we might as well get used to the fact that we may NEVER know exactly what happened - only what is probable. That's the real world.
  • by jericho4.0 (565125) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:07PM (#5367284)
    Even though I do have my concerns about the way NASA is run, I'm also worried that the public thirst for an answer and someone or something to blame is causing too much to be read into these memos.

    Engineers think 'worse case scenario' all the time. I'm sure if you could read every email sent within NASA in a week you could find people arguing over 1000 design points, mission plans, etc. This is how it works. After the fact, a small subset becomes much more interesting, but that should be taken in context.

    Which is not to say that we shouldn't be asking questions.

  • by swordgeek (112599) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:12PM (#5367319) Journal
    OK, we can't retire the space shuttle today. Nor tomorrow. But its time is drawing near...

    Consider first that the shuttle was a massive compromise versus the original proposed designs. If the budget had been infinite, we would have had a better shuttle. If the budgeteers had had more foresight, we might (probably) have had a better shuttle. The shuttle we have now is a big series of compromises that limit its usefulness and safety.

    Now consider that the shuttle program has been around since 1981. That's more than half of the time that's passwd since man first walked on the moon! It still seems shiny to some of us (myself included), because it was the only newsmaking bit of space exploration in our youth. However, it's old. It's an old (and limited) design, and we have learned a lot of what to do (or not) on the next go around. It's time to climb the next step of astronautical evolution.

    So let's keep them in top shape, fly them as necessary (mostly as ferries to the ISS), while putting as much money as possible into a next-generation space vehicle.
  • Not to be cruel... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kir (583) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:13PM (#5367324) Homepage

    but this was a friggin car accident. Seven people died. The car happened to be very very very very very very very expensive.

    Like this guy said [slashdot.org]. All this speculation is ridiculous. Let them do what they do.

    Flame on.

  • by AxelTorvalds (544851) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:17PM (#5367344)
    NASA needs to move on. I think NASA threw the dice way back when, they lost but they've been trying to make it look successful ever since. It's far more expensive to fly the shuttle than it was to use the single use rockets we used before and they were more reliable now that 14 people have been killed in the shuttle.

    It's simple math and economics. Financially the shuttle program has been a terrible disaster. Now you can't second guess anything and there have been advances in comfort and living conditions in space and such thanks to the shuttle but I'm sure the same kind of things would have been done without it. We've learned things because of the shuttle, it hasn't stopped science, it's just not delivered what it was supposed to have.

    I also fear that NASA itself may be out of date and obsolete. Am I the only one who is disgusted by the notion of the beaurocracy? There are all of these emails surfacing. I've worked at IBM and other big places and I get this sick feeling of CYA going on. I can just see the Dilbert-esque rocket scientist sitting at his desk composing the emails to the director about the foam falling off and the other possible causes. "Properly documenting" the risk. I've read Feynman's report on the Challenger disaster and that's one of the issues he pointed out. The administration lives in make believe where the engineers make compromises to do things on time. It's kind of a bummer because there are people that die because of it. I'd like to think that someone will be held accountable, I doubt that anybody other than an administrative warm body will be and at best they'll be fired and get a really high paying job at Boeing, TRW, or Raytheon.

    I think it's high time we start looking at splitting NASA up in to 2 or 3 groups and making them compete with each other. Let the beaurocracy die and the science come back, make them write proposals, beg congress and private parties for funding and then hold them accountable for delivery. Let different groups take different approaches. Reward success with continued funding. NASA is cheap, relatively speaking. We can easily fund 3 NASAs. Right now it all rides on the success and failure of one entity with nearly an impossible mission, logisitally speaking. NASA can't even admit that the shuttle program is a failure because then they lose face and funding and there isn't another organization in place to do the science. So science continues to limp and NASA continues to put bandaids on a very expensive wound that has taken more lives than all other space related accidents put together.

    And for the record I am appriciative and recognize the hard work and accomplishments of everyone associated with the shuttle program. They have engineered some amazing things and I'm not attacking anybody personally. It's the program as a whole that hasn't delivered what it promised.

  • by Sergeant Beavis (558225) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:22PM (#5367373) Homepage
    I was thinking to myself what NASA should do to increase mankind's presence in orbit and how to go about it. It is apparent to just about everyone that the current Space Transportation System (STS) is in need of replacement. The last time we tried to do that was under the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) under the Clinton administration. That program was a failure, not because of Clintons people, but because there were technological and monetary hurdles that couldn't be properly addressed. However there is a way to do this. Right now the STS fleet is grounded, so the immediate concern is how to keep the ISS in orbit and fully manned. Russian President Putin has promised to build more Soyuz space craft to insure ISS is manned and supplied. From what I've found, it cost Russian anywhere from 25 to 50 million bucks to launch a manned Soyuz and a little less for a Progress supply ship. I would propose that the US discontinue any crew transport missions for the Shuttle to ISS and pay a significant portion of the money needed to keep Soyuz ships flying to ISS instead. If these ships cost 50 million bucks then there is a savings of about 400 million bucks for each transport (the Shuttle cost an estimated 450 million to fly). When the Shuttle is back on in the air, it should ONLY fly construction missions to finish the ISS. The the STS should be retired. That begs the question, what do we do with 450 mil for each flight that doesn't go? Since there are typically 6 or 7 flights by the Shuttle per year, about half of them are for significant construction of ISS. So we are looking at a savings of nearly 1.5 billion per fiscal year. THAT money should be invested in a completely new Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) space shuttle like the X-33 was meant to be. But that's not all. In order for space travel to become affordable, space vehicles must become more affordable. Building 5 space shuttles cost the taxpayers between 3 and 5 billion for each one (the Endeavor cost 3 billion because it was built from spare parts). If we could build say 20 or 30 space shuttles, the cost could possibly be cut in half or perhaps more. NASA doesn't need 20 or 30 shuttles, however, if we could get the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russians, the Japanese, Aussies, and even the Koreans to join up with the promise of owning their own shuttles, the cost could be easily be spread out. You see, the Europeans would get out from under NASA's shadow which they have for so long hated. They wanted to build a ship back in the 80's called the Sanger but they didn't have the money for it. The Europeans don't have the experience of space travel that we or the Russians do but they do have a lot of technology and engineering that they can bring to the table. The Russians are obvious additions because of their experience. What they can't bring to the table in money, they can definitly bring in know how. The Japanese have always wanted a manned space program but they too don't have the money to foot the bill for all the R&D involved. In addition, their rocket program has suffered many setbacks. The Koreans might look on this as national pride IMO and a chance to play with the big boys. We of course know more about Shuttles than anyone and of course can bring more money to the table. America would still have it's leadership role in the project but would still have to work with members of the development and building team. You see, I no longer see space exploration as an American dream. This is a HUMAN endeavor. We as Americans (or Russians) just happen to be better at it than anyone else. If we build a shuttle or two that can haul cargo and personnel to low Earth orbit in a cost effective manner, we will see more and more people going and that is the goal. Get more up there so we can do more. NASA has already learned that it needs to get out of the space launching business and get into the Space Exploration and Space Science business. NASA was essentially going to sell the Shuttles to the United Space Alliance and lease them back. The USA was going to maintain the Shuttles and NASA or Air Force pilots were going to fly them. NASA needs to get away from the space monopoly that it has created so that competition can be built. The same thing happened when NASA got out of the satelite launching business after the Challenger disaster. Getting people to compete and getting a new reliable shuttle with the world behind it will establish a firm foothold in space for the human race. Right now we have had our foot in the door for too long and earlier this month it got jammed. Now it's time to kick open the door and step inside. Once we have a firm foundation in orbit and on the moon, then we can procede to the Planets and the stars.
    • by Inoshiro (71693) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:03PM (#5367569) Homepage
      I was thinking to myself what NASA should do to increase mankind's presence in orbit and how to go about it. It is apparent to just about everyone that the current Space Transportation System (STS) is in need of replacement. The last time we tried to do that was under the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) under the Clinton administration. That program was a failure, not because of Clintons people, but because there were technological and monetary hurdles that couldn't be properly addressed.

      However there is a way to do this. Right now the STS fleet is grounded, so the immediate concern is how to keep the ISS in orbit and fully manned. Russian President Putin has promised to build more Soyuz space craft to insure ISS is manned and supplied. From what I've found, it cost Russian anywhere from 25 to 50 million bucks to launch a manned Soyuz and a little less for a Progress supply ship.

      I would propose that the US discontinue any crew transport missions for the Shuttle to ISS and pay a significant portion of the money needed to keep Soyuz ships flying to ISS instead. If these ships cost 50 million bucks then there is a savings of about 400 million bucks for each transport (the Shuttle cost an estimated 450 million to fly). When the Shuttle is back on in the air, it should ONLY fly construction missions to finish the ISS. The the STS should be retired.

      That begs the question, what do we do with 450 mil for each flight that doesn't go? Since there are typically 6 or 7 flights by the Shuttle per year, about half of them are for significant construction of ISS. So we are looking at a savings of nearly 1.5 billion per fiscal year. THAT money should be invested in a completely new Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) space shuttle like the X-33 was meant to be. But that's not all. In order for space travel to become affordable, space vehicles must become more affordable.

      Building 5 space shuttles cost the taxpayers between 3 and 5 billion for each one (the Endeavor cost 3 billion because it was built from spare parts). If we could build say 20 or 30 space shuttles, the cost could possibly be cut in half or perhaps more. NASA doesn't need 20 or 30 shuttles, however, if we could get the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russians, the Japanese, Aussies, and even the Koreans to join up with the promise of owning their own shuttles, the cost could be easily be spread out.

      You see, the Europeans would get out from under NASA's shadow which they have for so long hated. They wanted to build a ship back in the 80's called the Sanger but they didn't have the money for it. The Europeans don't have the experience of space travel that we or the Russians do but they do have a lot of technology and engineering that they can bring to the table. The Russians are obvious additions because of their experience. What they can't bring to the table in money, they can definitly bring in know how.

      The Japanese have always wanted a manned space program but they too don't have the money to foot the bill for all the R&D involved. In addition, their rocket program has suffered many setbacks. The Koreans might look on this as national pride IMO and a chance to play with the big boys. We of course know more about Shuttles than anyone and of course can bring more money to the table.

      America would still have its leadership role in the project but would still have to work with members of the development and building team. You see, I no longer see space exploration as an American dream. This is a HUMAN endeavor. We as Americans (or Russians) just happen to be better at it than anyone else. If we build a shuttle or two that can haul cargo and personnel to low Earth orbit in a cost effective manner, we will see more and more people going and that is the goal. Get more up there so we can do more.

      NASA has already learned that it needs to get out of the space launching business and get into the Space Exploration and Space Science business. NASA was essentially going to sell the Shuttles to the United Space Alliance and lease them back. The USA was going to maintain the Shuttles and NASA or Air Force pilots were going to fly them. NASA needs to get away from the space monopoly that it has created so that competition can be built. The same thing happened when NASA got out of the satelite launching business after the Challenger disaster.

      Getting people to compete and getting a new reliable shuttle with the world behind it will establish a firm foothold in space for the human race. Right now we have had our foot in the door for too long and earlier this month it got jammed. Now it's time to kick open the door and step inside. Once we have a firm foundation in orbit and on the moon, then we can procede to the Planets and the stars.

      (I really don't see why 10+ paragraphs worth of stuff would ever be formatted is one giant blob. That this was modded up was incredible -- I know I can't read a 50 sentence blob!)
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:31PM (#5367418) Journal
    Aviation Week and Space Technology (which doesn't have a free web site, alas) reports this week that Columbia has had a problem in a few of its flights with a premature transition from laminar to turbulent flow. The Shuttle reentry profile nominally has the airflow under the wing transitioning to turbulent flow around Mach 9, but on a recent Columbia flight it happened much sooner, around Mach 19.

    Turbulent flow mixes the air near the surface much more, causing far greater transfer of heat to the Shuttle. There was some 'slumping' of tiles in that previous flight, temperatures reached ~2000 degrees, right at the limit of what the tiles can take.

    This happens because Columbia's wing was far less smooth than the other (remaining) orbiters.

    If there was significant roughness added by the foam/ice/whatever gouging the wing, that would increase the heating even more.

    Another problem they were concerned with was an asymmetric transition to turbulent flow, which would cause the drag on one wing to be higher than the other, yawing the shuttle -- but it seems that there is more than enough control authority in the elevons and RCS system to counteract that if it happens.

    thad
  • by xihr (556141) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:32PM (#5367423) Homepage

    Even if the foam hitting the wing at launch was the cause of the reentry failure, there's nothing they could have done about it, even if they had positively known that was going to cause a catastrophic failure upon reentry.

    A similar event occured during Apollo XII, the second manned Moon landing. During launch, the Saturn V rocket was struck by lightning, causing a number of failures which were rapidly corrected. After they were out of the atmosphere, back at Mission Control, they pondered whether or not the lightning strike might have damaged the pyrotechnics that cause the parachute to deploy after reentry (they could hit the "chute deploy" button, but nothing would happen -- the pyros would already be burned out). Just as in the case of the Columbia, to know this information they'd need to have done an unscheduled EVA, and the additional information would have really changed nothing: If they did an about-face and reentered right then, they'd have been just as dead reentering then as they would after a successful Moon landing. So there was really no point even knowing; the knowledge would have changed nothing about the reality of the situation. (Of course, in the case of Apollo XII, the pyros were undamaged and the chutes deployed without incident.)

    The point is, even if they positively knew that it was a problem, knowing and then reentering and dying isn't any different from not knowing and then reentering and dying.

    • > The point is, even if they positively knew that it was a problem, knowing and then reentering and dying isn't any different from not knowing and then reentering and dying.

      That's not true. When Atlantis suffered insulation damage it delayed reentry until nighttime, and spent time beforehand with the damaged wing facing away from the Sun to allow it to cool off. It may have (either it did, or this was proposed as a possibility for Columbia had this been known) also come in at a different angle such that the known good wing took a majority of the reentry heat.

    • No, if they had known there would be a problem they could have done something. Atlantis could have launched in a week. They would have to eliminate a lot of normal testing, but better to play the odds that nothing serious would turn up, when you know something serious will happen if you don't. Once the humans are off the shuttle we don't worry about if it survives re-entry or not. Let it come down over the pacific, like Mir did. (easier said than done, but I think doable)

      Of course that doesn't mean it would be easy. Atlantis could only carry 2 crew, which would make some tasks more difficult. And a rescue has never been attempted so they would have to figgure out a lot of things on the fly. (Could atlantis' arm be used? - if the arm can even be installed in time) Still it would have been attempted if they really thought it was nessicary.

  • by badasscat (563442) <basscadet75@@@yahoo...com> on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:44PM (#5367476)
    We're just one step away from conspiracy theory time here, folks, and I don't like it. I posted at the start of this whole thing several weeks ago that I thought the foam theory was a red herring, several of you argued with me and the next day NASA all but ruled it out. I suppose it's human nature - the foam theory is the simplest explanation (even if it doesn't make logical sense) and it's one that we can visually see with our own layman eyes (we've all seen the video of the foam hitting the wing).

    The problem is the truth is almost never that simple when it comes to accidents involving complex and highly redundant systems. NASA is obviously having a hard time believing a 2 foot, 2 pound piece of foam could bring down such a technologically advanced piece of engineering (and yes, it was technologically advanced - much of Columbia's heat shielding, including the leading edges of the wings, was replaced with state of the art materials in 1999). I am having a hard time believing it too.

    Anyone who has ever read a major aircraft disaster report from the NTSB knows that it is almost always a series of highly implausible events that conspire to cause disaster. Any one of these events would be remote; the chances of them coming together in the way they did would be almost impossible (but not completely impossible). This is the way it almost always is. We know that several shuttles - including Columbia - have been hit in their wings by launch debris in the past and suffered no ill effects. Why do we all suddenly want to believe that same debris brought the shuttle down this time? I don't believe it.

    I do believe it could be part of the answer, though not the full answer. I believe it's possible (and I'm sure NASA's looking into this, among other things) that the foam hit was the first in a series of problems that compounded upon each other to eventually cause disaster. If it hit in exactly the correct (or incorrect) spot, where a fault already existed, then that's a different story. I know NASA's looking at the procedures used in the Columbia's last overhaul, for example (it's flown only once since then). In that case, the foam hit wouldn't be the cause of the accident - the faulty overhaul of the heat shielding would be. But NASA's looking at a lot of things, and I'm just speculating here, like all the rest of us.

    The point is, NASA is an organization of scientists. They wouldn't know how to spin if they tried. They're looking at things analytically and none of their computer models are telling them that the foam by itself could bring the shuttle down. Who are you to argue with them? You'd think on this site, of all places, people would understand that scientists don't go rushing and jumping to conclusions - they examine all the possibilities and analyze everything very methodically. It has nothing to do with what they do or don't "want us to believe". I'm sure if they weren't so focused on their job at hand right now they'd be laughing at what so many of us apparently want to believe, whether or not there's actually any evidence to support our "theory".
  • by Whitecloud (649593) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @08:46PM (#5367488) Homepage
    All the astronauts knew what they did could cost them their lives. They knew that and trusted the NASA system to do everything possible to keep them safe...but ultimately their fate is in God's hands.

    Whether foam caused the catastrophe or something else did, no power on earth was able to save these astronauts once they left the ground. They could not have dropped by the space station and waited for rescue, no docking bay was attached to the shuttle. I cannot see how obfuscation of the facts will help NASA, they want to know what happened so that it doesnt happen again. By downplaying the significance of the foam, which seems the obvious cause to us armchair space directors, they are allowing for all options to be given equal weight in the search for the truth.

  • Nasa is not hiding (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fermion (181285) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:02PM (#5367564) Homepage Journal
    All NASA ever wanted, all they ever said, was to that they needed time to figure out what happened and the baseless speculation of the media did not help the process. They did not at the time of accident have enough information to say it was the foam. Remember that it took them a few hours to get enough information to say it was even an accident? NASA has a problem that it works slowly and thoroughly, and such slowness is not consistent with the impatient public and leeches of the media.

    Soon after the accident, some people were correcting news casters that this would was not accident, but, like the Challenger, a failure of process. The media has been harking on certain reports that long ago reported the danger of certain tile damage. There are likely many reports on many of the shuttle systems that vulnerable under certain circumstances. Unlike many place, NASA does not hide it's head in the sand. It actively looks for problems and tries to solve them, if necessary. If the process works this makes the space travel safer. When the process does not work, as in Challenger, people die.

    I have no doubt that whatever the cause of the accident, some report exists somewhere detailing the scenario. That does not necessarily mean NASA was negligent, just that NASA is thorough. Space travel is dangerous and as much as they might try, the process cannot be made so perfect as to catch and solve every problem. As many people have already said, you solve identify the problem, figure out the best way to solve it, and move on.

    I would like to add one personal note. In my experience NASA is very focused on identifying problems, solving problems, and moving on. The step they don't do, and the step that many firms would do well to leave out the process, is the scape goating. It is as waste of time. In some companies in which I have work, fully half the time is spent figuring out how to blame other people for your fuck ups, and then participating in the ensuing punishment. It is inefficient and does nothing to create better products.

    And one more thing. Under the the rules of the Clinton administration, all government agencies were required to do al they could to release documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Under the Bush administration, John Ashcroft has request the agencies do all they can NOT to release document requested under the FOIA. The implication of this is that the rapid release of document requested from NASA under the FOIA is totally voluntary. If they wanted to hide thing, Ashcroft has given them permission to do so.

  • by Frightened_Turtle (592418) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:18PM (#5367653)
    At no point has NASA or any investigator come out and said that it was "'X' that caused the shuttle to break up." If anything, they've been imploring to the press not to jump to any conclusions. The easy answer would be to say, "Gee, it was an ice-engorged chunk of foam that struck the wing and broke the tiles off that caused this terribly accident."

    The problem is, the foam is the most obvious candidate for causing the damage. But what if it wasn't? What if it was actually a fuel line that cracked open, began to burn -- hydrazine's value to the space program is that it can burn in a vacuum -- maybe it burned a hole from the inside out, allowing plasma from the rentry to get into the wing. What if it was actually a piece of space debris that struck the shuttle? We almost lost a crew a few years ago when a paint chip almost penetrated through one of the windows.

    We just don't know, If they say it was the foam and it was actually something else, then the actual problem will not get fixed, and we will lose more astronauts.

    The answers aren't going to come instantly. It is going to take a long time. It can take experts a couple of years to figure out what made an airplane come down, in spite of the fact that usually with a plane crash, the debris is in one small area. The shuttle debris is scattered over several states. The further west a piece is, the more likely it is going to shed light on what happened. The first pieces to come off are the most critical.

    The astronauts are well aware that with each launch, they have a 50% to 70% chance of being killed. It's a testiment to how NASA does things that we haven't lost more astronauts. They accept this risk, because the work they do does eventually help everyone else in one way or another. They feel that this is worth the risk, to do what they can to help other people.

    Will we stop going to space? Hell no! Even if the government gives up, people won't. How many people have died over the centuries when sailing ships explored the oceans? How many Polynesians sailed away from their home islands to colonize somewhere else, never to see dry land again? We have a pretty good idea how many Spanish galleons were lost in the Carribean. With a crew of upwards of 400, one ship resulted in a lot of lives lost.

    None of that stopped us. Losing Challenger didn't stop us. Losing Columbia won't either. But it clearly serves as a terrible wakeup call that we missed something, and a sad reminder that spaceflight is not without risks.

    So before you cry 'foul' and 'coverup,' give the people a chance to find out what happened to their friends.

    Last -- what if they did know there was a problem? Do you think the crew would have wanted their friends and family knowing? Sitting there for the duration of the mission knowing their loved ones were doomed? I wouldn't want my family going through something like that. I'd rather put on a brave face, do everything I can to finish my work and life in some meaningful fashion, and then face destiny without making them suffer.

    Sorry about the sermon...

    • by JewFish (315210) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @10:36PM (#5367963)
      The astronauts are well aware that with each launch, they have a 50% to 70% chance of being killed.

      How do you figure your percentages? I am only aware of 13 Astronaut deaths, and one civilian death on the shuttle. So you are saying we have only sent up 26 Astronauts by your figures. Numbers are not for the mathematically challenged, use them with care for they have meaning.
  • by Crusty Oldman (249835) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:33PM (#5367736)
    Why are they trying to hide the obvious possibility that it was ICE and not foam insulation that broke off and hit the left wing of STS-107?

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/835531/po st s?page=1464

    Foam insulation is light and fluffy and reddish-orange. Ice is white and collects quickly on the outside of cryogenic containers, and near the leading edges of aircraft, and can be hard and heavy enough to knock a few ceramic tiles off when moving at supersonic speeds. These are not stupid people in charge of this investigation. So why are they so slow to make this disclosure?
  • What the US needs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ChaoticLimbs (597275) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:40PM (#5367756) Journal
    The US needs to separate their manned space activities from cargo delivery. Sure, we can use the current design for a while more, but it would make more economic sense to stop driving an 18-wheeler to the supermarket. What we need is a toyota.
    What I mean is that we need a smaller, manned spaceplane and a larger, heavy-lift system which can carry the spaceplane as an addition to a medium-size payload.
    What I propose is to have a system where 8 SRBs launch two shuttle main tank assemblies. One filled with fuel, with a rocket motor on the ass end. The other can be filled with cargo. Some of the things we need to launch are not so much HEAVY as they are bulky. A good example would be an inflatable habitation module for lunar or ISS use. Not particularly heavy, but it's bulky.
    The shuttle spaceplane should be much smaller and lighter. For operations requiring extravehicular manipulation of cargo, the shuttle and heavy lift system could simply dock in orbit. An added benefit could be that we build a spaceplane that can dock with a fuel tank in orbit and head off to the moon. We really should be building there instead of in low earth orbit. There are building materials on the moon, and none in the vacuum of space. The moon doesn't need energy to maintain orbit, and we can safely park a nuclear reactor there without worrying about reentry. That power can be used for excavation. This way we don't have to bring our entire living quarters with us. We can make cement structures on the moon instead. It seems very reasonable to do this instead of all this mars crap.
  • by Jack William Bell (84469) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @09:41PM (#5367759) Homepage Journal
    I did my own this animation of the shuttle sensor data [sff.net] found on the NASA page here [nasa.gov]. I have a /. journal entry for it here [slashdot.org].

    My, admittedly amateur, conclusion is that one of the carbon shields located on the front of the wing (right ahead of the wheel well) failed for some reason. Check out the animation page to see why I say this.
  • by g4dget (579145) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @10:27PM (#5367923)
    Given what is coming out now about the construction of the shuttle, it's amazing that these things fly at all: a tiny hole can lead to a burn through, as can the slightest error in the computer controlled reentry-angle, malfunction of some servo system, or a host of other problems. And there is nothing that the crew can do to fix such problems during reentry.

    This just doesn't seem like good engineering. The traditional Apollo/Soyuz reentry vehicles had few if any of those risk factors. Compare what happened to Columbia with what happened to Soyuz 5 [astronautix.com]: the reentry module failed to separate from the service module and entered into the atmosphere backwards. But when the service module had burned off, the reentry module righted itself (just because of its weight distribution--that's what it was designed to do) and Volynov landed and survived. Those reentry vehicles require no electronics and no flight control. The only thing that needs to happen is that the parachutes open some time before the capsule hits the ground. I think I'd have a bit more confidence in something like a Soyuz reentry vehicle than in the shuttle. And they are probably a lot cheaper, too.

    • carried 25 tons of cargo with it into space.

      • by g4dget (579145) on Monday February 24, 2003 @03:06AM (#5368943)
        Indeed, the shuttle lifts lots of cargo, plus the weight of the shuttle itself, somewhere between 100 and 200 tons. And on its return trip, most of that mass is deorbited again with the shuttle, except for the cargo. Of course, going up, both Soyuz and the shuttle use roughly the same technology: big rockets. All that mass and complexity on the shuttle is for giving the astronauts a plane-like landing.

        If you think about it, that means the shuttle is an even worse deal than usually assumed. Lifting mass into orbit is hugely expensive. First, we spend all that money lifting the huge mass of the shuttle itself into space, and then we bring it all back again? Imagine if every shuttle launch had left a carefully designed, multi-purpose transport vehicle and container of the size of the shuttle in space and returned the astronauts via a Soyuz-like capsule--the ISS could have been completed long ago from those vehicles and transport containers.

        The more one thinks about it, the more wasteful and bizarre the shuttle program becomes.

  • cause and effect (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigpat (158134) on Sunday February 23, 2003 @11:40PM (#5368243)
    Something hit the space shuttle Columbia on the Left wing around the wheel covering at high speed. Later that same area failed to protect the space craft from the extreme heat of re-entry according to sensor data. The Shuttle Columbia disintigrates. The evidence points to a simple explanation.

    NASA might not have concluded with mathematical certainty that the fuel tank debris contributed significantly to the ultimate accident, but to continue to suggest another cause at this point certainly seems like a political diversion. People are certainly covering their asses, both individually and collectively.

    To say that any human endeavor is devoid of politics and self interest is naive to the point of being dangerous.

    But these are not the important questions, the question we should now be asking now is... Does the US Government continue putting billions of dollars into a space ship that catastrophically failed nearly 1 out of 50 times. Problems can be fixed, sure, but aren't we better off just building a different ship? Retire the shuttle fleet, bury our pride and let the Soyuz support the Space station. Spend the next 5 to 8 years building the next generation of ships. Supporters of space exploration should see this as an opportunity to refocus NASA on Space exploration and not on Space Pagentry.
  • by Animats (122034) on Monday February 24, 2003 @03:03AM (#5368935) Homepage
    This, actually, is an expected failure mode. When the Shuttle was designed, the tiles were recognized as a weak point. They have great thermal properties, but they're very brittle. The tile concept was made to work by being very, very careful - custom-machining each tile, and developing special adhesives and mounting felts. Despite this, tiles fall off now and then. It's not a robust technology.

    Contrast this with the solid rocket booster failure last time. That was an unexpected failure. Solid rocket boosters are proven, reliable components. The only reason they failed in 1986 is that the joints for assembling them into a stack were badly designed.

  • by Kenneth (43287) on Monday February 24, 2003 @04:42AM (#5369114) Homepage
    I've seen a lot of comments about either privatizing NASA or doing something to otherwise make them compete. There seems to be an attitude that competitition increases innovation, but does it really?

    It can, but it can also backfire. Examine the breakup of AT&T. Several good things came out of it: Better customer service, lower prices, more consumer freedom. But there were also losses. AT&T's entire research division is basically gone. Without it there would have been no C or UNIX.

    The problem is that you have to make something profitable before a company will do anything, and generally it has to be profitable within the next three months. Remember, if you are running a company, you are answerable to the stockholders. If they loose money in a quarter, YOU get into trouble.

    The problem is that a lot of cool things can't be done in three months, or eve three years. There has to be someone with deep pockets and less immeadate accountability to someone in order to try the financially risky stuff.

    Major governments don't have the R&D money to get into space. Companies won't either, and if you privatize it, what you get is a space monopoly that can charge what it wants. It won't violate the antitrust act, because it won't have to. The massive money required to start anything will be sufficient barrier to entry.

    What privatization often does is to set up businesses that don't innovate because they don't have the money to innovate. Everything has to go to beating out the other guy. Greater supply for less money is where all the creative energies go.

    This will get us cheap sattelites, but very little in the way of scientific advancement or manned space travel, because it ISN'T profitable, and isn't forseen to be profitable in the near future.

    Would hubble have gone up were NASA a private entity? Would it have even been built? There is no return on investment. Sure we've learned a lot of cool stuff, but it doesen't make people money tomorrow so it is of little value to a private company. Maybe it would have gone up, but then would the information recieved have been propritary? Only able to be looked at and used if you paid the price? Companies don't do anything out of the goodness of their hearts.

    How many journals etc are starting to require fees for access? How many articles have there been about the conflicts between libraries and publishers?

    If space travel enters the private sector, I fear that it will become something that doesn't benefit society as a whole, but only those with the money to pay.

    No more pure science done in space. If there's immeadate profit you get something done, if there isn't it might get done if you pay them enough to do it.

    Such is the problem with pure science. It takes years or even decades before practical results are found, yet most if not all of our technology was based on discoveries made far earlier than the practical application.
  • by angel'o'sphere (80593) on Monday February 24, 2003 @11:15AM (#5370280) Homepage Journal
    What wonders me most is not the talk about foam damaging a wing(thats so unbelieveable to me ... I wait some years before I consider to believe that) ... what wonders me is: it seems there was no man with a space suit on board who had the ability to go outside and examine the space shuttle in orbit. Right?

    If that is the case ... I simply start to believe that NASA and even the pilots and commanders get realy uncautious. Obviously there is no safty margin at all.

    I mean, why do we have an ISS? I would say to be able to stay there for some days if reentrance is to dangerous.

    Why do we have EVA capabilities? To get out and investigate, I would say.

    Obviously even that was to expensive, no person with the knowledge or training was on board, no one went outside and looked how server the space craft was damaged.

    Wouldnd it make far more sense to drop one scientist and have an EVA specialist on board, allways? The extra weight for an additional suit can't be that much IMHO ... especialy if you consider the lost lives wich could have been saved easy.

    Further more, why is the robotic arm of the cargobay not able to examine the outise with a simple camara, probably thats even easyer ... or a robot wich is able to walk on the surface of the craft?

    I think the whole responisbility chain is run by idiots. A simple SF author would come up with 20s of scenarios how to react more proper in such a situation than the NASA did ... very sad.

    angel'o'sphere

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