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Space Science

Shuttle Data Recorder May be Key to Accident 238

Posted by michael
from the aftermath dept.
DreamerFi writes "A flight data recorder from the space shuttle Columbia, recovered last week in East Texas, contains readings that continue 14 seconds later than any previously studied data. Those readings are likely to play a crucial role in determining the cause of the shuttle's catastrophic breakup on Feb. 1."
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Shuttle Data Recorder May be Key to Accident

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  • Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by haedesch (247543) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:35AM (#5615147) Homepage
    Now hopefully after we know the cause, manned spaceflights can continue
    • Re:Good (Score:5, Interesting)

      by The_K4 (627653) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:48AM (#5615747)
      I would like to see manned spaceflights continue, but I suspect that with all the thigns they are finding right now, that we will probably never launch another shuttle. The US government decided a quarter of a century that we wanted to have the world's only reuseable space craft. I have to point this out, but 1-shot equimpent is much cheaper and more flexable for this type of job. You use the ship once and never look back. No matter how much the say it's not, age will ALWAYS be a factor is the safty of this program. Also, i'll point out that rockets are no longer the "way to go". There are many ideas for new launch systems: space planes ships that use magnetic induction track and "shot" up and several other ideas. The shuttle program NEEDS to go. We need to look into using 21st century technology for the space program, not the continually re-vapmed 1975 technology that we use now. The space shuttle was a marvel when it was built, and at the time no-one could have seen that a reusable system would have been more expensive and labor intensive then one-shots, however it's day has come and gone. I hope that the US decides to develop new systems before 2012! I would suspect that if we start launching shuttles again, we will lose another group of amazing people to space within 18 months of re-starting the program.
    • by Tuna_Shooter (591794) on Friday March 28, 2003 @12:29PM (#5616157) Homepage Journal
      It seems that the top 24" of the vertical stabilizer also houses an infrared camera system that takes a snapshot of the shuttles thermal image as looking forward. Its (was) called the "SILTS" pod. Its data went to one of the OEX recorders. A link here Http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/technology/sts -newsref/sts-inst.html#sts-silts describes its operation. I'd be very interested in what the data from it indicates.
  • Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

    by Safety Cap (253500) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:36AM (#5615156) Homepage Journal
    ~ experts have been cleaning, stabilizing and analyzing the 9,400 feet of magnetic tape within.
    Seems that there is a use for old, reliable technologies, huh? :)

    Good thing they didn't use DVD-Rs or <cough> Windows Media Player...

    • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Funny)

      by Czernobog (588687)
      Jesus, haven't they heard of tar?

      • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Funny)

        by addaon (41825) <addaon+slashdot @ g m a i l.com> on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:25AM (#5615541)
        Tar is good for preserving some data for a very long time. A good example is dinosaurs, although the technique has also been applied to various small mammals. The problem with using tar for something like the space shuttle missions is that the write bandwidth and latency are both very low. While the write bandwidth scales linear with the surface of the tar (and with the cube root of the volume of the tar), space missions are mass-limited and could carry only a very little tar. Also, the latency is a real issue, as most of the data stored during the mission would not have time to be fully written before the accident occured.
    • Re:Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by moosesocks (264553) on Friday March 28, 2003 @12:23PM (#5616095) Homepage
      How the heck does a magnetic tape survive a suttle launch/orbit/reentry? The recorder and tape must be continually subjected to dramatic temperature changes, electro-magnetic radiation, radiation from the sun, as well as violent vibrations - it's really hard to do ANYTHING with any degree of precision when being subject to 8g of force. On earth, magnetic media is already one of the least reliable storage mediums.

      It seems to me that the most reliable format for data storage in this type of enviornment would be some sort of punch card/optical disk combinarion (no joke!) Why couldn't NASA use a high-speed water-jet torch to bore tiny holes into a circular disc made out of something really really durable (synthetic diamond comes to mind). In function, it would work like a cd, execpt that it would have holes instead of pits.
      • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Informative)

        by gilleyj (558373)
        Flight Data Recorders don't use "tape" in the sense of a cassette tape recorder. They use a high tensile wire of some sort. Avation FDR's don't actually have any "medium" as such, they use solid state memory to record something like 3-4 hundred data points for a 24 hour period. then the voice recorders use the wire spool method and record a continous 30 minute loop. The recorders themselves are a box made of titanium around a steel armor shell, then impact insulation, a thermal barrier, an internal core
      • Re:Amazing (Score:3, Informative)

        by arivanov (12034)
        No probs. Even a standard cheap shit safe box can keep data safe for 2h at 910C outside. That is the minimal criteria for a data safe and for example my safe box at home has been sertified to it (I hope it never get tested in real conditions if the cert is real).

        So I do not see a problem for a dedicated collection box to keep tape alive in it. After all it is not the box to survive. It is the tape within.
  • sad news (Score:2, Informative)

    by stonebeat.org (562495)
    A helicopter crashed today, while search for debris. these kinds of accidents slow down the search process, and delay the investigation, which impacts the schedule of futre flights.
  • by Randolpho (628485) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:38AM (#5615174) Homepage Journal
    They weren't searching for the recorder, they just stumbled on it. No, they were out at Hemphill, TX for other reasons.... :D
  • by carpe_noctem (457178) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:38AM (#5615175) Homepage Journal
    Shuttle Data Recorder May be Key to Accident

    I somehow doubt that the data recorded caused the shuttle accident. Perhaps they mean to say "finding the CAUSE of the accident"? ;)
    • by twoslice (457793)
      The last bit of information on the recorder could be this.

      "You idiot! You pressed the wrong button!!!"
      • "The last bit of information on the recorder could be this.

        "You idiot! You pressed the wrong button!!!""


        No no, it was probably this:

        "Watch this, I can do a barrel roll..."
    • by HorrorIsland (620928) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:23AM (#5615520)
      I dunno. Every time there is an accident involving air travel, one of those flight recorders is usually somewhere in the vicinity. I'm starting to get suspicious...
  • In other news: Water Suspected to be Wet
  • It's great that they found the recorder, but I hope nobody is surprised that it will be useful!

  • Was it Heinlin or Bradbury who wrote that there there are a thousand ways to die in space?

    We have perhaps forgotten the thousands of details needed to go exactly right in order for people not to die.
    Moreover, travelling and re-entry at 13,000 miles an hour is downright scary.
    • by blakespot (213991) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:37AM (#5615651) Homepage
      We have perhaps forgotten the thousands of details needed to go exactly right in order for people not to die.
      Moreover, travelling and re-entry at 13,000 miles an hour is downright scary.


      Exactly.

      I think it is very tragic, the loss of the shuttle crew, but people really should not react to it as though there is some expected guarantee of a crew's safe return home. Sure, safety is one of the #1 concerns and considerations in the space program, but we are trying to "boldly go where no man/one has gone before." Space has risks and there are unknown variables. Should we turn away from space travel / research because of these risks? Is that what the crew, who you can be sure were well aware of said risks, would have wanted?

      I think not.


      blakespot

  • My Crackpot idea... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by somethingwicked (260651) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:39AM (#5615192)
    This is an "Ask Slashdot" that I submitted a few weeks back.

    Can't seem to find the article that I quoted from when I submitted this to Slashdot, will see if I can dig up...

    'Under the conditions of a normal return to earth, the shuttle flies on autopilot until it is traveling more slowly than the speed of sound. But pilots train to take the shuttle all the way down in case the autopilot malfunctions, and so it is possible one of the pilots was trying to take control of the yawing craft in its final moments. 'It is relatively easy for the autopilot to be turned off by accident, which in fact happened just minutes before the problems with the Columbia started to become apparent. In the recovered segment of flight deck video of the waning minutes of the flight released by NASA, Colonel Husband is heard to exclaim, "Oh, shoot," and to tell mission control that "we bumped the stick earlier," briefly disengaging the autopilot. He quickly and calmly corrected the error'
    What this all leads me to is this, and I have not seen this suggested in anything I have read as an important concern: Is it possible that this accidental disengaging of the autopilot CONTRIBUTED to the loss of the Shuttle? Although the pilots are trained to fly the Shuttle without the Autopilot, if they were unaware that it was turned off then the "minute" adjustments that either one would make would be missed. All accounts I have seen suggest that the slightest details on the approach make HUGE differences in the results. Add to this the fact that it has been reported that the Autopilot, when on, was acting to correct the flight path anomalies caused by the damage outside. If the autopilot is off, then what other consequences were being experienced?
    Is it possible that this with the likely outside damage and other factors may have COMBINED have caused the loss of the Shuttle where any issue ALONE would have not? With all the speculation I have seen in the media, I am not sure this is any less of a possibility...
    BTW, I personally am not trying to lay blame on the astronauts themselves. Much like a Cruise Control that starts to mysteriously disengage on a vehicle, I would not be surprised if the Autopilot may have "sensed" a disengage as simple as moving the stick, and the pilots assumed that one of them must have done it."

    • Not the original link, but one that mentions the override of the autopilot when discussing pilot error:

      Columbia Pilot Error Not Ruled Out in Investigation [yahoo.com]
      (SPACE.com)

    • by torpor (458) <jayv&synth,net> on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:14AM (#5615459) Homepage Journal
      ... hands-on.

      Nobody has done it except for the first crew. If I remember correctly, the first Shuttle pilot (dunno his name, some ex-Navy pilot) attempted to manually guide the Shuttle during its landing approach, and did so for a few minutes only to give up and let the auto-pilot take over, mid-way through.

      I could have this story wrong (hey, it happens) but I do remember that there's little reason - other than extreme catastrophic failure of onboard systems - for a Shuttle pilot to attempt to override the autopilot. Such catastrophic failures of the onboard systems would definitely have been detected by NASA on the ground previously ...

      So, I'd say, there's little chance that an autopilot-override was performed by the crew which lead to the failure.

      But then, I dunno. I get most of my understanding of the Shuttle landing procedure from the X-Plane sim, which makes it very clear that it's extremely difficult for a human being to land the Shuttle...
      • Bumped the stick (Score:5, Interesting)

        by reality-bytes (119275) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:24AM (#5615535) Homepage
        Husband reporting to mission control that "we bumped the stick earlier" suggests an autopilot disengage on pilot input.
        Although I don't know, it would seem reasonable that the shuttle's autopilot could be disengaged like this (much like any other aircraft). If during short-final, the pilot decides that the autopilot is leading the shuttle off the approach, a simple grab of the stick for control would seem the safest override method.

        Does anyone know any more on this? - Does the shuttle allow pilot-input overrides?
      • I THINK you are reinforcing my point somewhat, though I am not sure if you meant to or not.

        Yes, there is little reason for the crew to try to land the Shuttle. But if you look at the link I have included and IF I could find the original link you would see that for WHATEVER reason, the autopilot WAS turned off.

        AND it is clear this has happened before and that apparently all it takes to occur is the stick getting "bumped" or some other minor detail
      • by Hektor_Troy (262592) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:55AM (#5615813)
        Actually ...

        I heard one of the pilots in the USAF with the most air time comment something like

        "Landing is easy. Landing without dying is a bit more tricky. Landing without damage is tricker still."
      • Mixed opinion (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Orne (144925) on Friday March 28, 2003 @12:13PM (#5615991) Homepage
        Having done some control theory work, I have mixed opinions on this.

        We know that the shuttle wing suffered a catastrophic failure (as in it broke apart), and flight stability was lost. With a tail wing and one side wing, the shuttle should have gone into a corkscrew. Immediately, sensors onboard would have kicked in, saying "the current flight path is not desireable, adjust the flaps to stabilize". Well, the computer has no clue that half the flaps are gone, and nothing in the scenarios could have fixed the rolling. It is a case where the problem is beyond the scope of the software that controls the system. At that point, you can only hope that the ingenuity of the human mind would find the right solution -- in this case, it was beyond hope.

        I recall reading that when the shuttle was originally designed, it assumed 100% computer control flight & had no cockpit, and adding the viewing glass added a multitude of structural weaknesses to the design. But the pilots wouldn't ride if they didn't have the option to drive... designs were changed, politics reigned, and we got what we have today.

        On the flipside, you could argue that the complexity of the situation is beyond human reflexes, and instead we should allow the computers to fly all the time. This is the current setup, and it worked for every situation ever encountered to date. If NASA would just give up on the option for human-controlled flight, they would be able to scrap the cockpit, and design a shielded "passenger" bay instead. This would remove a lot of the material weaknesses, and it would allow more "common" scientists to travel in space, since it would remove that aspect of required training.

        Would a shielded compartment have saved the crew? The forces involved are (pardon the pun) astronomical, and even had they survived, I doubt it. But, our country designs some amazing things, and it's only a matter of time before we discover the materials to make it happen.
        • Well, the computer has no clue that half the flaps are gone, and nothing in the scenarios could have fixed the rolling. It is a case where the problem is beyond the scope of the software that controls the system.

          Respectfully, I disagree. Not because I am guessing as to this happening, but because I remember hearing it described that the computer did EXACTLY that. When the autopilot was on toward the end, it WAS attempting to make corrections. Now, I don't believe it knew WHY, but it was detecting "ano
      • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday March 28, 2003 @12:16PM (#5616025)
        Nobody has done it except for the first crew.

        STS-112 [spaceflightnow.com]
        "Making his first hands-on landing, first-time shuttle commander Jeffrey Ashby took over manual control of the shuttle five minutes before touchdown as the spaceplane passed through 50,000 feet above the Florida spaceport. "

        STS-93 [floridatoday.com]
        "Update for 11:17 p.m. EDT
        Commander Eileen Collins is taking manual control of Columbia. Three minutes to touchdown. The shuttle has gone sub-sonic. Twin sonic booms now being heard in the local area around Kennedy Space Center."

        STS-113 [cbsnews.com]
        "Following a computer-controlled plunge to a point about 50,000 feet above the Kennedy Space Center, commander James Wetherbee, making a record fifth descent as a shuttle skipper, took over manual control and guided the spaceplane to a breezy landing, reports CBS News Space Consultant William Harwood."

        If I remember correctly, the first Shuttle pilot (dunno his name, some ex-Navy pilot)

        Pilot, Robert Crippen, USN
        Mission commander, John Young, USN

        I get most of my understanding of the Shuttle landing procedure from the X-Plane sim, which makes it very clear that it's extremely difficult for a human being to land the Shuttle...

        I would suspect that they have a leetle bit more training than you do.
      • there's little reason - other than extreme catastrophic failure of onboard systems - for a Shuttle pilot to attempt to override the autopilot

        So don't you think whatever happened to Columbia in the last few moments might fit into that "extreme catastrophic failure of onboard systems" prerequisite?
      • ... hands-on. Nobody has done it except for the first crew.

        I beg to differ. In this movie [imdb.com], Lea Thompson did it manually without any problem.
      • I have the IMAX film Hail Columbia [imax.com]. There is a scene at Edwards where they're doing a landing, and they've marked a very small (50ft or so) section of runway as the target zone for touchdown. The approach is very long (with an F-16 flying alongside, just for kicks) and the pilot lands the shuttle rear right smack in the middle of the target zone - an entirely perfect landing. I'm not saying it's easy, but the pilot was good enough to make it look easy, and there certainly wasn't any damage or death invol
      • ...That's not what I've read.

        AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilot's Association, for you ground pounders) Pilot Magazine did an "aircraft review" article on the Shuttle orbiter a few years back. It described in great detail what it's like to "fly" the shuttle from orbit to earth.

        The article writer "hand flew" the simulator from orbit to earth. It's not as bad as you might think. Anyone trained to fly an ILS approach (even a private pilot like me) would have very little difficulty with this. On the other ha
    • Looking for more to support your theory I found articles from USA Today [usatoday.com], Time [time.com], and IOCOM [io.com].

      USA Today also has a link to a very nice graphical representation of the sensor failures.

      The Time article interestingly describes what the final moments may have been like on board for the astronauts. It appears there was another 2 Sec burst of data after contact was lost. Time states, "For 5 sec. after that, only computer data streamed down, and then all contact was lost. Finally, 25 sec. later, the ship crackled bac

    • I haven't been following this closely, but my understanding was that:
      1. no-one's certain the autopilot was had been turned off, because the data from those last few seconds wasn't clean enough to be certain, and
      2. even if it was turned off, no-one has any idea how it was turned off. It was either turned off manually once the conditions went beyond what the autopilot could handle, or turned off automatically once conditions went beyond what the autopilot could handle.Of course, what I reqd in the papers, and wha
  • Black box?! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gpinzone (531794) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:41AM (#5615202) Homepage Journal
    When the shuttle broke up, people like myself asked about a black box and were told "there is no such device due to the near impossibility of the device to re-enter the atmosphere." Nw all of a sudden there IS a box. Why were we mislead?
    • Let's see the choices:

      a) It was a vast conspiracy by the evil alien empire with the earth combined with the Republican national committee to divert attention from a meeting of their evil cabal.

      b) Some talking head on the news didn't do his research worth a damn.

      Personally, I think it was a.
      • I'm not implying it was a conspiracy either, but when the NASA representative doesn't even know something basic about the shuttle like the existence of the black box, my confidence about their investigation on why the shuttle exploded begins to wane.
        • my confidence about their investigation on why the shuttle exploded begins to wane

          Mine too. Especially since it didn't explode. heating and dynamic pressure --> vehicle breakup

    • Re:Black box?! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by foistboinder (99286) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:51AM (#5615299) Homepage Journal

      It's not really a black box like those found on airliners. It's simply a data recorder lucky enough to survive relatively intact.

      BTW, the telemetry sent by the shuttle, in theory, provides more information than a black box.

      • BTW, the telemetry sent by the shuttle, in theory, provides more information than a black box.

        The black box tape has data for at least 14 seconds after telemetry was lost (in the FA). I believe that radio is lost during reentry.

        • The black box tape has data for at least 14 seconds after telemetry was lost (in the FA). I believe that radio is lost during reentry.

          The data recorder probably kept recording after the comm systems were damaged. Ideally communications can be maintained during reantry (though frequent drops are common).

    • by MyNameIsFred (543994) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:12AM (#5615443)
      There is a difference between a black box and a data recorder. A black box is specifically designed to withstand fire, water, and crashes. It contains beacons to help locate it after a crash. Whereas the shuttle recorder has none of these. It records data.

      During one of the original news conferences, a reporter asked if there was a black box, similar to those on aircraft. He was told no because NASA did not believe that they could design a black box that could survive a shuttle disaster. Did NASA lie? No, they told the truth, there are no black boxes designed to withstand a shuttle disaster.

      • The shuttle, which was designed to survive re-entry, broke-up.

        Nasa say they can't design a black-box that could survive a shuttle disaster.

        The data-recorder, which was not designed to survive re-entry, survived.

        Nasa should get the design of their next re-entry vehicle from the designer of the data-recorder!
      • NASA did not believe that they could design a black box that could survive a shuttle disaster

        I think they need to reconsider this judgment. I don't doubt that it would be very difficult to design a box that could withstand every possible failure mode. But the crew cabin survived the Challenger explosion, and this unhardened recorder survived a vehicle breakup at about 14,000 mph.

        I hope we'll never lose another shuttle. But there will be successors to the shuttle. With enough flights, there will undoub

    • Re:Black box?! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Sebby (238625)
      You weren't "mislead"; it's true that the shuttles don't have 'black boxes'.

      However Columbia did have extra monitoring recorders (to supplement the ground feed) because it was the first shuttle built and flown in space. They later removed some of that equipment, but did leave some of it, including this piece (fortunetly)

    • It's not a "Black Box" in the manner in which a commercial aircraft has a black box. It's not designed to survive a crash, it has no beacon to aid in recovery, it's an artifact of the test flights, and as such, no other shuttle has one. They just never ripped the thing out when they didn't need it anymore. It's more of a lucky accident than anything.
  • by guacamolefoo (577448) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:41AM (#5615206) Homepage Journal
    Shuttle Data Recorder May be Key to Accident

    Well, the solution is simple -- remove the data recorder from the remaining shuttles, and *presto* exploding shuttle problem solved.

    GF.
    • Re:Accident cause (Score:3, Informative)

      by addaon (41825)
      Heh. Yes, I know you're joking, but a bit more info for you: I'm pretty sure that Columbia was the only one with a data recorder, or at least a data recorder of this type. It was a 'leftover' from the testing process, and not standard equipment on later shuttles.
  • However (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chardish (529780) <chardish AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:41AM (#5615211) Homepage
    It's time for us to move beyond the space shuttle for our regular space missions and develop something that works a lot better, a lot cheaper, and a lot more exciting. The shuttle, unfortunately, is necessary at this point to finish the ISS *cough*WASTEOFMONEY*cough* but it's not too late to go to the drawing board and develop a space vehicle (preferably with long-range capabilities) that does not involve getting off the ground by blasting itself off the ground with hundreds of pounds of fuel.

    -Evan
    • develop something that works a lot better, a lot cheaper, and a lot more exciting.

      Well, the Europeans seem to be looking at the past for inspiration [estec.esa.nl]. Apollo-style reentry vehicles are cheap and reliable. And I'm not sure whether they are exciting for you, but I suspect they are quite exciting for everybody on board.

      that does not involve getting off the ground by blasting itself off the ground with hundreds of pounds of fuel.

      Well, it just takes a certain amount of fuel to get stuff up there. However

  • by Theodore Logan (139352) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:42AM (#5615221)
    You might want to read this [commondreams.org].
  • Missing Data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:42AM (#5615225) Homepage Journal
    "Kilroy was here" :)

    How much drastically could this tape change the reconstruction of the problem that is already done. There are even timelines of how things happened, when the problem started, what sensors stopped to report, and almost all that happened till it was too late. Thit last 14 extra seconds will only show the last parts of destruction, but should not change what is already know about what happened, what caused all, and most of how it propagates in the ship.

    • In an article in the Florida Today newspaper Florida Today On line here [floridatoday.com] it states that:

      "The device contains 9,400 feet of magnetic tape that permits up to two hours recording time. It was turned on 10 minutes before Columbia's Jan. 16 launch and then turned off about six minutes after the shuttle reached orbit.

      The recorder was activated again 15 minutes before Columbia began its ill-fated, 45-minute plunge through the atmosphere.".

      Is it possible that the impact of the foam on the left wing (or other la

  • No kidding. (Score:3, Funny)

    by hafree (307412) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:51AM (#5615298) Homepage
    Shuttle Data Recorder May be Key to Accident

    ...and in other news, the pope is catholic. Brilliant headline.
  • by Fenris2001 (210117) <fenris@n[ ]edu ['mt.' in gap]> on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:52AM (#5615305)
    This is really a great find, and an unintended one at that. Shuttles don't carry "black box" flight data recorders like commercial aircraft do. A data recorder, while useful in an accident, was thought unlikely to survive re-entry in a catastrophic event.

    Why, then, does Columbia have the OEX recorder? Simple - Columbia was one of the first Shuttles to fly to orbit, and the engineers at NASA wanted a data recorder on board so they could examine and validate some characteristics of the vehicle design.

    The OEX recorder contains far more information than a simple "black box". Finding it, intact, will greatly aid the understanding of what went wrong, and hopefully lead to increased safety on future Shuttle flights. Perhaps, something similar to the OEX recorder will be integrated into the other Shuttles, since it looks like a data recorder can survive re-entry.
  • by slashd'oh (234025) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:53AM (#5615310) Homepage

    <karmaho>
    I came across an article [spaceflightnow.com] at Spaceflight Now which contains basically the same news, as well as a link to the OEX specifications [nasa.gov] in the NSTS 1988 News Reference Manual.
    </karmaho>

    No insight here, move along...

  • 14 seconds after? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by {tele}machus_*1 (117577) on Friday March 28, 2003 @10:55AM (#5615327) Journal
    Doesn't NASA need to know what happened on lift-off and whether a piece of space junk hit the shuttle during the mission? I thought they already knew that the break-up began in the left wing even before communication was lost. Why would finding out more about the continuing disintegration tell NASA more about what caused the break-up (an event that occurred, presumably, days before the actual disaster)?
    • You should always keep an open mind and never get stuck on one theory. Any extra data is good, if anything it will probably confirm the existing thoughts on what happened.
    • Re:14 seconds after? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Idarubicin (579475) <allsquiet@CURIEh ... minus physicist> on Friday March 28, 2003 @12:07PM (#5615920) Journal
      Why would finding out more about the continuing disintegration tell NASA more about what caused the break-up (an event that occurred, presumably, days before the actual disaster)?

      The key word is "presumably". Although there exists a working theory--certainly among the press, and likely among NASA engineers as well--that the block of insulation that fell off during takeoff damaged the leading edge of the Shuttle wing, there still is by no means a consensus.

      We want to have every last datum about this accident--more important than the final fourteen seconds of tape may well be the data collected right from the beginning of reentry. This tape provides data from hundreds of sensors that we didn't have access to before. Definitely an important find. Sure, the foam is the most likely culprit--but what if we've actually discovered a new mode of failure? Some sort of aerodynamic instability that only appears under certain rare wing loadings? A fuel or hydraulic line that is prone to failure? Something else...? We don't want to get caught by a red herring and lose another seven astronauts to the same problem.

      These data will help confirm or invalidate the current theories of the accident. In addition, by providing information about conditions later in the breakup, the tape might guide future engineers in making the next incident more survivable.

    • It records "data from 721 different sensors connected to the shuttle's engines, wings, fuselage and tail, and measures temperature, pressure, strain, vibration, acoustics and acceleration," according to this article [newscientist.com]. Thus the recorder may have data associated with the foam impact or the event that caused the orbital debris. The recorder's sensors in the wing were probably cut off at roughly the same time as the sensors sending data thru telemetry, and thus it might not be all that informative about later
  • by obiwan2u (600477) <PublicMailbox@be ... m ['de.' in gap]> on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:05AM (#5615387) Homepage
    Actually, the article makes the point that information recorded earlier in the flight could be more important than the last 14 seconds.

    Concentrating on the last 14 seconds seems to play to the morbid sensational factor. Ie., finding out exactly how the shuttle broke up and thus imagining the exactly how the astronauts felt, etc. But then again, the emotional factor (ie. national pride) is the only reason why the shuttle is flying (IMHO).

    Also, this article doesn't mention that this flight data recorder contained more detailed information than was available on the radio downlink data. See Critical Data Recorder is Unique to Shuttle Columbia [space.com] for more details.

    Ben
    "Don't be so humble. You may not be that good"

    • by dacarr (562277) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:30AM (#5615579) Homepage Journal
      Remember, though, Ben, this is the media. They want sensationalism. Don't accuse them of being sensible.

      What I noticed in the article too is that there was some mention that they could use the OPX for filling in some gaps. Remember, there was missing data during the yaw, seven seconds of static, and that was it. Fill in that missing gap with the OPX, see what happened during and beyond that seven seconds, and use the OPX to fill in any other gaps and gather some more tourist information.

    • I think space exploration is a natural human desire and not just an American concept. Space shuttles are a logical way to explore space. The humane way to do it might be to take every precaution to prevent the loss of human life. The capitalist way is to do it cheaply. Sometimes being so cheap as to overlook a significant and life threatening problem.

      It is unfortunate we care so much about money because buying love is very very expensive.
      • Space shuttles are a logical way to explore space

        How so? The shuttle has never gone anywhere that couldn't already be reached by Apollo, Gemini, Soyuz, etc. Since Apollo, the only real exploration has been carried out with unmanned vehicles.

  • While obviously the entire dataset contained in the recorder will be valuable, I wonder whether the additional time covered will really be of much importance. From the telemetry feeds it is already known that abnormal things were happening prior to this last time slice.

    Rather I am hoping that the recorder proves of exceptional interest in the timeframe before. Unless the telemetry feeds off the shuttle completely duplicate the recorder, I would suspect that it might offer more detailed information on the

  • How can a person with the title of "Space Analyst" use terms like "glitches" and "funnies" in referencing reports specific to the technology for the behavior of the shuttle's flight navigation system?

    In an e-mail exchange, Oberg said there have been various reports about glitches or "funnies" that might have been occurring aboard Columbia even before the spaceship crossed the California coastline.

    Also, I was hoping this report had some insight as to what was on the additional seconds of data that was r

  • Columbia FAQ (Score:5, Informative)

    by MondoMor (262881) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:31AM (#5615601) Homepage Journal
    This being Slashdot, there's a lot of people talking about things they know nothing about, and acting like experts.

    There's an excellent FAQ [io.com], that will clear up a lot of misconceptions, and hopefully shut up some of the ignorant pedants.

    If you're afraid it's a hidden goatse link, here it is naked:

    http://www.io.com/~o_m/home.html
  • by totallygeek (263191) <sellis@totallygeek.com> on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:34AM (#5615626) Homepage
    Remember, this is the most dangerous job in the world, yet there are many people that dream of reaching the heavens. While tragic, we cannot make space flight safer than it is. Seven people died in the most well-maintained, fastest travelling, farthest travelling piece of machinery in the world. Countless people die in our safe automobiles daily on their way to eat lunch at speeds the shuttle reaches in less than 2 seconds after launch.


    Most astronauts are adrenaline junkies anyway, flying experimental jets, climbing mountains, sky diving, etc. Many cadets in the space program and military personnel wishing to join the space program when their duties are up die before they join NASA. We have lost less than 20 people total defying gravity, and I call that a wonderful sucess.

  • by lent (164114) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:42AM (#5615691) Homepage Journal
    The National Transportation Safety Board pulled investigators pulled people [newsday.com] from the Flight 587 [newsday.com] probe to help out on the Columbia investigation. NTSB Field Investigators, unfortunately, are experienced with finding the cause from many sometimes grisly pieces of data.
    They also know what to bring, what to do, where to go and what to ask [erau.edu]. And of course, they known how to extract data from Flight Data Recorders [ntsb.gov] Interestingly, the NTSB issued recommendations [ntsb.gov] that Require retrofit after January 1, 2005, of all cockpit voice recorders [ntsb.gov] (CVRs) [...] [be] fitted with an independent power source [...] that provides 10 minutes of operation whenever aircraft power to the recorder ceases. Just one of the things the NTSB fights the FAA [ntsb.gov] over :-)

    But remember the "Black box" (OEX recorder) on the shuttle is very different [io.com] from a CVR.
  • by ec_hack (247907) on Friday March 28, 2003 @11:43AM (#5615701)
    The data on the recorder may also give insight as to what did or did not happen on ascent, as it records the same sensor data during the climb to orbit. This could give insight as to how strong the foam impact was and where it hit on the wing.
  • Why don't they just make the whole damn shuttle out of the stuff that the flight data recorder is made out of?

    Same with airplanes too.

    ;)
  • The IS department at a previous job couldn't create a backup tape that would maintain valid data moving it across the datacenter. (as discovered after a harddrive crash). NASA has a backup system that can survive re-entry in a disintegrating shuttle, fall 200,000 feet and STILL have most of the data intact?

    Amazing.

If A = B and B = C, then A = C, except where void or prohibited by law. -- Roy Santoro

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