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Space Science

Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Sensors 166

Posted by michael
from the fighting-the-last-war dept.
Norman at Davis writes "Space.com is reporting on new "sensors designed to pinpoint potential damage from falling debris or other objects [which] will be installed into the wings of NASA's remaining shuttle fleet...." Unfortunately, the sensors won't be too sophisticated, MSNBC reports that 'the extent of damage would still have to be determined by an inspection by astronauts in orbit, using an extension boom equipped with cameras and lasers.' Apparently NASA is in the process of developing three techniques which will allow astronauts to spacewalk and repair holes up to fourteen inches in diameter. Finally... the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is also running an article on the topic, stating that "not only will computers provide state-of-the-art imaging, but Defence Department satellites will supplement inspections made by the shuttle astronauts themselves and photographs taken from the International Space Station." 'NASA's efforts to improve its ability to detect whether the shuttle has been struck during flight have evolved remarkably since Columbia's January launch, when engineers watched loops of film sent to Miami for development and projected against a wall by a noisy old projector.' Hopefully this new technology will prevent another Columbia-like disaster, as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."
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Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Sensors

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  • Spacewalk? (Score:1, Troll)

    by Gabrill (556503)
    Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?
    • we went to the moon *cough*

    • A spacewalk isn't exactly the safest thing to do. The less the time out the better.
    • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rodney dill (631059) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:06AM (#7700083) Journal
      As I recall with the Columbia it was. There is additional equipment that needs to be taken into space. Weight always being a concern if a space walk is not part of the planned activities then the suit equipment needed for manuevering is not taken along.
      • How many astronaughts have we lost to spacewalks? It seams to me that at least one EVA suit should be standard equipment. A steel line anchored to the shuttle would prevent lost walkers. Spare tires take up weight, space and affect the design of cars, yet we almost never use them. They are considered mandatory equipment though. If we subscribed to NASA's point of view, it would be the wrecker that carried a few donuts for cars with flats, and in space, the wrecker isn't even coming.
        • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Informative)

          by gorilla (36491)
          It is standard equipment. There is one contingency which must be built into every mission plan, and that's if the payload doors fail to close or lock. In this case there must be an EVA in order to close/lock them. It's never happened so far, but there is always an EVA suit and an astronaut trained in the procedure aboard.
    • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dashing Leech (688077) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:15AM (#7700149)
      Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

      Yes, yes it is. It's very expensive and dangerous, and they have to cover the entire underside of the shuttle, the leading edge of both wings, and the nose. It's hard enough getting cameras and 3D sensors to all those areas. Getting an EVA there would be very difficult.

      • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Interesting)

        Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

        Yes, yes it is. It's very expensive and dangerous, and they have to cover the entire underside of the shuttle, the leading edge of both wings, and the nose. It's hard enough getting cameras and 3D sensors to all those areas. Getting an EVA there would be very difficult.


        Also, astronauts train for EVA's by repetition. They practice the same procedure, whether it's screwing in a single bolt on a malfunctioning satellite or replacing the Hubb
        • Also, astronauts train for EVA's by repetition. They practice the same procedure, whether it's screwing in a single bolt on a malfunctioning satellite or replacing the Hubble's lenses, hundreds of times. Everything is choreographed to leave as little room for screwups as possible.

          Then perhaps the training needs to be changed to include visual inspections. Looking over a wing should be far easier than repairing a satellite. An exterior examination during every mission does not seem unreasonable for our

          • Then perhaps the training needs to be changed to include visual inspections. Looking over a wing should be far easier than repairing a satellite. An exterior examination during every mission does not seem unreasonable for our highly trained space travelers. If a tethered astronaut makes a navigation mistake, what's the problem?

            It's certainly possible, and NASA may even be thinking about it. But every EVA raises the overall risk and cost of the mission. Even if it's something NASA eventually goes with
            • It's certainly possible, and NASA may even be thinking about it. But every EVA raises the overall risk and cost of the mission. Even if it's something NASA eventually goes with, it's not as simple and straightforward a solution as the OP implied. And repairs in space are tricky, to say the least. If a spacewalk did find damage, there's a good chance that there would be nothing the astronauts could do about it.

              Yes, I see your point, but one of the recent things released from NASA was an idea for a repair

          • Looking over a wing should be far easier than repairing a satellite.

            Easier in concept, maybe, but not logistically. Just using a camera to scan the shuttle tiles and RCC panels will take approximately 8 hours, and that's just to cover the surface and record the video. Much longer will be spent on the ground reviewing the tapes. For EVAs to do this would be out of the question. They can only be out for at most 8 hours (usually 6 or less), and they'd be scanning a lot slower than a camera.

      • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Illserve (56215)
        And what makes it worse... the astronauts can't afford to touch the surface of the shuttle while doing this.

        Those tiles are like styrofoam. If an astronaut should miscalculate and drift into the belly of the orbiter, they'd cause real problems, even if there wasn't anything wrong in the first place.

    • Some of the engineers believe that a crack too small to be seen during a spacewalk could still be destructive to the shuttle.
    • Re:Spacewalk? (Score:3, Informative)

      by mikerich (120257)
      Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

      On the Shuttle yes. There aren't hand-holds across most of the Shuttle - so the astronauts can't climb on the fuselage.

      Even if they could, the tiles are so fragile that the slightest brush against the hull risks further damage to the insulation.

      The alternative of the jet pack isn't carried on every mission because of weight and stowage concerns. Additionally not every astronaut is trained in its use.

      And that still wouldn't resolve t

  • It's a bandaid (Score:5, Insightful)

    by signe (64498) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:02AM (#7700054) Homepage

    Yep, this certainly should prevent another Columbia-type disaster. Just like additional checks on the rings and seals should prevent another Challenger-type disaster. Of course, next time it will probably be metal fatigue, and this won't do anything to help.

    It's a patch, and it's reactionary. The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced. They still should be. And every time there's a hole in the dam, they slap a patch on it and say "Well, that hole's not going to leak again." Meanwhile, the entire dam is about to crumble to dust.

    -Todd
    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kippy (416183) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:16AM (#7700167)
      The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced.

      Replaced with what? If your answer is more resuable shuttles, you should really ask yourself why. What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?

      NASA needs a target not a veachle. Once it has a place to go, it should then design a means to get there. Lower Earth orbit is esentially nowhere. Let's hear it for Mars or at least the Moon.
      • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:4, Interesting)

        by DickBreath (207180) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:21AM (#7700196) Homepage
        Replaced with what?

        How about a small reusable vehicle for manned flight, and a large disposable Saturn-V style booster rocket for heavy payloads. I'm not even convinced the manned vehicle should be "reusable".
        • Sounds great. Now go and write your congressman. That's not a troll, it's probably the only way you or I can help drive the space program in the proper direction. I've already written mine.

          Find your reps here [capwiz.com]
        • We don't need to spend a fortune on a new HLV like the Saturn V. We could just go with a somewhat reusable Shuttle C (which is being looked into again) and have a huge launch capacity. I was all for a winged OSP until I started reading such great articles on capsules in space.com and other websites. You can still have a ground landing, reusable capsule that will reduce the cost of just getting people into orbit. Beyond that, a previous poster is absolutely correct. We need a destination. We need to st
        • Before deciding if you want to replace it, first we have to decide if manned space flight is worth it. There isn't an overriding scientific reason for people to be up there. There isn't any commerical reason. There are huge cost reasons against it - any manned program will cost many times more than a similar non-manned program, but the manned program will have greatly truncated scientific goals, and often virtually no scientific function at all. We don't need people dying to find out how ants form anthills

      • kippy-

        The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced.
        -later-
        What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?


        You've got to be kidding.

        Honestly, you need to read about the space shuttle before you start bouncing such tripe out on us. We're talking manned spaceflight here, something that actually looks more like spaceflight than just putting some pay
        • I am not a rocket scientist and you are probably not either. I am not bashing the engineers at NASA. They are not the people calling the shots. I am disapointed in the mismanagement and lack of direction. I am sure that there are visionary zelots in NASA but I've also spoken with peoplw who have worked at NASA describing government workers who might as well be working at the DMV.

          For all your name calling, I didn't see you list any benifits that the shuttle program has gotten us. if you look at the hom [nasa.gov]
      • What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?

        That might have been interesting if you had compared the number of dead test pilots to dead astronauts, but I doubt the numbers would support your point. What the shuttle got us was the ISS. Whether it was more political than physical is another debate. We have to learn to walk before we can run. You sound like the guy who wants to build a top-fuel go-kart.

        • Yes but what good is ISS? The shuttle is basicaly a 0G test lab already. I haven't heard of anything that ISS can do that can't be done in the shuttle. It's a foothold in space but what good is it? it's sucking up billions but is the science we're getting from it worth that much? A presence in space should be on planets or moons. There's nothing in space but space.

          I'm going further and further off topic but space stations are a dead-end in space exploration. once you get there what do you do? They
          • I haven't heard of anything that ISS can do that can't be done in the shuttle. It's a foothold in space but what good is it?

            Are you seriously suggesting doing a Mars mission via Earth launch? Complete with return reentry vehicles and all? That is so Apollo. Get a grip on the big picture. It's the foothold that is important. It's what we have been hoping for. Duh.

            • You've got to be trolling me at this point. Just in case you're not, check this [nw.net] site out. It outlines how to do a direct from Earth launch to Mars on a shoestring and do it right.
    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ShadowBlasko (597519) <shadowblaskoNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:29AM (#7700265) Homepage
      Todd,

      While I agree with you in general, I think you are missing the biggest problem with the whole thing. Overall accountability and *some* comprehensible flow of flight status go/no go operations.

      Until there is a complete overhaul of the red tape that is flight preparedness, it doesn't matter if you patch the holes in the existing shuttle or build a new one out of unobtanium.

      It was clearly evident in the months following the Challenger, and in the *minutes* following the Columbia, that the left hand does not have the slightest *clue* what the right hand is doing.

      Mission preparedness is no longer about what works and what doesn't. Its about what subcontractor is in what senators pocket that has the most to ride on whether a mission is delayed.

      Morton Thiokol's engineers knew that those rings suffered from a serious loss of functionality at those temperatures, spoke up, and nothing was done.

      Checks on the O rings do not make a damned bit of difference if the beaurocrat the safety engineer is reporting to is gagged by red tape.

      The whole freaking *world* saw that foam hit the wing, and nothing was done. (That they are going to tell us about)

      At this point in time I honestly believe that NASA could break a titanium ball bearing with a rubber mallet.

      I used to believe in the dream that was manned space exploration. I loved that dream. However, NASA is not going to get us out of LEO. Not unless we get idiots out of the loop, and get some resposible people, (IE engineers, not lawyers) to make the calls on what goes and what does not.

      Some of the equipment will *always* break when you are pushing the edge like we *want* NASA to do. Tragedies like the Columbia and the Challenger were not an example of those failures. They are examples of the flaws in the system, not the equipment.

      Shadow

      (And would you please answer your email you silly Paladin, It's only been 3 years since I have talked to you)

      • Your dream might not yet be dead -- I'm with you. But we will have to see how the gov't responds to the space race arising out of the Eastern hemisphere.

        My guess is that it will come later rather than sooner. Right now the gov't is preoccupied with avenging itself of 9/11 and getting past the 2004 elections.
      • >The whole freaking *world* saw that foam hit the wing, and nothing was done.
        >(That they are going to tell us about)

        THe shuttle have been hit many times by foam before with no problems following, hence nasa thought it would be ok this time as well
    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oudzeeman (684485) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:31AM (#7700273)
      Shuttles were designed to fly much more often than they do now. NASA had envisioned at least bi-weekly flights when they designed the shuttle. At that rate of launch there actually would have been a cost savings over an entirely disposable system.

      They have not been overworked. They were built to fly at least 100 missions without major overhauls. Columbia had completed 38 missions before the disaster.

      Now this was supposed to be in a much shorter timeframe, but its the number of missions, not age, that causes stress on the shuttle. Also they had just done an overhaul of the Columbia before the disaster, so they did shorten the number of missions between overhauls.

      I've read recent articles that NASA plans on keeping the remaining three shuttles flying for another 20 years. They plan on doing this with smaller crews, using the shuttle to tote cargo, and speeding up development of the space plane to bring crews back and forth to the space station. The reduced crew of the shuttle would make an ejection seat a viable option.

      • The reduced crew of the shuttle would make an ejection seat a viable option.

        "Press the big red button to eject.
        Warning: no air outside, and it's a loooong fall"
      • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:5, Insightful)

        by njchick (611256) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:38PM (#7701857) Journal
        But please note that neither Challenger nor Columbia disaster were in any way caused by the shuttles being reusable. The SRBs are reusable, but the O-rings failed because they were operated below certain temperature, not because they were old. The fuel tank and its foam are not reusable. The same piece of foam would break the RCC panels even if they were absolutely new.

        Shuttles are not failing because they are old or too complex. They are failing because known risks are ignored. Switching to expendable launchers won't fix it.

    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CompressedAir (682597) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:37AM (#7700318)
      Neither shuttle accident was caused by maintenence failure, as you suggest. The first was caused by known safety issues that were disregarded by management, and the second was caused by an accident.

      Implying that the shuttles are going to "crumble into dust" without anyone noticing is preposterous. The shuttles are the best maintained flight vehicles in the history of the world.
    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mrdorval (472908)
      Simple solution: purchase seats on the Soyuz to transport people (leave the ant farms behind). Use expendable boosters (US or Russian) for heavy lifting.

      The Soyuz is simple, reliable and safe, if a bit cramped. The next-generation space transport will most likely be capsule-like rather than plane-like anyway. Incidentally, capsules are the only way back from a deep-space mission, like Apollo.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        > deep-space mission, like Apollo.

        It's all relative, ain't it. ;-D

        That really cracked me up. deep-space, indeed

        I suppose when the majority of the spaceflight is a few miles above the earth, going to the moon seems like deep-space.

        somehow, deep-space implies inter-stellar distances, in my mind
    • by lcsjk (143581) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:48AM (#7700417)
      I recently talked to an engineer from the booster rockets. He said his group was aware of the foam problem on the boosters and changed to a hard surface foam type that would not come apart during flight. The company working on the main tank foam would not consider changing foam type since it is very expensive to change at this stage of the game.


      The foam on the main tank can absorb moisture, so with a fresh load of liquid hydrogen (and an overnight rain)it condenses and freezes, making not a chunk of foam, but a chunk of ice break loose and hit the shuttle wing.
      There's more details of course, but you get the picture. He did mention that at the temperatures and pressures of re-entry, a hairline crack would be disastrous, and such a crack would not be detected by an astronaut doing a space walk.

      • by twiddlingbits (707452) on Friday December 12, 2003 @11:55AM (#7701308)
        Pure BS. Read the CAIB. They tested the foam for absorbing water and breaking off as ice, I didn't. They are not 100% sure of why the foam came off, the area it broke away from was laid up by hand not machine and has a complex geometry, both of which were contributing factors. A hairline crack would be an issue but not disaster, again read the CAIB, and earlier shuttle flight had many tiles knocked off and some small amount of damage but not on the RCC leading edge. There is still considerable debate as to how much "punishment" the RCC can take. The foam and RCC are both issues that must be solved before RTF. The CAIB report is VERY detailed, and very complete and removes from the discussion issues such as "fozen foam", but also introduces other new risks such as the underspecification bolt catchers.
        • They are not 100% sure of why the foam came off, the area it broke away from was laid up by hand not machine and has a complex geometry, both of which were contributing factors.

          This was only the effect, not the cause. The foam on the tank was a hard-surfaced foam material *until* a few years ago. Then the type of foam used was changed for "environmental" reasons to eliminate a small amount of chloroflourocarbons in the original foam. The new foam is far more susceptible to damage than the old, at leas
          • Yes, saving the bunnies from cataracts in Argentina was a contributing factor. NASA actually had a waiver from the EPA to continue to use the old foam (see the CAIB) but chose to move to the newer version. I work for a NASA contractor and I too often wonder if its time for something new agency wise. I think the Sr. Leaders in the Agency know this too, and understand the agency is on the knife edge, on slip and it's over. NASA can recover, its just going to take some SERIOUS changes, and frankly I'm not sur
        • You can learn a lot from the CAIB report. You can learn a lot from the design engineers who have been working on the project for over 20 years. You are at liberty to shout BS for anything you don't agree with. Just keep in mind that it was the design engineers who raised the questions about there being a potential problem with the foam breaking off. And if you don't believe it will absorb water, you should test a piece yourself, or find an engineer who has done so. I got my information from an engineer.
          • Like I said read the CAIB, you want me to qoute the pages? I have the report right here, when someone does not report the facts about something that cost lives, I damn sure AM going to shout BS. There should be a lot more shouting BS at NASA anyway. As for the foam, The CAIB sent samples out to a PhD who did all kinds of tests See CAIB report pages 53-54, and 122-124 where the issues of foam fracture and potential for loss from Hydrostatic pressure are discussed. The CAIB clearly states in the 3rd from last
            • Well, I won't argue. You may be right. You have to believe what you want to. One group had 20 years working with the foam, including active data. A PhD had a year to do tests and came up with a partially conflicting conclusion and wrote a convincing report. If you were riding the Shuttle, which would you stake your life on? A PhD makes one educated, but not necessarily an expert. Now you can say case closed.
              • I WORK FOR NASA. The engineers are anything but infalliable. My job is to find mistakes made by overconfident/untrained engineers, and I find a LOT of them. NASA has as much excellent Engineering as it does bad. The engineers and managers as unfalliable demi-gods attitude cost us Challenger and Columbia and 14 lives. Come do my job and you'll have a different opinion.
                • I worked on the Voyager spacecraft and on projects for the ISS. I've worked with the best and some of the worst. I pretty much agree with you that people in all areas are not infallable, including both you and me and any investigation board. I also am aware, just as you, that management gives priority to economics and schedule over safe design. Its a shame, but when management does not bother to listen to the reserved engineer who knows exactly what he is talking about but is too shy to jump up on the d
    • Re:It's a bandaid (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Billly Gates (198444) on Friday December 12, 2003 @08:18PM (#7707334) Journal
      Inaccurate analogy.

      Age was looked at during the Columbian investigation. They are just as strong if not stronger then they were 20 years ago. Infact they are both lighter and stronger.

      Unlike a car, the Thrust is not really driven as much by moving parts. All the moving parts are replaced regularly. Very few if any of the original shuttle is still left in the current ones. Lots of things are replaced and the skeletal structure is fairly rust and corrosive proof. If not then its replaced. Plain and simple.

      I read more comments farther down from here about using space capsules again. I think that is dumb and silly because they are more expensive and error prone. Look at apollo 13 as an example of what a defect can do. If you redesign the space module each time you send it up, you increase the risk of something going wrong by introducing another possible defect.

      All the bugs in the shuttle have long been replaced. It was switching booster insulators is what caused Columbia's demise. If they used the old non environmental foam, the problem never would of happened.

      We need a consistant and reliable method to get astronaughts into space. The resuable shuttle program is the best one.

  • 14 inch hole? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zog The Undeniable (632031) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:04AM (#7700069)
    Apparently the astronauts will have a "patch kit" for holes up to 14" in diameter. That's a pretty big hole; how big do they think the hole on Columbia was (before it fell apart, obviously)?
    • Re:14 inch hole? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rhadamanthus (200665) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:13AM (#7700142)
      Big enough that smaller chunks of Reinforced Carbon-Carbon paneling floated into space on the 2nd day of the mission. Yes, it is true. You can read about it in the accident report. There test on RCC panel 8 put a huge hole in the RCC panel, "roughly 16 inches by 17 inches".

      I could rant on and on about the foolishness of the shuttle (I work at NASA) but I wont here. To much to say.

      ---rhad

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Yep... The kit they showed off in... 1981 for the first shuttle launches.

      At that time it was used only a few times then dismissed as it could mean some savings.

      Mentioned in French on October 2003 Spacenews [spacenews.be]

      Now that's cutting-edge technology !
    • CAIB report (Score:3, Informative)

      by teridon (139550)
      The test report is located here [www.caib.us]. Check out the hole in the panel on page 82.
  • Revolutionary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by philipx (521085) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:05AM (#7700074) Homepage
    Pretty much everybody that is into space stuff could tell you that (space debris) collisions are the #1 unfixable problem that could happen to almost any craft out there.
    While most of the systems are redundant (although the recent Japanesse problems have shown and redundancy is not all), the outer shell is obviously not, therefore any damage to it is *HUGE* oooops.

    Take some problems:
    Fire on board - you can control (if nothing you can vacuum the chamber).
    Power failure - almost all of them have redundant power systems, enough to allow repair to the primary one.
    Life systems failure - autonomous suits.
    Computer/Electrical failures - switch to one of the 2 (or 4 in newer shuttle models) redundant system.

    Advances in in-flight repairs might bring us the good oxygen mouth needed till we manage to come up with better, stronger, cheaper alloys.
    (However, one question begs: where are the energy shields? :))
    • Re:Revolutionary (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Computer/Electrical failures - switch to one of the 2 (or 4 in newer shuttle models) redundant system.

      As I understand it, there are two backups for every sensor, but the signal lines run through the same tubes. Additionally, there is one extra backup, which has signal lines which physically run through another part of the shuttle, so you cannot loose all your redundancies when the wiring loom gets damaged.
  • Repair (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Davak (526912) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:07AM (#7700098) Homepage
    The astronauts will be equipped with the capability to patch a hole as large as 14 inches in diameter, using one of three repair techniques still being developed. The best method will be selected around March of next year, officials said.


    Holy cow. Can you imagine the stress of repairing a foot-sized hole in the shuttle? Talking about your a$ being on the line.

    The problem is now the shuttle suddenly got more expensive. By investing in all of this, they are going to make inspection and repair of even minor stuff a big part of every mission.

    Taking a look at the surface is the shuttle is slightly more complex than walking around and kicking the tires of your car. This is going to add expensive time to every mission.

    Plus, they are now going to find tons of breaks that are not important... but they will be obligated to fix anyway.

    Alas...

    Davak
    • Plus, they are now going to find tons of breaks that are not important... but they will be obligated to fix anyway.

      Tons of breaks that aren't important? We're talking about a heat shield, not your '89 Oldsmobile's fender! Any hole that has appeared since launch is a result of debris during takeoff, and is pretty darn important. Especially if you're up there in the shuttle, you're not going to mind spending the time to fix. Ground control, senators, and the American public, I believe, would rather see

    • by nizo (81281)
      In this case of Columbia, what if they had known the shuttle wasn't landable, and decided to dock with th e ISS and take the escape vehicle down instead? Granted it would leave the ISS without an escape vehicle, but it beats what actually happened, eh? If the whole columbia crew couldn't fit into the escape craft, they wait in the shuttle (should be enough food/air/water for awhile) until they can be rescued. Better yet, plan for this kind of thing in the future, and have a second escape vehicle on the ISS.
      • they couldn't, they were in the wrong orbit to dock with the IIS. plus they didn't have enough fuel to alter their orbit. Only thing they could have done would have been to send up another shuttle, but NASA would have had to try to get a shuttle ready to fly within a *week*, a process that usually takes months. Hence they would risk loosing yet another shuttle, not good either
  • Interesting News (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ChuckDivine (221595) * <charles.j.divine@gmail.com> on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:09AM (#7700114) Homepage

    Glad to see work is progressing with regard to on orbit repair. That's a capability which will benefit all kinds of future activity in space.

    I don't know, though, about a shuttle replacement becoming less likely though. NASA might not come up with a replacement (think National Aerospace Plane, X-33) but teams now competing for the X Prize [xprize.org] could very well produce an orbital vehicle down the line.

    If a small group can win the X Prize, it will show a better way to pursue space engineering than NASA's dysfunctional bureaucracy. Such a win will lead people to start investing real money in new space technology. It's already known that if we can reduce the cost to orbit from $10K/pound ($20K/kilo) to around $1K/pound ($2K/kilo) lots of opportunities will arise for space based activity. Get that price down to $10/pound (if possible) and you see people like me taking off for orbit to do things like create art [att.net]. At that lower price we might even see zero gravity dance like that envisioned by Spider and Jeanne Robinson [spiderrobinson.com]. The possibilities are truly endless.

  • Why sensors? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:12AM (#7700133)
    Unfortunately, the sensors won't be too sophisticated, MSNBC reports that 'the extent of damage would still have to be determined by an inspection by astronauts in orbit, using an extension boom equipped with cameras and lasers.

    The problem with this scenario is that it is a remedy for the wrong cure. Nasa knew that something could be broken, because they had seen the piece of debris falling. So the equivalent of the crude sensors that they are going to use, was already there. It was (once again) NASAs failure to respond to the worries of the people on the work floor that were the problem.

    Fitting sensors on the shuttle is just a way to avoid having to admit that nothing has changed in NASAs orginization since the Challenger disaster.
    The cause of the accident was not the O-ring, it was the choice to let political pressure cut into safety margins. It was the failure to listen to worries of the people who actually build the thing.

    The second disaster is no different. The potential problem was already identified and some effort was undertaken to run computer simulations on the debris impact on the underside of the wing.
    However, these were not written to simulate such a large chunk of debris. The coders of the software mentioned this, but this was ignored, because the conclusion was convenient. Ofcourse, it turned out to be the leading edge of the wing that was the problem, which was not even investigated because it was supposed to be indistructable.

    I think that Feynmans report on the Challenger dissaster can be transfered to this dissaster. The details are different, but these details are symptoms of a common problem, which is NASAs chain of command.
  • by wiredog (43288) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:14AM (#7700145) Journal
    IIRC, during the Challenger hearings it turned out that there were something like 1,00 criticality one systems. Systems with no backup from which a failure could lead to loss of an orbiter. Not just major criticality one areas like, say, a wing falling off or heat shield components, but o-rings, electrical systems, etc. I wonder how many criticality one systems are left?

    The failure of Columbia, as with Challenger, was one of process, i.e. beaurocracy, as much as a mechanical one. "Take off your engineer hats, and put on your manager hats." "We don't really need to have the Air Force look at it with a KH-11." Etc.

    Saw both of them on TV. Live. Saw the first launch of Columbia, skipped school that day (9th grade) to watch.

    • In 1999, CNN (http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9905/04/downlinks/ ) reported as follows:

      "As a result, criticality one failure probabilities in the main engines have been reduced 83 percent to 1 in 993. The solid rocket boosters (culprit in the Challenger disaster) now pose a 1 in 1,152 chance of causing a catastrophic failure -- a 76 percent improvement in the past seven years. Overall, the chances of a shuttle having a criticality one failure are now 1 in 438. That means statistically, the shuttles could fl

  • Sort of a good thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Akasha (122427) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:15AM (#7700154) Homepage Journal
    I remember my two stays at Space Camp... both times a group of campers screwed up on ther mission at the end of the week and burn up on re-entry or collide with the space station. While we explored the aspects of using the shuttle's computer to compensate for mistakes and accidents (such as fuel loss) we pretty much considered any physical damage to be a lost cause.

    From the looks of how NASA really runs the show, it appears they held the same attitude with the shuttle fleet. Granted, it's nigh impossible to do complex repairs in space (especially to repair a heat shield) and inspecting an in-flight shuttle for damage analogous to a medevial European investigating himself for any wounds and praying he hasn't gotten an infection. Because of this "hope we don't get hit" attitude, the shuttle fleet needs some kind of in-flight repair process. Unfortunately, the nature of the shuttle design makes it extremely hard to perform such repairs. Sure, there is a repair process being develop (good) but it's a repair process for an out of date product used by an agency that refuses to replace it (bad).

    I'm glad the shuttle fleet was made and it's something that needed to be done. But it has served its purpose and is now outdated. It's time we upgraded and it's time NASA's management understands they are not the top dogs of engineering and astrophysics anymore.
  • by angusr (718699) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:15AM (#7700159)
    The chances of there being a replacement that is reusable appear to be lessening, true.

    Currently the US does not have a non-resuable space capsule available at all. Non-reusuable means that for every flight a new vehicle must be built from scratch; this might seem a bad thing, but it means that a) new design features can be added all the time, b) the components are all "new" so fatigue and wear are less of an issue and c) the production lines are in constant use.

    The latter is vital. It's now pretty much impossible for a new shuttle to be built as the tools, production techniques and knowledge to build them were all lost or destroyed years ago. Endeavour, built to replace Challenger, was constructed from spare parts that were already fabricated at the time. The contract to build it was awarded in 1987, but construction on the crew module started in 1982 (as a spare module). If a single use capsule had been in use (in addition to the Shuttle or not) then the tooling, production data and knowledge would still be current.

    Russia has the Soyuz capsule, which has been constantly upgraded over the decades the design has been in use. China now has Shenzou, which is Soyuz based (although it appears that there may be some quite radical differences under the hood). The only non-Shuttle design that the US has that is close to being ready-to-build is the Apollo CSM (or Mercury or Gemini, of course).

    In some ways concentrating on the Shuttle at the expense of other designs of spacecraft has lead to the situation that NASA now finds itself in - and, to a large extent, the fault can be laid at the doors of those who control their pursestrings.

  • NASA's Problem (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:18AM (#7700172)
    "as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."

    Thats because NASA has 2 big mental problems. They are a huge Government Beauracracy that suffers from Not Invented Here(NIH) Syndrome. Their other huge issue is the 'It Has to be Reusable' Mytosis.

    Russia has a warehouse full of brand new engines, but NASA won't buy em. We have a whole fleet of Rocket Designs that are proven, but use once. More importantly there is 'infrastructure' to support those vehicles, tools, launch pads, software. All ready.

    I've seen these NASA people...they make 46 year old Trekkers look like fscking 'Geniuses'. These are people who CANNOT get a job anywhere else in the world.

    JoeR
  • "...will allow astronauts to spacewalk and repair holes up to fourteen inches in diameter."

    Obviously buzz and friends will now be equipped with extra strength Great Stuff [dow.com].

  • misread... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bazman (4849) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:24AM (#7700223) Journal
    You can tell its Friday and that there's a carpenter sawing the ceiling off just outside my office. I misread that as "Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Stereo".

    • They've got enough problems up there with noise as it is. The Russian modules, wspecially, are very loud, and noise-cacelling headphones are too uncomfortable for extended use.
  • Why don't they have little repair drones like on Bab5. Or at least stupid R2 units like on that ridiculous movie...
  • by Hiigara (649950) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:25AM (#7700230)
    I'm a diehard supporter of manned spaceflight, however even I have to acknowledge the fact the space shuttle is like your old Pontiac 1991 that broke down every other week. It's old, it's outdated, and it serves no purpose. The only real advantage of the shuttle is it's payload capabilities, which haven't be used very well in the last couple of years. We'd be better off using capsules to ferry astronauts back and forth from the ISS, which is another big failure. What's the point of doing the same thing over and over? Most of the experiments being conducted in low earth orbit are jokes. Baby steps are great for dangerous activities, but a leap is what's needed to keep us in the game. Real scientific revolution.

    While NASA's technology continues to improve beyond even my expectations for a under funded, it's dream, it's vision continues to splinter and die. This is just another example of that, being able to successful inspect and repair for damage in space is important for bigger and better things that might come in the future, it's being used to keep an aging useless shuttle fleet going, sucking up money and basically behaving like a cancerous growth.

    GG NASA

    Best thing NASA could do right now IMHO, scrap the shuttles, redesign the ISS and boost it to the Legrange (Spelling?) point. Use it as a construction yard for the Mission to Mars. One problem is solved already, food for the space station. Once the Chinese build a moon base they'll have a steady diet of Chinese takeout.
    • Even the payload capacities aren't that impressive nowadays. The Titan 4B can launch 22 tons to LEO, which is close to the shuttle's 25-32 tons depending on mission. Of course this is dwarfed by Saturn V, which could lift 125 tons to LEO.
  • They should definitely do an in-space inspection of the shuttle...and NASA should have more $ to help pay for such excursions. They are working on such a shoestring, it's unbelievable. The 100 million dollar mars probe crashed, but the 1 billion dollar viking landed just fine... hmmm....
  • fleet? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tiled_rainbows (686195) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:29AM (#7700261) Homepage Journal
    ...installed into the wings of NASA's remaining shuttle fleet....

    Fleet? They've only got three left! How small can a fleet be?

    Anyway, what we really need to get the public interested in spaceflight again is a SSTO nuclear-powered rocket that takes off and lands vertically. That would be so cool. I honestly believe that the single best, and most logically defensible, reason for going into space is that it's cool to do so, and I believe that the hardware should be designed accordingly.

    • They tried to change the name to "floatilla" (sp?), but the 435th manager along the chain killed it, and it never found its way to anyone vaguely important. So now it sits in several filing cabinets, abandoned and forgotten.
    • Anyway, what we really need to get the public interested in spaceflight again is a SSTO nuclear-powered rocket that takes off and lands vertically.

      Yea, that's a great idea, but if you could come up with a different word than "nuclear" that would be wonderful. To the environmental-whacko crowd, "nuclear" means kids running away from falling radiation debris. Ridiculous.

  • by Erik_ (183203) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:30AM (#7700267)
    Why not simply add two high-speed/high-res cameras aimed from the cockpit level towards the wings, and just record the data local in the shuttle. Once in orbit, they can download the movies for analysis by the ground engineers for impact troubles.The cameras can even burn-up on the re-entry in the atmosphere and be replaced.
  • by XaosTX (723612) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:33AM (#7700289)
    Now I can finally get a spaceship with fricken' lasers!
  • by AtariAmarok (451306) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:38AM (#7700327)
    10. "Now we can see if Lance Bass is on his way a lot earlier, so we can shut off the lights and make it look like no one is home"
    9. Cerebro mode to make Professor X feel welcome.
    8. To prove WMD's on Mars in advance of invasion
    7. Now they can finally find out if that is a Class-M planet down there.
    6. New Stroboscopic Polarizing System now makes the Mushroom Planet visible at last.
    5. Sensors? I thought you said "Censors". Drats! There are too many astronauts watching Hentai aboard this thing.
    4. To find out if that is Val Kilmer's robot dog scratching at the outside walls, or just space junk.
    3. "A cloaked SCO battlecruiser, of the Penguinkiller class, off the starboard bow!"
    2. So we, for one, can see and welcome our new alien ant overlords before anyone else.
    1. Lazy fat American Astronauts can now sit in ship and see everything outside, no need for spacewalk.
  • by Kevin Burtch (13372) on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:42AM (#7700352)

    When is titanium going to come down in price [slashdot.org] anyways? (been over 2 years now)

    We need to be using new alloys [slashdot.org] for things like this instead of cell-phones!

    Structural fatigue is a common fear for the shuttle and can be eliminated! [slashdot.org]

  • by bongoras (632709) * on Friday December 12, 2003 @10:50AM (#7700446) Homepage
    holy shit, someone stole my horse! I'm gonna go lock that barn door RIGHT NOW!
  • borked sensors.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hey_bob (6104)
    What if the sensors that are supposed to detect if there is a hole in the shuttle, are taken out when a hole is made in the shuttle.
    • by ckaminski (82854)
      You're joking, right? The big computer that's screaming "IMPACT SENSOR 1028 FAILURE" over and over and over wouldn't give you a good place to start looking?
  • Can't they just put a webcam and an Ethernet run on the robotic arm? Who cares if it gets wiped out from space radiation on ever flight. You can replace them for the cost of one of those shuttle tiles. Maybe add a telescoping extension so you can look under the wing, Low end Sony camera have thermal and low light imaging. I could whip it all together for a couple hundred buck and some duct tape.
  • by c13v3rm0nk3y (189767) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:07PM (#7701471) Homepage

    As long as they pronounce "sensor" as in "sen-sors indicate Kling-on wessel, captain", I'm in perfect agreement.

    But only if.

  • by Storm (2856) on Friday December 12, 2003 @12:17PM (#7701564) Homepage
    Its the process at NASA. In the Challenger explosion, the managers at NASA were told repeatedly that the O-rings became brittle at temperatures below 56 degrees F. Up to the night before the launch, the engineers from Thyacol (sp?), the makers of the solid rocket boosters, refused to sign off on the launch. The NASA managers basically browbeat them into signing off on a launch the next day, even though the temperature was 26 degrees F that morning. NASA was getting all sorts of bad press regarding the three previous delays, and was hell-bent to launch.

    From what I have seen on the subject, Columbia was much the same issue. NASA knew at launch that there might have been damage, but management seemed more concerned about getting egg on its face than the fate of the shuttle. No, thats not fair. Perhaps they didn't think it was that big of a deal, but given that space flight and re-entry pushes the hardware to its limits, there is not a whole lot of extra flex built into the system. It just seems that decisions of that magnitude are made with almost careless abandon. Technology, while good, cannot fix a fundamentally flawed system.
  • by robbymet (732292) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:36PM (#7702645)
    First, the problem that caused the Columbia failure was not in the Shuttle's wings, but that its fuel tanks were designed with insulation that can fall off! Commercial airplanes don't have in-flight wing repairs because the FAA wouldn't let them fly if pieces of them were allowed to fall off. Then, if something did malfunction, the mission(flight) would be aborted, not continued until there was no hope for a safe return. I worked for a company that has designs sitting on the shelf of replacement fuel tanks for the Shuttle with internal insulation (it can't fall off that way!) that weighed 50% less than the current models. All with existing technology. The frustrating thing about NASA and aerospace in general is that 'unobtanium' isn't necessary for inexpensive access to space. Reusable launch vehicles can be built with existing technologies and materials, I've designed one under DARPA's RASCAL program. The problem is that there's too much money to be lost by replacing the Shuttle. A standard government contract includes a 10% profit margin, and there are no incentives for coming in ahead of schedule or under-budget. Therefore, companies lose money by supplying the government with less expensive products, because the total value of their contract decreases. You'll notice that the same companies that bid on NASP and every other 'Shuttle replacement' are the same companies that support the Shuttle. It would only undercut their profit margin to develop a more reliable and inherently less expensive vehicle. This is also because the government is their only remaining customer, and since they obviously don't hold them accountable for an inferior product, why should they change? There is no longer much of a commercial satellite industry in the US as a result. The government gave loan guarantees to cable companies so they could install cable across the country. This resulted in a huge infrastructural overhead that forced the cable industry to offer their services at a loss in order to compete with the satellite television providers. Luckily, when the cable companies went bankrupt and defaulted on their government loans, they no longer had this overhead and can now operate at a profit will undercutting satellite service costs. Now the risks associated with commercial satellite service in the US is so high, that these companies have left (to France) or gone under. So, not only has the government insure that we can't readily launch satellites, but they helped bankrupt the companies that would even use the services in the US. Man, aerospace is frustrating...
  • by xA40D (180522) on Friday December 12, 2003 @01:48PM (#7702785) Homepage
    Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't both shuttle disasters have more to do with a breakdown in management and communication than a lack of monitoring?

    Still shiny new sensors will give everyone a warm fuzzy feeling, which is obviously all that matters.
  • There's a lot of ways I guess they could inspect the shuttle for damage, but these sensors are really not going to cover the entire ship which, if they're going to do this, is what's needed. Of course, covering the entire ship is too expensive and can make sensor replacement a real pain, so why not with all the technology we have already don't we develop little pods that can deploy and do a fly-by of the ship once it's in orbit? Ever see those little jet propelled balls that were developed for space? They'r

  • Now they can tell the crew, 'Yep, you're definitely f*cked. The damage can't be repaired cause you're not equipped for a spacewalk, and attempting re-entry would be catastrophic.'
    Thank god for our new sensors. What they really need is a fully equipped orbital repair station.
  • Threat: If something damages the thermal protection system, the shuttle might turn into tons of flaming debris raining down on a random Texas town.

    Conclusion: We might need to know if there are holes in the wing.

    Result: Install sensors slightly more informative than reporting the destruction of the landing gear assembly.

    Sounds pretty reasonable to me.
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Friday December 12, 2003 @04:11PM (#7704566) Homepage
    Pre-descent Checklist
    Item 87: Make sure nothing fell off during ascent.

    Hmmm.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead

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