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Space Science

NASA Postpones Shuttle Launch 159

Posted by Zonk
from the getting-antsy-on-the-ground dept.
Mictian writes "NASA has decided to postpone Discovery's upcoming Return to Flight (STS-114) by a week to May 22. This is done in order to give the agency more time to finish paperwork, analyses and reviews of safety changes made. The delay came as no surprise, since the original May 15 date was always considered preliminary. The current launch window extends from May 15 to June 3."
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NASA Postpones Shuttle Launch

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  • by Nadsat (652200) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:33AM (#12301870) Homepage
    Concerns about shuttle safety have been largely responsible for 22 major changes in the orbiter's design and as many as 40 more minor changes. "All of the redesign is complete," with a few exceptions, said Wayne Hale, deputy manager of the space shuttle program.

    Last minute code release! Always a smart move....
    • Users always make the best testers... although, the stakes here are a little higher than a wrong account ballance or missing ATM transaction.
    • At a staff meeting a group was discussing a MAJOR system that they were just finally getting ready to deploy in a week or two. They mentioned that they had one last meeting in a week to figure out what bugs wouldn't get fixed in the final release.

      This was a multi-million-dollar project. Why on earth they were still debating build features a week before deployment I have no idea. Not surprisingly an annoucement was sent out to end-users a month later telling them to expect unusual delays from groups util
  • by Flamora (877499) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:34AM (#12301878)
    I mean, true, we really do need to get back to our normal routines of spaceflight, but we also need to make sure it's safe and that we're not going to lose any more shuttles due to microfractures or falling ice or whatnot.

    Of course, this is also why I think that more effort needs to be put into commercial space vehicles, so as to make spaceflight more commonplace.
    • Of course, this is also why I think that more effort needs to be put into commercial space vehicles, so as to make spaceflight more commonplace.

      The time to privatize space travel is long overdue. There's an immense revenue stream available for private/commercial spaceflight. Bush ought to be directing NASA's efforts AWAY from being an agency of construction/launch management/exploration, and towards being an agency of mostly science/research. Another, much smaller agency, is needed to oversee the comme

      • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:12AM (#12302729)
        There's an immense revenue stream available for private/commercial spaceflight.

        Such as?

        The only obvious profitable space-based activities are communications satellites and imaging satellites. Both of these have already been privatized.

        To address the usual suspects:

        1. The novelty of sending rich people into space for jollies is going to wear off real quick. That's not a basis to support an entire space industry.

        2. Mining activities don't make sense. The universe is comprised of chemical elements. There are few if any elements available in space that arent' available on earth or can't be substituted by other materials. The only obvious exception, helium isotopes for fusion fuel, would be great except that we most likely won't be using fusion fuel for decades.

        • Such as?

          Our government said it'd cost $1 trillion to land a dude on Mars and bring him home. That was in the late 1980's, and many of the projects and much of the research that was figured into that $1 trillion figure has already been done. More realistic modern figures place the price tag at $300-$500 billion. Let's be generous and say that it'd cost $450-$750 billion.

          Now, that's for the government to do it. Let's not aim so far as Mars, and start with the moon. Cut that figure in half. We're at

          • You want to run a moon base on entertainment value.

            Let's compare with one of the largest entertainment driven enterprises in the world: the Olympics. To support itself every 2 years with TV and licensing revenue it generates more hype than most anyone can stand. Their total revenues average out to a couple of $Billion per year. That kind of money isn't going to put a dent in what's required to design, build and run a moon base, whether it's government or private.

            The Olympics has the advantage of coverin

            • Your comparison to the Olympics is a bit flawed.

              First of all, NBC paid almost a billion for two weeks of Olympics coverage 5 years ago. That's just television coverage for two-weeks of an event that happens every four years. What do you think these networks might pay for an event that's never happened before?

              ESPN is paying a billion per year for Monday Night Football.

              How much do networks pay for the Super Bowl, a one-day event that lasts 3-4 hours? Usually Bowl bids are packaged up with regular rea

          • Financial analyses of NASA have shown that under 10% of its budget is typically put towards expenses directly related to spaceflight, and the rest is research, bidding, bureaucracy, and government waste. That suggests that the cost for private industry to pull this off is $50 billion.

            You've exhibited what I call the Fallacy of Privatization.

            Private entities are no where near immune from research, bidding, bureaucracy, and waste.

            Research: Can a moon base be constructed completely with off-the-shelf parts
        • There is no reason to go into space at all. But we still do, because it is human nature to expand, to grow, to learn and to seek out new places to live and exist in. The human race could happily stay on earth for the rest of its existance. We could prop up all the third or second world countries into the state of europe and America, and then stay at that level of development, for we would be content. But we won't - there will always be pioneers going to live on space stations, or the moon, mars or perhaps t

          • Space travel pushes our need to innovate and leads to many inventions that we enjoy in our normal lives. The need to understand where we are, how we got here and how the universe works doesn't seem like a trivial goal. There are always things we could give up to help the needy. I could be donating my time, instead of posting on /., but oh well. Now if you're talking the tradeoff between the ISS vs. the Super Collider, I could agree.
  • by KipCas (872321) <`y2kip' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:37AM (#12301899) Homepage
    They have to wait because the Google website logo with the little space shuttle in it wasnt ready yet.
  • Gas Prices (Score:4, Funny)

    by mathmatt (851301) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:43AM (#12301935) Homepage
    NASA is just waiting for their paycheck to clear so they can afford to fill up that gas hog. That Shuttle makes a Hummer look like a Prius when it comes to MPG!
    • Re:Gas Prices (Score:2, Informative)

      by StratoChief66 (841584)
      Yeah, but it makes a rocket car look like an albatros when you compare top speeds.
    • by f0rtytw0 (446153) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:25AM (#12302848) Journal
      I don't know about that. The Shuttle can circle the earth a couple times on a single tank.
      • Actually, it takes a full tank, and 2 external rockets (which carry far more energy than the main fuel tank). on a single tank, the shuttle wouldn't even get off the pad.
    • I don't know how much fuel the shuttles use on a typical mission but the Atlantis has averaged around 407934 miles a day during its lifetime. On the 11 days of the STS-121 mission the MPG is bound to come out at least as good as my car. Does any one know how much fuel it will use and how it compares with gasoline?

      References:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space _ shuttle#Flight_ statistics_.28as_of_February_3.2C_2003.29
      http:// spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/archives/sts-1 21/index.html
    • by CausticPuppy (82139) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @01:02PM (#12303677) Homepage
      NASA is just waiting for their paycheck to clear so they can afford to fill up that gas hog. That Shuttle makes a Hummer look like a Prius when it comes to MPG!

      Well the best way to increase the shuttle's average MPG for the entire trip is to just leave it in orbit longer...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:49AM (#12301976)
    Always delays... what are Nasa doing? I mean come on, it's not rocket science...
  • WTF (Score:2, Insightful)

    This is done in order to give the agency more time to finish paperwork

    WTF is it with paper these days? I mean really! We spend more time doing paperwork then we do anything else. Is it REALLY that important to document every little tiny fact of a pointless job? All I hear from the police is "We need more people or we need less paper work" and it seems it applies to everyone.

    Would you rather NASA spent hours and hours filling out paper saying how many pins they heard drop this week and how many screws the
    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheKidWho (705796) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @09:57AM (#12302038)
      Would you rather someone be accountable for an accident or people to just go around and say "uhhh I don't know whose fault it was or what caused the problem because we didn't do any paperwork on it"
      • Re:WTF (Score:3, Insightful)

        by david.given (6740)
        Would you rather someone be accountable for an accident or people to just go around and say "uhhh I don't know whose fault it was or what caused the problem because we didn't do any paperwork on it"

        Frankly, I would rather people spent less effort on trying to find a scapegoat when something goes wrong, and instead spend more effort on stopping things going wrong in the first place.

        If the shuttle blows up on the launch pad, finding someone who you can point at and say 'It's all his fault!' won't suddenly

        • Re:WTF (Score:3, Insightful)

          by uberdave (526529)
          The paperwork *is* there to prevent things from going wrong. Specifications make sure that the parts can cope with the stresses of flight. Checklists make sure that the parts that are supposed to be there are there. Imagine how silly NASA would look if the shuttle launced without any food aboard. A spaceflight is basically months upon months of planning followed by a few days in orbit. Without paperwork, how would management know if it was safe to launch?

          Further, in the event of an accident, the pape
      • Re:WTF (Score:4, Interesting)

        by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:08AM (#12302675)
        "Would you rather someone be accountable for an accident or people to just go around and say "uhhh I don't know whose fault it was or what caused the problem because we didn't do any paperwork on it""

        But NASA paperwork has been proven to be worthless in the past. In one famous case a few years back there were tools left in the back of the shuttle which could have gone rattling around and caused a fatal accident if they'd hit something vital during the launch.

        The worker signed to say they'd taken the tools out of the shuttle. Their supervisor signed to say the tools had been taken out of the shuttle. Their supervisor signed to say the tools had been taken out of the shuttle.

        Three people, lots of paperwork... but the tools were still left in the shuttle in spite of it. What's the point of paperwork if three people can sign to attest to something which is blatantly untrue?
        • Sounds like a personnel/cultural problem. Because a set of people abuse the paperwork doesn't mean the paperwork should be done away with altogether.

          In a large enterprise like NASA, there needs to be documentation that certain actions are performed. If that documentation is false, well, you've got another problem on your hands.
        • Three people, lots of paperwork... but the tools were still left in the shuttle in spite of it. What's the point of paperwork if three people can sign to attest to something which is blatantly untrue?

          If you notice that paperwork failed once, and conclude that it will always fail, that's a logical fallacy.
      • Re:WTF (Score:3, Insightful)

        by grumbel (592662)
        ### Would you rather someone be accountable for an accident

        If you are going to blame 'someone' you are already doing the wrong thing. Humans make errors, so replacing the human that did the error with another one that will do a similar random error will do nothing to improve the overall situation. To really fix a problem you need to find out how to avoid it in the future, not who is to blame for it. If Jim forgot some screws, the solution is not to replace Jim with Bob, but to let Bob cross check that all
      • As it clearly states in form A22-31025b-001a sub paragraph 15 the responsibility for this massive screw up occured in a whole different department. Our exhaustive overhaul of the paperwork used in the Shuttle Program (see descriptive Powerpoint presentation scheduled at 12:00), resulted in 14 worker's comp claims for paper cuts. So, as you see, we are right on top of the safety issue..
    • Re:WTF (Score:1, Funny)

      by The New Andy (873493)
      "finish paperwork" is a euphemism for "posting at slashdot"
    • I don't think anybody at NASA is in a big hurry to be the scapegoat if something goes wrong, so I'm sure they are going over everything to make sure nothing got overlooked. But you really couldn't pay me a billion dollars to go up in that thing unless they put SpaceShipOne in the cargo bay in case of emergency. Even then, it would take a 10 pound Xanax to calm my nerves.

      • This might have nothing to do with the delay but there has been some pressure on NASA from the Canadian government to change the launch direction (I know... not easy) due to concerns of debris hitting the Hibernia oil platform. They predicted debris landing around 25 miles from the platform. Since this is a non-movable platform it caused some understandable nervousness.

        While I trust NASA's numbers, I can still understand the concern.
        • The shuttle launch has nothing to do with the debris hitting the Hibernia oil platform. Those debris concerns are for a USAF satellite launch and sparked a mass evacuation of 3 oil platforms in that area when it was announced. Now they don't know when they'll be launching it due to a "technical" problem
    • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

      by rhadamanthus (200665) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:04AM (#12302102)
      As someone who works at NASA on the SSP, let me tell you a well known axiom:


      "Every shuttle launch entails putting roughly 4.5 million tons of weight into orbit - and closing out about twice as much weight in paper."


      Jokes aside, most of the paperwork is there for a good reason. Every single component on the shuttle is certified for the entire flight envelope. It's quite a challenge.

      • Re:WTF (Score:4, Informative)

        by FatAlb3rt (533682) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:29AM (#12302305) Homepage
        Except your number is off by a factor of 2000 (lbs not tons) and only about 250k lbs actually makes it to orbit (as someone who formerly worked SSP and now ISS). :) Not to discount your point though - isn't bureacracy great?
        • Re:WTF (Score:3, Funny)

          by rhadamanthus (200665)
          True, I worded that badly. I must need another cup of coffee.
        • Last time I worked at NASA, Shuttle was called STS and Station was ISS. When did the insiders start using SSP? Other than that I agree, more paperwork goes on than real work. In fact if you do some real work your paperwork goes up! :(
    • YES (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bluGill (862) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:13AM (#12302161)

      As annoying as it is, that paperwork is important. We cannot make another saturn V because some of the paperwork has been lost. Of course if you wanted to create a new Saturn V you would start from scratch because you want modern technology, but still it would be helpful to know how any why the Saturn V was done the way it was, and what problems they had to work around.

      Even when the paperwork is obsolete it is useful to get a picture of where you were.

      Paperwork is your checklist. Many times in my life I thought everything was done until I went through the checklist. If you don't do the paperwork you don't know if you checked everything. It would be really a bummer to find that the main fuel tank was never filled, only "topped off" to replace evaporation/leakage while waiting on the pad. (that is just enough fuel to get off the pad, but not enough to get into space) Only by running through a checklist can you be sure that step was done.

      Remember the saturn Moon probe of a few months back where they forgot to put turn the radio on in the checklist? The radio wasn't turned on. There are plenty of major mistakes that only doing the paperwork (annoying as it is) can prevent. Of course doing the paperwork won't find problems that aren't in the checklists. The sheare volume of things that need to be done mean that for minor things you sometimes hope someone did it, but live with it when someone forgets.

      • Re:YES (Score:4, Informative)

        by willith (218835) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:33AM (#12302917) Homepage
        We cannot make another saturn V because some of the paperwork has been lost.

        This is incorrect. The Saturn V blueprints are safe and completely intact [space.com] on microfilm at MSFC, where they have been since the 1960s. Nothing at all has been lost. From the link:

        "The Federal Archives in East Point, Georgia, also has 2,900 cubic feet of Saturn documents," he said. "Rocketdyne has in its archives dozens of volumes from its Knowledge Retention Program. This effort was initiated in the late '60s to document every facet of F 1 and J 2 engine production to assist in any future restart."
        • Do you know if they offer print copies for sale? Those would be really neat to flip through, although I suppose it would be a lot of volumes.
      • Re:YES (Score:3, Informative)

        by grumbel (592662)
        ### We cannot make another saturn V because some of the paperwork has been lost.

        This is incorrect, the reason why we can't build another Saturn V is not because lost papers, all those are still available, but because there are no longer vendors for mid-1960's hardware. See:

        http://www.faqs.org/faqs/space/controversy/

        This is also the reason why we can't just build another shuttle, while the papes are there, the tools and factories to manufactor them are not. Thus the cost would be higher then a build from
      • And this is the easiest way to tell people who have worked on critical systems, and those who have not. The later just think they can fix things in production, or if a fuse is wrong it can be replaced. The former live in fear of missing some small detail, or more often a few seemingly trivial details, that will cost the entire project.
    • Re:WTF (Score:5, Informative)

      by blueturffan (867705) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:20AM (#12302223)
      Would you rather NASA spent hours and hours filling out paper saying how many pins they heard drop this week and how many screws they may have put in the test models or would you rather they spent that time improve technology so we can all bugger off this planet?

      I suppose it's a matter of perspective. If I'm strapped to the top of a rocket, I want to be sure that every seemingly trivial detail has been documented and double-checked.

      By the way, one of the reasons that NASA was able to return to flight so quickly after the Apollo 13 incident was that they were able to go back and determine exactly what had caused the oxygen tank in the SM to explode. In looking back through the "paperwork", they were able to determine that there were two separate events (tank dropped two inches, and relays not updated to new pad voltage reqirements) that contributed to the explosion. By the way, the tank dropping incident happened two years before the crew was named!

      In the Apollo days, they used to joke that they weren't ready to launch until the pile of paperwork matched the height of the rocket. (363 feet)

    • These days? The joke in the days of Apollo was that a Saturn V wasn't cleared to launch until the pile of completed paperwork was taller than the launch stack. This isn't new, and may actually be a good sign that NASA is going back toward getting all of the details right prior to launch.
    • When I co-oped @ the Brown's Ferry Nuclear Plant (you know the one that had the worst accident in the US until 3-Mile came along), the belief was that the NRC required a weight of original reports equal to the weight of the reactor vessel before we could re-start the reactor. There's just something about a bureaucracy that LOVES paper . . . But it IS comforting to know when you live near the reactor that they are crossing all the t's and dotting all the i's. I'm sure the same is true for the guys that ar
  • About time... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kniLnamiJ-neB (754894)
    I'm glad to see we're heading back to space. I hope they can start working on more exploration now... like maybe we can send some people to the moon for the first time in my lifetime. The space program needs to really take off (no pun).
  • Photos (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Photos of the shuttle [dpreview.com] from boingboing.net [boingboing.net]'s article on it.
  • by IdJit (78604) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:03AM (#12302089)
    They were all hung over from the Apollo 13 ground crew party [slashdot.org]!!
  • by pg110404 (836120) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @10:36AM (#12302359)
    As far as I'm concerned, nasa does not really have a good track record for safety, despite all their efforts.

    Before challenger blew up, the engineers tried to scrub the launch citing a possibility of the o-rings leaking. Pressure at the highest levels made sure it went as scheduled because before then, they had a flawless record and it was just a possibility and they had their image to maintain.

    Of course, there was the investigation and they ultimately had to go lick their wounds. Years later and especially 9/11 later with budget cuts and the space program being scoffed at due to being essentially a money pit when it could be 'better spent', it's not surprising that a few years ago columbia vaporized on re-entry.

    It may very well be damaged heat tiles by sheets of ice falling off the main fuel tank during launch which is the official story, but (...dons tin foil hat...) what might not be official is that due to such cuts and possibly a bit of politicking, pressure was put on all sectors of the space program including the 'garage' that inspects and repairs the heat tiles. If it's possible that the garage was under enormous pressure to get the aging columbia ready on time, they might have let a few suspect tiles go which they might not normally have let got and had they been replaced properly, they might have withstood the impact of the ice falling.

    The russian space program seems to take the licking, learn from it and move on. Nasa to me seems to shuffle their feet for a while saying to themselves, 'how can we stop *THIS* from happening again?', but should instead ask the question, 'How can we stop accidents from happening again?'.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ... is what doomed the Columbia. The carbon-carbon composite leading edge structure of the wings is not really "tiles", and it has been determined for virtually positive certain that a hole knocked into the carbon-carbon structure on the leading edge of the wing is what caused the disaster since the aluminum and stainless steel framework inside the wing melted and burned from within. The only thing that would do that is the superheated plasma gasses being let inside the wing, and the burn patterns of the in
      • Ahh. The last I had heard on this subject (or cared to hear on this subject) was a heat tile around the location of the landing gear. That's where their attention was focused at the time, but the leading edge of the wing explanation makes more sense.

        Thanks for the info. Now my argument doesn't quite hold as much weight.
    • About a hundred shuttle launches, and only two failed. That's not a bad record if you ask me. The space shuttle is one of the most complicated things people have ever done, both technologically, and politically. The fact that it ever flew at all, much less 100 times, is pretty amazing to me.

      Not to say that there hasn't been some silly mistakes (you can make a pretty good argument that the basic design of the shuttle wasn't very practical), but I think NASA's safety record is something for them to be proud
    • Before challenger blew up, the engineers tried to scrub the launch citing a possibility of the o-rings leaking. Pressure at the highest levels made sure it went as scheduled because before then, they had a flawless record and it was just a possibility and they had their image to maintain.

      Ok, that's the standard tinfoil hat vesion. Here's the reality: The engineers went to management and asked them to scrub the launch. When asked why, the engineers replied that they had a vague bad feeling that something

  • shuttle vs. soyuz (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cybpunks3 (612218) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @11:32AM (#12302908)
    I find it amusing that at the same time everyone is hand-wringing over the safety factors of the pending shuttle launch, Soyuz is flying to ISS again without fanfare.

    I think that says everything there is to say about the US space program.

    We're putting a lot of effort to put a lame duck platform back in orbit that is going to be decommissioned in 5 years or so anyway with no clear successor and we just kind of ignore the fact that Russia has a time-tested (but not glamorous) platform with a far better safety record.

    • Safety-wise, the capsule has many advantages to an orbiter. The shuttle is not at the top so parts of the craft may hit it. Getting the Soyuz capsule away from its booster is fairly simple. It can land ballistically which means aborts don't need to worry about landing strips. The new Crew Vehicle being worked on is another capsule on top of the rocket, like they should have continued using after Apollo, instead of the shuttle programme which has been flawed from the start.

    • Except Soyuz doesn't have the same capabilities as the Shuttle. It's not like you can just replace the Shuttle with Soyuz and do the same things.
    • I find it amusing that at the same time everyone is hand-wringing over the safety factors of the pending shuttle launch, Soyuz is flying to ISS again without fanfare.

      In two out of five Soyuz flights since the loss of Columbia there have been significant accidents. The world at large is ignorant of them because the made niether the front page of CNN nor even Slashdot.

      We're putting a lot of effort to put a lame duck platform back in orbit that is going to be decommissioned in 5 years or so anyway with no

  • by Johnny Fusion (658094) <zenmondo@gma i l . c om> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @01:10PM (#12303750) Homepage Journal
    This is an obvious cover story. The real reason for the delay is that they want to close NASA on May 19 [starwars.com].

    I hear the astronauts were refusing to fly until they find out how Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vader.

    This would not be a problem except members of the crew have already taked the "spoiler free" pledge.

    Despite Initial protests from Mission Control, they decided that they rather watch fake spaceships blow each other up instead of blowing up another real one.

  • With the original launch date, I wasn't sure whether I should watch the launch, or go see Revenge of the Sith.

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