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NASA Space Science

NASA's Atlantis Ready For June 8 Launch 52

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the back-in-action dept.
lifuchi writes "The guys and girls at NASA are at it again with Atlantis. The newly repaired space shuttle is set launch on June 8. The hail-damaged fuel tank has been repaired and is said to be a bit of an eyesore. Zee News is quoted as saying, 'Instead of being a uniform orange, it has a patchwork of white spots where technicians sprayed, scraped and filled fresh foam into the more than 4200 areas that were damaged during a freak hailstorm in February.'"
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NASA's Atlantis Ready For June 8 Launch

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  • by Timesprout (579035) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:23AM (#19095955)
    Hmm, doesn't exactly fill you with confidence does it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      The external fuel tank isn't painted orange, that's the natural color of the foam. Apparently the replacement foam for patch jobs is just naturally white so they can easily tell where they've added it.
      • by arielCo (995647) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @01:20PM (#19096929)
        From TFA:

        The tank`s deep orange colour is caused by ultraviolet light from the Sun striking the foam insulation over time. The fresh foam on Atlantis` tank is however, light-coloured, some of it bright white and some off-white, indicating different repair techniques were used in separate areas.
        So it's more like new foam on top of old foam. Apparently it happens very quickly, since every tank I've seen after STS-1/2 is orange.

        Now for the obligatory Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] quote:

        The external tanks of the first two missions were painted white, which added an extra 600 pounds (273 kg) of weight to each ET. Subsequent missions have had unpainted tanks showing the natural orange-brown color of the spray-on foam insulation. The orange-brown color results from ultraviolet light from the sun striking the foam insulation over time.[1] The lighter, unpainted tanks have increased the payload capacity by almost the entire weight savings of 600 pounds.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      From TFA: "The tank`s deep orange colour is caused by ultraviolet light from the Sun striking the foam insulation over time."
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by OverlordQ (264228)
        Huh, I always remembered hearing that they stopped painting it due to releasing some chemicals into the atmosphere when it burned up upon re-entry.
        • No, they stopped painting it because the paint didn't do anything useful, while weighing a ton. It's thin, sure, but there's a lot of area. Mass budget wasted on paint is mass that can't carry experiments, or fat astronauts.
        • Apparently [aerospaceweb.org], it takes about a thousand pounds (455kg) of paint to coat the external fuel tank. The paint does nothing but make the tank look pretty, so NASA opted to skip the paint and carry more cargo/supplies.
    • by topical_surfactant (906185) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:35AM (#19096057)
      The only shuttle launch that ever had the external fuel tank painted was the first - Columbia (RIP), April 12th 1981, where the tank was painted white to match the rest of the vehicle.

      http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap010412.html [nasa.gov]
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, the first TWO launches had white painted tanks. Then NASA realized that the paint added a lot of additional weight for zero benefit...
  • Seems like 4200 repaired sections leaves a lot of room for error. Why wouldn't they just make a new one?

    I suppose it only has to last 1 run, those burn up on decent back down don't they?
    • I suppose they could. According to Wikipedia these cost about $5 million each and take 4 months to produce. Gone are the days when NASA had the budget for that sort of expenditure I guess.
      • by erpbridge (64037)
        Thats what I was wondering. Whatever happened to the concept of a hot spare? In the server and networking industries, people would be hopping mad if you didn't have a spare standing by to put in place at a moments notice. A spare switch, spare router, spare hard drive, even spare server.

        Granted, yes, $5 million is a substantial chunk of change for something that MAY never be used... but that is the exact reason for the hot spare. To have a qualified working piece of equipment as spare, put the spare in plac
        • by osu-neko (2604)
          A system designed to be operational 24/7 needs a hot spare. A system designed to be used for just a few days and be down for a few months in between uses (and the exact timing of when those few days of use occur is not important) does not. A competent engineer can recognize when a solution is applicable to a particular situation vs. another situation where it makes no sense at all whatsoever.
  • What the hell... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:41AM (#19096113)
    "Inspires confidence."
    "Why not replace it?"


    WHO CARES? This is a rocket... going into space... manned by men and woman who know that they have a more than average chance of dying. Paint adds weight and takes away from the mission payload (for reference... painting a 747 adds about 1,000 lbs to the overall take off weight). On the shuttle it's there for a functional purpose... not for feng shui.

    Get them off the ground... get them in space and do it safely and as cheaply as possible (so they can do it more often). Leave fashion and style for the paris hilton's of the world. mmm-kay?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Timesprout (579035)

      Get them off the ground... get them in space and do it safely and as cheaply as possible (so they can do it more often). Leave fashion and style for the paris hilton's of the world. mmm-kay?
      OK Paris, sound advise there for NASA. Any chance of some more girl on girl action pics from your stint in the slammer?
    • And FTA the orange color of the fuel tank isn't from a man-made process, but rather the effect is caused by UV light hitting the chemically unique foam over time. Sorta like us getting a tan while being out in the sun.
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by 3D-nut (687652)
      This is utter madness. We just lost 7 people and an orbiter because a piece of foam broke off and hit the thermal tiles. We have yet to figure out how to keep any foam from coming off (short of adding so much weight that the shuttle could not carry a useful payload) and now NASA plans to use a tank with thousands of known weak points, when for $10 million or so (about 1/30th of a launch budget?) they could use a good one? I think that criminal charges will be appropriate, right up to the administrator, i
      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        I would never wish for people to die, but at least if the shuttle was destroyed it would put an end to NASA wasting billions of taxpayer $ on this useless program and the even more useless ISS.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The foam will not come apart as easy if it was painted. They figured that out during the testing. the paint film reduces turbulance and also provides a bit of surface adhesion that can make up for errors on surface adhesion.

      • The foam will not come apart as easy if it was painted. They figured that out during the testing. the paint film reduces turbulance and also provides a bit of surface adhesion that can make up for errors on surface adhesion.

        Do you have a cite for that? Because I've been following the Shuttle programs for thirty odd years - and I've never heard of that. In fact, I've discussed the issue with NASA employees (in the Shuttle program) and they categorically deny that the paint adds any strength to the foam.

  • Orange! (Score:5, Funny)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:43AM (#19096121)
    Instead of being a uniform orange, it has a patchwork of white spots where technicians sprayed, scraped and filled fresh foam into the more than 4200 areas that were damaged during a freak hailstorm in February.

    Oh no! Stop the engines, damn it, and don't even think of thinking of going anywhere with that non-uniform orange fuel tank! We don't want to be embarassed in front of the perfectly uniform green aliens we know absolutely nothing about and forget what I just said.

    -- NASA guy in a black suit
  • The phrase (Score:4, Funny)

    by Professr3 (670356) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:43AM (#19096127)
    "overfilled twinkie" comes to mind...
    • by Professr3 (670356)
      How is this off topic? The big main fuel tank is orange, and the little white patches look like cream coming out. Is this so hard to figure out?? Maybe I should try writing for a third-grade reading level like regular newspapers. *insert frustrated smiley here*
    • "overfilled twinkie" comes to mind...

      I was thinking more like:
      Uh, Houston, why do you keep calling us "Pinto"?

  • Scary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lightversusdark (922292) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @11:58AM (#19096221) Journal

    "There's not at all a problem with this," Chapman said. "We have total confidence in the integrity of the repairs but I'm telling you right now that your mind will have a hard time convincing your eyes."
    That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.
    There has been a new fuel tank built for the shuttle. Last weekend NASA were still deciding whether to use the new tank on this mission or go with the patched-up one. [sciencedaily.com]
    They have opted to instead keep the new tank for the Endeavour mission in August (STS-118).

    The mission overview is here. [nasa.gov]
    • Re:Scary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @12:14PM (#19096331)

      That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.
      "It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract."
      --Alan Shepard
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons (302214)
      ET-124 (the external tank currently attached to Atlantis) is going to fly - period, as there aren't any spare tanks in the pipeline. With a limited number of flights left on the manifest, and a hard end-of-life deadline for the Orbiters, the contracts for the ET and it's components are already being allowed to expire. (Not to mention the need to start converting the Michoud facility from producing the ET over to producing the Porklauncher V [wikipedia.org].)

      Thus, the question isn't which tank will be used to fly
    • That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.

      When you drive an old car, you quickly realize that the best part of the body is the parts that have been Bondo'ed - they never rust. Oh, and the pretty pink spots (like I'm spending money on paint for *that* car!).
  • I don't see any reason for us to speculate that hail was an insurmountable problem for the peeps at NASA. I just wish them the best with their underfunding. Perhaps the shuttle needs to be retired to just solely for Space Station work, and lets get money into outsourced small launches. Why couldn't NASA simply administrate and regulate universities, private individuals, and non-profits to start doing X-Prize like movement forward?!
    • The problem with outsourcing to X-prize people is that they are going for a straight up- straight down approach. It's like throwing a rock up as high as you can get it (in this case above the 350,000 foot mark). That's a long ways away from launching usable payloads into low, mid, and high earth orbits like the shuttle does. Oh, and by the way, ensuring that you can take a crew of highly qualified people, enough food for three meals a day plus two snacks for each astronaut, enough hypergolic fuels to man
    • by Keebler71 (520908)
      You mean like NASA's COTS program [wikipedia.org] or its Centennial Challenges [wikipedia.org]? Seriously,... how can you not know about these? These have been covered extensively here.
  • orbiter simulator? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by oni (41625) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @12:49PM (#19096637) Homepage
    Did anyone else notice that the picture in the story appears to be a screenshot from Orbiter Spaceflight Simulator [orbitersim.com]? (it's free by the way, and very cool)
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Saturday May 12, 2007 @12:53PM (#19096673) Homepage
    Have someone paint giant band-aid images all over the tank.

    Just to scare the crap out of the know nothings out there in the country that would be freaked out about the foam repairs.

    Maybe add a dixie flag to the top of the shuttle and paint 01 on the sides, that would make it complete.

  • It's true that they cut the white paint to save weight, but I always liked the white appearance better. Actually, I recall seeing on a Gantt chart at JSC, back in 1981, a task to add a racing stripe to the ET as well, but I guess that got cut to save time. The ET is taken to something like 98% of orbital velocity, so I guess nearly the entire 600 pounds (or whatever the paint weighed) is saved for the payload.

"If I do not want others to quote me, I do not speak." -- Phil Wayne

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