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NASA Space Science

Gouge Found on Shuttle Endeavour's Underside 151

Posted by Zonk
from the i-hear-duct-tape-works-well dept.
SonicSpike writes " NASA has discovered a chunk missing from the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour. It was discovered after the shuttle docked with the ISS earlier today. Technicians theorize it may have been caused by ice ripping free of a fuel take during takeoff. From the article:'The gouge — about 3 inches square — was spotted in zoom-in photography taken by the space station crew shortly before Endeavour delivered teacher-astronaut Barbara Morgan and her six crewmates to the orbiting outpost ... On Sunday, the astronauts will inspect the area, using Endeavour's 100-foot robot arm and extension beam. Lasers on the end of the beam will gauge the exact size and depth of the gouge, Shannon said, and then engineering analyses will determine whether the damage is severe enough to warrant repairs. Radar images show a white spray or streak coming off Endeavour 58 seconds after liftoff. Engineers theorize that if the debris was ice, it pierced the tile and then broke up, scraping the area downwind. Pictures from Friday's photo inspection show downwind scrapes."
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Gouge Found on Shuttle Endeavour's Underside

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  • by CWRUisTakingMyMoney (939585) on Friday August 10, 2007 @11:13PM (#20192153)
    I wonder how many times this kind of thing happened in the 20-ish years before the Space Shuttle started monitoring its underside like this. Surely this can't be the first time (ignoring Columbia) falling foam has taken a chunk out of the shuttle's heat shielding. IMHO, this is a nearly inevitable side effect of the idiotic design of the shuttle, putting the astronauts next to the fuel and not above it. These kinds of tests and precautions can only be good, but if NASA had stuck with what worked up to that point (astronauts on top of the assembly) instead of changing things up, the tests and worries wouldn't be necessary, and lives would have been saved in 2003, and possibly 1986. Here's hoping this turns out to be inconsequentially small, or at least easily repairable.
    • I'm sure it did, but there were several other issues as detailed in this Space.com article [space.com]:

      Foam coming off the tank because of improper application; deficiencies in the materials used; degradation during its transport to the Cape; the loading of supercold fuels; and the violent ride to space. Florida Today reported earlier this year that foam came off the tank on at least 71 flights to date, but NASA did not consider the resulting damage to the heat shield a safety issue.

      Requirements and specifications not being followed in testing and manufacturing of the external tank.

      Loss of institutional knowledge and experience at NASA and the Michoud plant because of "lots of old-timers retiring or taking buyouts" as the shuttle program reduced its workforce throughout the latter half of the 1990s.

      NASA's limited insight into changes vendors had made with materials used in making the tanks.

      Environmental requirements requiring removal of freon from the process for spraying the foam insulation onto the tank. NASA has said that the freon-free application method resulted in foam that initially did not adhere to the tank as well, but changes were later made to strengthen the bond of the environmentally friendly foam.


      On top of all that, the shuttles themselves are just getting *old*. I imagine that leads to all sorts of maintenance and structural issues. They may still be within engineering tolerances, but engineering tolerances for the Shuttle predicted a 1 in 100,000 flight failure. A figure which Richard Feynman challenged [fotuva.org] and reduced to somewhere between 1 in 50 and 1 in 100.

      So far we're on target for Dr. Feynman's predictions. :-/
      • by pallmall1 (882819)

        Loss of institutional knowledge and experience at NASA and the Michoud plant because of "lots of old-timers retiring or taking buyouts" as the shuttle program reduced its workforce throughout the latter half of the 1990s.

        These experienced people were replaced with appointees and engineers based on how well they fit the politically correct demographic model instead of ability.

        Environmental requirements requiring removal of freon from the process for spraying the foam insulation onto the tank. NASA has said

        • by vought (160908) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @02:29AM (#20193169)
          The shuttle has become a death trap because NASA has placed image before technological reality.


          Oh, bullshit.

          The shuttle may have been a flawed design to begin with, and that may have been because NASA was concerned with big-budget DoD and pie-in-the-sky programs during the 70s...but practically everything except the shape of the ship has changed since the Shuttle first flew in 1981.

          It hasn't "become" a death trap. Even LEO flight is risky, and the Shuttle is heavy and uses very bleeding-edge technology (still) like throttled H2/LO2 engines. Be honest and argue about the fundamentals of the Shuttle designs, but don't try to bullshit me and claim that things have gotten more dangerous for Shuttle crews now.

          Maybe they should have started Constellation ten years ago - but on the whole, the Shuttle is safer now than it has ever been; in other words, still very dangerous, but less so than before Columbia.

          I apologize for the brusque tone, but it really cheeses me off when people who do nothing but read NASAWatch.com think they know how complex and difficult manned spaceflight really is - especially with 35-year-old technology.
          • the Shuttle [..] uses very bleeding-edge technology (still) like throttled H2/LO2 engines

            ...which have proven to be extremely reliable. Of course, if the Shuttle was stacked vertically it wouldn't need to be throttled.

            The heat shield is the bleeding edge failure in this design.

            They should have stuck an Apollo Command Module on the front of the orbiter where the flight deck is and carried a launch escape tower for the first couple of minutes of flight. That way the crew would always have the option of ejecting if the orbiter fails.

            • by vought (160908)

              They should have stuck an Apollo Command Module on the front of the orbiter where the flight deck is and carried a launch escape tower for the first couple of minutes of flight. That way the crew would always have the option of ejecting if the orbiter fails.

              I don't disagree. But we were stuck with this design 32 years ago. How does that fit the parent coment's assertion of brain drain since the latter half of the 1990s?

              I can't see that it does in any way, shape, or form. Parent has an axe to grind against something he or she doesn't understand.

            • But as we've seen, the most recent disaster and this latest piece of news are both related to the re-entry of the Shuttle. Escape towers aren't going to help in this regard. And it takes two days before they can flip the Shuttle over and inspect for damage.
              • But as we've seen, the most recent disaster and this latest piece of news are both related to the re-entry of the Shuttle. Escape towers aren't going to help in this regard

                Separating from a Shuttle during re-entry would be hairy but not totally impossible. Columbia almost certainly tumbled before breaking up and an escape capsule could have got away from it.

            • by Firethorn (177587)
              As far as I'm concerned, they should be launching in a apollo style module, with the rest of the cargo going up on a separate rocket.

              Then turn around, build a heavy duty space station in a useful orbit and do your stuff there.

              As far as I'm concerned, the shuttle is a reusable space station. It shouldn't be. Design tolerances for earth systems are different than space systems, and the interface between is rough. Design, as much as possible, for one or the other. Once you have mass up into space, don't br
            • Of course, if the Shuttle was stacked vertically it wouldn't need to be throttled.

              uh, yes you would. you might eliminate the need to throttle due to Q, but you would still have excessive acceleration for a human payload. The mass fraction of the ET is on the order of 25, IIRC, and several times heavier than the shuttle. When you are almost out of fuel, the 'm' in F=ma is several times lower than when you ignited, but F is constant because you are not throttling, so a is several times higher resulting in
              • would still have excessive acceleration for a human payload. The mass fraction of the ET is on the order of 25, IIRC, and several times heavier than the shuttle.

                The shuttle stack effectively throttles down when the solids burn out.

                One site I found says that there is a throttle down at 7:40.0 to 3G before MECO at 8:00.0 so acceleration can't be much above 3G at 7:40 and would surely not go above 5 at cut off without throttling.

                5G is OK for a human crew but outside design limits for the shuttle and the shuttle/ET combination, which must be the reason for keeping it at 3G.

                • The shuttle stack effectively throttles down when the solids burn out.

                  The SSME's are throttled to 74% or so mid solid flight to avoid max Q. reference [nasa.gov]. Check 6:36 pm.

                  One site I found says that there is a throttle down at 7:40.0 to 3G before MECO at 8:00.0 so acceleration can't be much above 3G at 7:40 and would surely not go above 5 at cut off without throttling.

                  I'm not convinced, but I don't have my numbers in front of me. Remember, towards the end of flight is when you are having the biggest fract
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by pallmall1 (882819)

            but on the whole, the Shuttle is safer now than it has ever been;

            So, the new "environmentally friendly" freon-free adhesive's problems have been fixed? How come "In all, nine pieces of debris, mostly foam, came off the fuel tank during Wednesday evening's liftoff, and three were believed to have struck the shuttle."?

            A staple-gun [npr.org] and patchwork repair of thermal insulation makes the shuttle safer than ever?

            Seems like nothing's really getting fixed, just hacked and patched with staples, threads, and

            • If that's "safer now than it has ever been," then the shuttle has always been a death-trap.

              the Shuttle is safer now than it has ever been; in other words, still very dangerous, but less so than before Columbia.
              It looks like you're trying to argue with him, but really you're just agreeing with him, though it doesn't seem like you're aware of it.
              • by pallmall1 (882819)

                It looks like you're trying to argue with him, but really you're just agreeing with him, though it doesn't seem like you're aware of it.

                I disagree with the assertion that the shuttle is safer now than ever before. I also assert that NASA chooses personnel based as much on political correctness and public relations as on technical qualifications and experience. Just look at the crew roster for this flight for a quick example. Woo-hoo, we've got another teacher-in-space!

                Just because I'm critical of NASA

      • by pipingguy (566974) *
        Loss of institutional knowledge and experience at NASA and the Michoud plant because of "lots of old-timers retiring or taking buyouts" as the shuttle program reduced its workforce throughout the latter half of the 1990s.

        "Loss of institutional knowledge and experience" is a big problem in many ongoing engineering endeavours. When cheap computing became available, many of the "old guys" retired/got fired rather than adapt/succumb to the relatively crappy software solutions available at the time. In theory
      • >So far we're on target for Dr. Feynman's predictions. :-/

        Quite unfortunately for us and NASA, when he announced these, we all assumed he was joking! :p

        http://www.amazon.com/o/ASIN/0393316041/ref=s9_asi n_title_1/102-8483475-6626520?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DE R&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0DEGJCHMSYY456CDH27K&pf _rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=278240301&pf_rd_i=507846 [amazon.com]

        Seriously though, it's a great book. Well worth the read for any self-respecting nerd.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Shame we've gotta wait a few more years for the AltSpace community to get some people into orbit. It'll be nice when we can say "going to space? That's something people do with garage-level engineering these days."
    • by florescent_beige (608235) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @12:11AM (#20192495) Journal

      I wonder how many times this kind of thing happened...

      Lots [nasa.gov] (yes it's a pdf so kill me). See page 9.

      Sorta reminds me of the time the de Havilland Comet blew up in mid air and aviation engineers learned about fatigue and decided to go look at other airplanes for signs of fatigue cracks and found them everywhere. Talk about freaking out.

      Then, after that, several smart people[1] figured out that cracks always had been everywhere and, you know, chill. The airplanes we fly around on have lots of cracks. The thing that saves our collective butts is that they are understood.

      1 P Paris and F Erdogan (1963), A critical analysis of crack propagation laws, Journal of Basic Engineering, Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, December 1963, pp.528-534.
      • by hughk (248126)

        Then, after that, several smart people[1] figured out that cracks always had been everywhere and, you know, chill. The airplanes we fly around on have lots of cracks. The thing that saves our collective butts is that they are understood.

        At the time, stress was not understood and jet airliners were very new. The engineers figured out the effects of stress and crack propagation and the problem was solved, well, kinda. Whilst the comet was retired a long, long time ago, the same basic airframe was used for Ni

    • I hadn't thought of that before (the fact that the shuttle is on the side of the rocket during take off probably does increase the odds of structural damage to the underside considerably). But now that you mention it, that is a good point. I would like to add one counterpoint though: the 1986 accident was caused by a faulty O-ring (on the oxygen fuel tanks I believe) that shifted in shape beyond the design specs because of the extreme cold the night before that launch, and led to leakage of fuel and an e
      • The faulty O-ring was on one of the SRB's, right side I think, not the external tank. It was a massive ring that sealed the joints between two segments. It shrunk in the cold, let burning gases past and torched a hole into the external tank.

        Other than that, your counterpoint is perfectly valid.

    • by swokm (1140623)

      MHO, this is a nearly inevitable side effect of the idiotic design of the shuttle, putting the astronauts next to the fuel and not above it.

      That makes me wonder if either of the now cancelled replacements wouldn't have been better? How would the Venture Star or Delta Clipper designs fair with his type of danger? Someone on Slashdot must know...

      In any case, I think we screwed up by canceling them, even if the were over budget or whatever. I'm sure they know the risks, but loosing as many astronauts as we have is a hard price to pace for progress -- loosing them needlessly to save a few bucks is criminal... I'm sure that maintaining the 1970s er

    • by rbanffy (584143)
      The only reason the shuttle is the way it is is politics.

      Space operations have four distinct needs:

      1- send people up (vehicle needs a safe abort-to-surface option, at least until abort-to-space is good enough)
      2- bring people down (vehicle must be able to re-enter atmosphere from orbit and be meatware-friendly)
      3- send cargo up (vehicle does not need to return, nor have a safe abort-to-surface mechanism)
      4- bring cargo down (vehicle must be able to re-enter atmosphere, but not to be human-safe)

      1 and 2 can be d
    • When I was a little kid in the 1940's and read comic books about space travel, the problem was the aliens and other bad guys, not the spaceship falling apart.
      Imagine the laughter in the comic book section of the corner drugstore if there was a story line like this. Not to worry about getting blasted by alien spacecraft, (with strange technology and shapes), the big problem is ice chunks damaging the outside of the space ship. Buck Rogers types scratching their heads over technical problems like this, that c
    • The shuttle doesn't fit at the top of a booster because it was never intended to be strapped to a giant set of rockets in the first place. The original shuttle design had the shuttle attached to a large booster aircraft. The booster would fly up to the edge of the stratosphere and the shuttle would detach and fly into space from there. Both stages were then completely reuseable. An extremely elegant design, but NASA's budget was torn to bits and they simply couldn't afford to build to the original design. S
  • by florescent_beige (608235) on Friday August 10, 2007 @11:15PM (#20192169) Journal

    ...using Endeavour's 100-foot robot arm and extension beam. Lasers on the end of the beam...

    You know what bugs me? Ok? They have this 100-foot robot arm but they don't have the 250-foot robot that it must have come from. I mean if it has lasers on its ARM, imagine what else it has lasers on. Like, for example, on it's frikken head.

    Which it's important to know if theres a 250-foot frikken robot with frikken lasers on its frikken head out there roaming around all mad because NASA ripped its arm off.

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday August 10, 2007 @11:37PM (#20192293)

      You know what bugs me? Ok? They have this 100-foot robot arm but they don't have the 250-foot robot that it must have come from. I mean if it has lasers on its ARM, imagine what else it has lasers on. Like, for example, on it's frikken head.
      Yeah, you'd think having a 250-foot tall robot would be cool but the damn thing needs an extension cord and the battery only works for five minutes.
      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        But it comes in handy if you have any trouble with angels.
      • Yeah, you'd think having a 250-foot tall robot would be cool but the damn thing needs an extension cord and the battery only works for five minutes.

        Damn silly system, that, born of government pork spending and design by committee. Build a proper robot instead - pack a bloody nuclear reactor onboard, it'll keep running forever off that.

        I'd also recommend that admin passwords to the thing's main computer not be dictionary words, and be longer than three characters. Just a security precaution.

    • by Dunbal (464142)
      Which it's important to know if theres a 250-foot frikken robot with frikken lasers on its frikken head out there roaming around all mad because NASA ripped its arm off.

            Perhaps the fact that it has "Canada" written on it is a clue as to where we should look first...
    • I've been reading slashdot since about 1998 or 1999, I forget which. My reader number is not quite accurate because I deleted my original slashdot registration after several months to change the handle name (and then someone named a movie after my new handle name, which is really irritating because I got the name swordfish from a Marx Brothers movie).

      Anyway, that's the funniest post I've seen on slashdot so far, although I gave up reading the feedbacks for 99% of the articles a few years ago. So thanks for
    • Nasa Chief: "Now evidently my cycloptic colleague informs me that that cannot be done. Ah, would you remind me what I pay you people for, honestly? Throw me a bone here! What do we have?"
    • What makes you think it is just one robot? There is probably a whole ARMY of frikken robots with lasers and stuff all of them mad at NASA and us too. And the 250 foot one may be just one of the smaller Japanese models built in Canada.

  • by Tablizer (95088)
    "Whaddya mean you forgot the Duct Tape?"
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Friday August 10, 2007 @11:58PM (#20192409)
    NASA: the new Star Trek.
  • by Hamster Lover (558288) * on Saturday August 11, 2007 @12:13AM (#20192507) Journal
    I once had a little Corolla like the shuttle. Every time I took the car out for any sort of drive I had to re-inflate one of the tires, so eventually I just bought one of those lighter powered air compressors. Eventually I got the money and replaced the tires and soon after the car.

    You would think that with billions of dollars and thousands of talented engineers they could come up with a way of launching the shuttle without having to resort to repairing the damn thing before they can return home again.
    • by Dunbal (464142)
      You would think that with billions of dollars and thousands of talented engineers

            Hey this is a government program you are talking about. They fired all the talented people YEARS ago.
  • More reading (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 11, 2007 @12:35AM (#20192633)
    Here's a non-sensationalist summary of the situation that's not just yanked from AP:

    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/content/?cid=5195 [nasaspaceflight.com]

    The damage is likely minor, but the media loves jumping on these things.
  • I think its time to scrap those vehicles before NASA has the next "event". NASA doesn't exactly come across as a "crack" outfit anymore and I wouldn't want them watching my back as I hurdle through space on aging junk. I would need those special diapers. NASA looks to me like an outfit that will keep launching these "beaters" until they HAVE to stop (after the next accident anyone can see is coming).
    • Because doing what you suggest cost money, taxpayers money. It is an election year (ah, democracy were goverment is paralysed for months before and after an election every two years, might this be the REAL reason countries like Japan, Korea and now China raced ahead of the west so fast?) and you are calling for an increase in spending, and therefore taxation.

      It might be possible to get setup a campaign with that but you would also be the first person in history to actually end up with a negative amount of

      • this be the REAL reason countries like Japan, Korea and now China raced ahead of the west so fast?
        In what way have Japan, Korea, and China raced ahead of the west?
      • Oh, shut up! The amount of money required to fix the space program is equal to the amount we spend in a couple of hours (or, at worst, days) in Iraq, or on Social Security, or on paying interest on the national debt. If the politicians cared, they could damn well find the money!

        • by hughk (248126)
          Some time last year, I calculated that we could have done about ten mars missions for one year of Iraq or several hundred shuttle missions. The problem is warfare is much better for contractors than space. The fog of war is quite forgiving over supply difficulties and quality levels. In a civilian space program, there is too much of a spotlight and you can't make money so easily.
          • by swokm (1140623)

            warfare is much better for contractors than space.

            Oh, I don't know about that... Lockheed Martin calculated that they'd make more money as maintenance providers for the old shuttles than to sell NASA a more easily maintained, safer new model.

            Hell, they make $33 million every launch just from that huge orange External tank alone. They sell NASA a brand new one every launch. Don't even look at the price tag for all those damn tiles...

            I know that's not as much as Lockheed Martin makes from aircraft sales or maintenance, or Lockheed Martin makes on missile sy

            • by hughk (248126)
              Of course the other side is that a lot of the old independent contractors simply don't exist any more. If you are not one of the biggest contractors, it is simply to expensive to bid on an Uncle Sam contract. The prime contractors just want to keep the goodness for themselves and just take turns to win. The difference between the military and civillian operations like NASA is at least thin gs are a bit more open.
    • by florescent_beige (608235) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:15AM (#20192831) Journal

      NASA doesn't exactly come across as a "crack" outfit anymore...

      I understand why you might say that, but it's a little bit unfair to cast your net that wide.

      At one time in my long and sorted career I participated in a NASA sponsored symposium on UBE [nasa.gov] engines. Have to admit, there was a rush to riding the bus that had NASA written on it, and I had a NASA badge. It was really something, just being associated with that acronym.

      My point is, the young lads and lasses that work for NASA are just pumped to be there. Don't disparage them for feeling that way. It's the older bunch that should know right from wrong, and that's where you have a point, they don't always act like they do.

      NASA has a unique problem engineering-wise, which is that the very name psyches out the people that work there. Anywhere else, a highly qualified young person would feel protected to call bullshit, but not at NASA.

      If I could give any advice to a 20-something working at that place it would be: don't act like you work for a legendary establishment. Act like you work for ACME spaceships Inc. Call it like you see it, and if you find it hard to do think of this: if NASA turfs you out, there are plenty of opportunities for people with those 4 letters on their resume to make obscene amounts of money. So, theres absolutely no reason to worry about your future. Do the right thing.

      • by rbanffy (584143)
        I think that maybe NASA has too much on its plate to be really effective. They do research on a lot of different stuff that is not very much space-travel-related.

        Maybe it is time to separate it in three different branches (as the goals are so distinct), one dealing with manned space exploration and another with unmanned probes and another taking up all base research and other activities.

      • by Alioth (221270)
        However, I suspect "fired from NASA" on the resume doesn't have quite the money making opportunities associated with it...
    • by d12v10 (1046686)
      They've already been scheduled to stop "launching these beaters". Quit your "bitching", NASA is full of talented individuals, this incident is not actually "unique", and blasting them for no "reason" while surrounding your post with quotes is just "insulting".
    • by cgenman (325138)
      NASA looks to me like an outfit that will keep launching these "beaters" until they HAVE to stop (after the next accident anyone can see is coming).

      Ah right, like the spaceplane [space.com] that congress keeps cutting the funding for?
  • Too bad NASA doesn't have access to any Rocket Scientists.

    Maybe they could find some way to overcome whatever this treacherous material is that they've codenamed: "Styrofoam."

    Although the new cameras do give us much nicer pictures of the things they decided were too hard to fix.
  • by flewp (458359) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:02AM (#20192781)
    I have some somewhat offtopic questions I was hoping someone here might be able to shed some light on.

    Does anyone know how/if NASA handles things like micrometeorites? Now, I know that for the most part they're just tiny specks of debris, and *very far* and *very few* between, but do they have any kind of contingency plan for fixing either parts of the shuttle or the ISS in a case of impact? I've seen and heard a lot of times that even a small speck at those speeds can punch a rather large hole in even thick aluminum/steel/etc plating. Can a spec of dust truly do that much damage, or are they exaggerating and really talking about something more along the size of a pebble or even a grain of sand? It wouldn't surprise me to learn that a tiny speck of debris could indeed punch a huge whole, but it also wouldn't surprise me that even the scientific/educational* shows I've seen this on could be exaggerating for effect. (* I use scientific/educational loosely, as even stuff on the Discovery Science channel is still entertainment, especially more so now than ever it seems)

    Also, how would an event like the Perseid meteor shower change the odds? Again, I realize that even during a meteor shower, the actual meteors and objects are extremely sparse. What I'm wondering is, do they (statistically speaking) increase the likelihood of an impact, or are they still so sparse as to have very little consequence?

    And finally, about what is the lower limit for NASA and other agencies when it comes to tracking space junk and meteors that orbit the Earth? I know they have some kind of tracking system, but I'm wondering what its limits and capabilities are. Are they making efforts to curb space junk, since I imagine there's more stuff in orbit now than ever? Are the number of launches increasing with time as well, or have they sort of leveled off or even dropped off now that we have a lot of communication, research, etc satellites in orbit?

    Apologies for asking here instead of googling, but I figured it might make for good discussion. Or at the very least, expand my knowledge a bit.
    • by tftp (111690)
      Yes, there are patching materials on ISS. The micrometeorite hole would be small and facing inward, so any strong duct tape like substance would seal the hole for good. The pressure is continuously monitored throughout the station, and there are airtight doors everywhere in case the hole is too large for patching. As long as the micrometeorite does not hit any occupants, they are safe enough.

      I do not know for sure what they would do aboard the Shuttle. Probably there are procedures for that too, since th

    • by imemyself (757318) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:45AM (#20192975)
      I've read that a little piece of paint made a fairly noticeable "dent" in the Shuttle's windshield. Here's a website that mentions it: http://www.spacetoday.org/Satellites/SatBytes/Spac eJunk.html [spacetoday.org]

      Several other sites showed up on Google when I searched for shuttle, fleck of paint, windshield

      Considering how small the mass of the paint must have been, I could easily see how a small pebble sized object could cause major damage, but I'm not a rocket scientist. I think there has also been some general concern about all of the debris from China's ASAT test earlier this year. I think they are tracking most of the thousands of pieces of debris, so they would hopefully have an idea if something was coming, but I'm sure that they can't track the smallest pieces of debris. There are some animations on the web that show how the debris spread out from that test - its really amazing.

      When you're traveling at 7 km per second, hitting anything that is not traveling along with you on a similar orbit (they would have similar velocities and wouldn't be moving as fast relative to you) has got to be seriously bad news.
    • by florescent_beige (608235) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:45AM (#20192977) Journal

      Lucky for you my young padawan I have no life.

      Does anyone know how/if NASA handles things like micrometeorites?

      Dunno exactly, how's that for a start? I do know the shuttle's glazings are replaced [nasa.gov] about once every 10 flights due to impact, mostly with man made stuff like paint chips from exploded satellites. Just guessing here and don't quote me, but the way they deal with this is probably with stats. As in, if a chip of paint can ding a window, I guess a gram-sized piece of debris can poke two holes in the orbiter (an in and an out). Although, that might not be fatal if it doesn't pass through someone's body, the little hole can probably be patched with, you know, the space shuttle hole patch kit they must have.

      The Orbiter is maneuvered [nap.edu] to avoid known space debris, but that only goes down to about tens [esa.int] of centimeters. So stuff smaller than that has to be handled with stats.

    • You're right about the punch of some of the crap whizzing around up there that could run into orbiting vehicles and/or people. Have you ever seen a really nice shooting star - the sort that makes a big bright multi-coloured streak across the sky and ends with a flash of light? (Bolides aka fireballs.) Those are relatively large specks of ice and/or dust that have come off comets, and are now smeared out in a long trail roughly along the parent comet's orbit. (Comets fall out of the Kuiper Belt [wikipedia.org] and/or Oort C [wikipedia.org]
  • by RobRyland (960596)

    "Radar images show a white spray or streak coming off Endeavour 58 seconds after liftoff."
    OK, it is a nit, but i couldn't let it pass...
    -Rob
  • Damn... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by amccaf1 (813772)
    I have nothing comical or insightful to add. I just hope that everything turns out for the best. I want to add my voice to that.

    Especially since there is a teacher on board.
    • by tftp (111690)
      Especially since there is a teacher on board.

      I'm sure it will be seen as bad omen. Sailors, and by extension - astronauts - are superstitious. You would be too, considering the age of the equipment they have to use. Paris is worth the Pascal's Wager, so to say.

      • by amccaf1 (813772)
        Yeah.. It'll be seen as a bad omen until -- I hope -- this teacher touches down safely.

        And then I hope a new superstition replaces the current one...
  • by Cef (28324) on Saturday August 11, 2007 @01:46AM (#20192979)
    Only just before this mission (STS-118).

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/news/wir eless_scanner.html [nasa.gov]

    Basically it's a close-range imager for cracks in the tiles, to reduce the need for manual inspection. Little detail in that link, but the question is: Was it was made for the ground crew or the shuttle crew to inspect the tiles?

    Still, at least they have the SSPTS (Station-to-Shuttle Power Transfer System) available and working, which gives them a few more days in orbit to evaluate and fix things.
  • Radar images show a white spray or streak coming off Endeavour 58 seconds after liftoff.


    When do we get the Slashdot story about color radar?

    -Peter
  • by Khyber (864651) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Saturday August 11, 2007 @02:06AM (#20193063) Homepage Journal
    Meteor showers are the BEST times to send shuttles into space!!
    • Meteors have only been spotted while the sun was on the opposite of the earth. So as long you launch during daylight hours you should be safe.
  • We've got the best minds in the country working on these projects.

    The problem is, all those lowest bidders that keep making shit parts.

    Our government is going to eat itself.
  • I've seen this argument before on some blog, but: isn't the amount of hours that those people up there spend on servicing and checking for damage getting out of hand? ISTM that we don't hear anything about what it is they do, expect that it involves repairing or replacing something on either the shuttle or the ISS. Do they actually still have time and money to do scientific work or is that just a dish on the side now?
  • I was up too darn late watching the Nasa TV press conference. Questions were asked about maybe the debris source being space junk from an old rocket;

    "NASA also revealed that Endeavour came within a mile of a piece of floating space junk during the launch. The garbage was an old Delta rocket body that has been orbiting for years, NASA said".

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la- sci-shuttle11aug11,1,1712330.story?coll=la-headlin es-nation&ctrack=2&cset=true [latimes.com]

    Tracked back to a '70s launch ap
  • Geography (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lawyer boy (152954)
    I live within 50 miles of KSC, so I hate to turn on my fellow central Floridians, but shouldn't NASA consider moving its launch facilities to the desert southwest? Wouldn't the lower humidity mitigate the ice/foam problems? Wouldn't the thinner, drier air of the high desert require at least a little less fuel for launch? I've always assumed that the Cape was chosen as a launch location because it was fairly far to the south and allowed launches over water, but launching over water doesn't seem to be that
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Xolotl (675282)
      The Atlantic is much bigger than the desert areas and much less populated, so there is even more of a safety margin if something comes down. More significantly though, it is close to the equator, where the velocity boost from the rotation of the Earth is greater, so larger payloads can be carried. This is more significant than the slightly thinner air in the high desert.
    • by icebrain (944107)
      "there are plenty of areas in the desert SW that would allow for launches over uninhabited territories."

      I doubt it. Remember, the boost phase is very long--the shuttle is somewhere up by Newfoundland (I think) by the end of the launch. Draw a line heading northeast or southeast from some point in the southwest, and you are definitely going to pass over populated areas. And the fuel savings would be negligible. Ice/foam problems wouldn't be helped; even desert air still has a good bit of water in it, and
  • They'll fix it. It's most likely not as big a deal as the media is hoping for. The surprises you *don't* catch are the ones that usually kill you.
  • Somebody should develop a Space Roomba to crawl over the hull and look for this shit; I volunteer. Nasa: please donate at least 3bil USD to my paypal account so that I may make preparations. Donations of 10bil or more will additionally fund the development of carpet tassel-dodging algorithms.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." -- Albert Einstein

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