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NASA Space Science

NASA Decides No Fix Needed for Endeavor's Tiles 209

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the damn-the-tiles-full-speed-ahead dept.
bhmit1 writes "It looks like NASA is reporting that no repairs are needed for Endeavor. 'After meeting for five hours, mission managers opted Thursday night against any risky spacewalk repairs, after receiving the results of one final thermal test. The massive amount of data indicated Endeavor would suffer no serious structural damage during next week's re-entry. Their worry was not that Endeavor might be destroyed and its seven astronauts killed in a replay of the Columbia disaster — the gouge is too small to be catastrophic. They were concerned that the heat of re-entry could weaken the shuttle's aluminum frame at the damaged spot and result in lengthy post-flight repairs.'"
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NASA Decides No Fix Needed for Endeavor's Tiles

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  • by Chairboy (88841) on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:21AM (#20260693) Homepage
    It's unfortunate, this could have been a good test case to see how the repair materials/procedures work under realistic conditions.

    Having firm, experimental data about:

    * The process of applying the patch
    * How well the patch stands up to re-entry
    * How well the patch protects underlying systems

    and more. Better to get this data on a 'non-critical' bit of damage than waiting until something is REALLY busted before finding the inadequecy.

    They've done extensive testing on the ground, I'm sure, but a real-world test scenario can trump ten lab extrapolations. That's why we do external betas of software, the real world always has something up it's sleeve.
  • by pimpimpim (811140) on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:23AM (#20260711)
    Let's just hope they did't reuse their previous powerpoint presentation on the space shuttle [edwardtufte.com] as a template for this meeting.

    Now that link is a bit of a read, but a very striking introduction on influencing decision-making with presentation techniques, even if this costs other people's lives.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:25AM (#20260747)
    ...or the shuttle's days will be numbered even if it is still a useful tool.

    Endeavour is currently on the sixth shuttle mission since Columbia was lost. On Slashdot there's a chance that somebody could tell you what was achieved on any of those six missions. Ask an average member of the public though, and I guarantee you that less than 1% have any idea of a single piece of scientific research achieved on any of those six flights.

    A large number of those members of the public will be able to tell you about the scares over foam and tiles on every single mission though - because that is the only part of shuttle missions that the media cares about.

    This is only going to be fixed one way. NASA has to start giving out copious quantities of interesting video from shuttle flights to the media, and completely seal away from the media any talk of damage or problems. The damage has been of no real significance every time, but it is the only thing we're talking about.

    Unless NASA can extricate itself from the media black hole, it will never again run a shuttle mission without the shuttle being called into question - and that will eventually lead to calls for funding for this "dangerous" vehicle to be withdrawn. After all, it doesn't actually do anything when it is up there, right?
  • by pilgrim23 (716938) on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:27AM (#20260787)
    The tiles are extremely delicate. NASA viewed a lumbering astronaut in a suit ill designed for delicate work, with a tube of superglue and a squeege in the area around the main heat shield of the Shuttle a far greater threat then the small hole.
  • by WED Fan (911325) <[akahige] [at] [trashmail.net]> on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:28AM (#20260793) Homepage Journal

    As a former USAF avionics specialist and later crew chief, one thing was always true:

    The decision about air-worthiness, mission-worthiness was the pilot's, the aircraft commander.

    It didn't matter if I told him that sure, the plane will fly, if he didn't like it, the plane didn't fly.

    So, NASA, provide all the information to the commander, pilot, and crew, and let THEM make the call. If you don't like what they decide, it can be taken up AFTER the mission.

  • by RoverDaddy (869116) on Friday August 17, 2007 @10:31AM (#20260835) Homepage
    The Astronauts -have- practiced patching tiles in the cargo bay. But those tiles can't be on the outside of the shuttle during reentry.
    While I was writing my previous response I thought about the idea of 'pre-patching' some tiles near the rear of the shuttle before launch, in order to see how well those tiles did on reentry. Can you imagine the outcry if NASA suggested purposely -damaging- a few 'unimportant tiles' before the mission even begins? And I doubt you can easily add a few spare tiles to the airframe of the shuttle - just ain't gonna happen.
  • Meteroid speed (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Friday August 17, 2007 @11:48AM (#20262037) Homepage Journal

    Couldn't they just create some type of shield such as teflon or some other strong material to be placed a short distance from them covering their backs? I would assume that the spacecraft covers their front.
    The faster meteoroids might be travelling at roughly 30-40 km/sec. (*) [anl.gov] In comparison, here on Earth the fastest bullets cruise at around 1.2 km/sec, with slower bullets loping about in the neighborhood of 0.3 to 0.6 km/sec. (*) [hypertextbook.com]

    All the strong layers of whatever you want to strap onto an astronaut in addition to all the crap s/he's already got to wear and maneuver through won't help all that much against a small particle moving at that speed.
  • by Leuf (918654) on Friday August 17, 2007 @12:08PM (#20262409)

    Isn't the whole justification for manned missions that people can react and do a lot more than robots, at least at this point in time? And yet we're afraid to let them out the door to actually do anything. Time and again when people are given the chance to perform they rise to the occasion and exceed expectations.

    Remind me, how many astronauts have we lost on spacewalks?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2007 @12:15PM (#20262523)
    Because they weren't all that worried about Columbia either. Seven astronauts died because of that.

    Don't a large percentage of fatal auto accidents happen within a small distance of one's home? Relatively speaking, Columbia's accident happened right before they were to pull into the driveway, so to speak. Doesn't mean anything, just thought I make the comparison for whatever reason.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 17, 2007 @12:22PM (#20262683)
    ...landed just fine with tiles completely missing from the underbelly of the ship. For the earlier flights before the Columbia disaster, a typical shuttle mission had on average about 40 or so damaged tiles from foam and ice collisions during liftoff and climbout. One Columbia mission in 1997 even landed just fine with over 300 tiles damaged. In 1988, probably the most extensive tile damage was the Atlantis landing at Edwards with over 700 tiles damaged on the lower portions of the ship, with 298 of those having damage bigger than one inch. Extensive repairs were needed after that one.
  • by networkBoy (774728) on Friday August 17, 2007 @01:15PM (#20263861) Homepage Journal
    Actually, their primary concern was the EVA its self. The suits are showing possible signs of aging (a 2 inch tear in the top two layers of a glove on the last EVA). They don't want an astronaut to be at risk of decompression while attempting a repair that is not life threatening.
    -nB
  • by everphilski (877346) on Friday August 17, 2007 @02:57PM (#20265805) Journal
    Fly it home, unfixed is what Houston has ordered. Hopefully the man who made decision has signed his name to it.

    The decision is by committee. The consensus to fly home was made last night and was unanimous among the committee. They did extensive analysis both with CFD, analytical models and arc jet testing.

    They do have procedures, and materials. Since the last disaster, they have sent up patch kits. If its not adequate, they can send up one that is on the next go round. They chose not to patch because they don't like the risks involved with an EVA (to both man and machine).

    Precisely. If they banged up a few tiles doing the repairs and wound up stranded in space, dying, that would be a true tragedy when in reality no repair was needed. The tiles are located on the aft midsection of the belly of the orbiter which does not receive extreme reentry heating. In fact they don't get over 400 degrees and the aluminum underneath stays 50 degrees under design temperature, and is still covered by Nomex (a flame retardant, among other things used by fire fighters) (still in place, as best we can tell). (I am an aerothermodynamist, not working shuttle but working closely with shuttle people)

    Do you have a source on your Soyuz data? I'd be interested in seeing it. What I've heard and seen is that production as of late has slowed down to the rate of demand, IE, there isn't more than one on hand. But I could be wrong and I'd be interested in seeing a source that says so.
  • by sremick (91371) on Friday August 17, 2007 @03:42PM (#20266557)
    Actually, they are quite delicate. I know, because I've got a piece of the material. And no, I'm no one special... they sell it (or used to) in the KSC gift shop. A tap won't "snap" it but it will crush that spot... these things are like a silica sponge, mostly air. Great insulators, at the expense of being extremely fragile. It can't take much of a bump without damage.

    I managed to easily put some marks into my sample before I smartened up and kept it in its case.
  • by rbanffy (584143) on Friday August 17, 2007 @05:39PM (#20268225) Homepage Journal
    "(Good thing we didn't expect zero casualties in the era of test pilots, or aviation would not have gotten very far.)"

    What bothers me isn't that there are people taking risks to advance our knowledge. What bothers me is that they are taking risks to prevent advancing our knowledge.

    It took more than 100 flights and the loss of a ship with its crew to make NASA start looking at what happens to a shuttle during launch.

    It's one thing when people die because you couldn't foresee a problem in a new wing design or a new engine technology. It's something entirely different when people die when you are unwilling to foot the bill of an EVA to inspect the spaceship while in orbit. It should have been done on the first flight of the Columbia (it wasn't possible at the time - no MMU, two crewmen). It should have been done when they decided to get rid of the white paint for the main tank. The belly inspection should have been conducted on the first time the shuttle docked with Mir. It was inexcusable not to do it as soon as the MMU became available and the shuttle started making regular trips to the ISS.

    There is a lot wrong in this.

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. -- Francis Bacon

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