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NASA Space

Shuttle Launch Pad Damaged During Discovery's Launch 173

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the time-to-upgrade dept.
pumpkinpuss writes "Launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center suffered unusual damage during the shuttle Discovery's blastoff Saturday. Pictures from a NASA source show buckled concrete and numerous concrete blocks or bricks, presumably from the flame trench, littering a road behind the pad."
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Shuttle Launch Pad Damaged During Discovery's Launch

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  • anyone know? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday June 02, 2008 @02:55PM (#23629853)
    Anyone know how many times launch pad 39A has been used for previous shuttle/rocket launches?
  • would this indicate anything odd happening on the shuttle, or just wear and tear on the pad itself over the years?
  • The next launch from pad 39A is scheduled for Oct. 8. NASA sources say engineers believe the damage can be repaired by then with no impact on plans to launch Atlantis on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
    Good thing this won't cause any delays.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:03PM (#23629945)
    The shuttle shit a brick?
  • It is amazing that they hold up as well as they do. The amount of energy released by a shuttle at take off is astounding. How far away does a human being need to be from the pad and remain uninjured?
  • Kinda old (Score:4, Informative)

    by felipekk (1007591) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:06PM (#23629983) Journal
    LC39A was used the first time almost 41 years ago by Apollo 4. It was used for more than 80 launches since then. Maybe it's time to replace it?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_Space_Center_Launch_Complex_39 [wikipedia.org]
    • by Jugalator (259273)
      I wonder if they'll do anything big to it now though, maybe take that in combination with the future work (from Wikipedia):

      Just like the first 24 shuttle flights, pad 39A pad will support the final shuttle operations, starting with STS-117 until 2010, and then will undergo deactivation once the Shuttle is retired.

      After this date, like LC39B, LC39A will have both the FSS and RSS removed to render the "clean" pad approach as required by the ESAS, but LC-39A will be used primarily as the launch pad for the Ares V rocket after 2018, and as such, will undergo additional modifications to accommodate extra LH2 and LOX storage at the site

      • They need to do two things:
        • Find out if the supression system failed
        • Fix the damage before the next launch

        From TFA:

        The next launch from pad 39A is scheduled for Oct. 8. NASA sources say engineers believe the damage can be repaired by then with no impact on plans to launch Atlantis on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope.
    • by Gilmoure (18428)
      A new coat of stucco... I know a guy who can pick up some guys outside of Home Depot; they'll have it done in an afternoon.
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:06PM (#23629985) Homepage Journal
    Given how scary space travel is, it's no surprise that the astronauts left behind a trail of bricks all over the pad.
  • by JoshOOOWAH (849135) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:06PM (#23629987)
    38A continues to beat on the ceiling with a broom and indicate that NASA should "[K]nock off that unholy racket!"
  • Thermal Cycling (Score:5, Informative)

    by Thelasko (1196535) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:11PM (#23630039) Journal
    Making things hot and cold in rapid succession can cause fatigue due to the materials expanding and contracting. Things exposed to the elements, such as this, also have to deal with moisture.

    I don't know what these bricks are made of (CNN says they are special bricks but TFA says they are concrete), but I bet water was trapped in between the cracks and crevices of these bricks and then suddenly boiled when it was heated by rocket exhaust. The steam rapidly escapes from the bricks and makes the cracks a little bigger. This occurs over and over again, each time the cracks get a little bigger. Finally, the cracks become big enough that the bricks can't stand the stress anymore. They get heated one more time and explode. It only takes one brick to explode to cause a chain reaction, and wipe out a bunch of them.

    This is of course, the simplest explanation. I would hope NASA would have thought of this before. It happens all of the time with the freeze and thaw cycles in highways and bridges. However, sometimes the simplest explanation is the best.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Amouth (879122)
      it is concrete - but it isn't your everyday concrete - every brick/slab is made with diffrent mixtures - jsut becauseitis concrete doesn't mean it even remotely resemples what they make bridges out of .

      i am sure it falls under both groups "concrete" and "special bricks"

      and your right in that it more than likly is a water issue.. the trick is deterimingin where - how much - and is the section that failed the only one.
      • by Yetihehe (971185) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:36PM (#23630291)
        Aren't you by any chance a cat?
      • by Steve Hamlin (29353) on Monday June 02, 2008 @05:04PM (#23631479) Homepage

        My friends own a commercial concrete contractor, and current concretes are WAY more advanced than I'd ever have thought.

        These days, concrete is like any other advanced man-made composite. The knowledge about cement, water, sand and aggregate types and mixes have been refined to the nth-degree. Then start add-mixing plasticizers, hardners, cure retarders / accelerators, humidity control agents, etc.

        The really advanced stuff is like epoxy. Normal concrete is ~3,000psi. My friend was pouring 12,000+ psi concrete for a large structural member in a sub-foundation. The form blew out, and concrete flowed out the hole and setup - within a few hours, even jackhammers became ineffective - it was like drilling steel. They wound up bringing in heavy demo equipment to get out what should have only taken a few men.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak (669689)

      Making things hot and cold in rapid succession can cause fatigue due to the materials expanding and contracting. Things exposed to the elements, such as this, also have to deal with moisture.
      I imagine the intense vibrations from 82 launches might have something more to do with it.

      Especially since making concrete effectively weather proof hasn't been all that hard for a very long time. You can still go to Italy and find concrete from the Roman times.
      • by barzok (26681)

        Especially since making concrete effectively weather proof hasn't been all that hard for a very long time. You can still go to Italy and find concrete from the Roman times.
        The temperature cycles experienced by the blast pit under a launchpad are a bit more extreme than those induced by the seasons in Florida or Italy.
      • Yes, but unless I misread my history, the Romans didn't get in the habit of launching the Space Shuttle off their roads, either. :-D
        • by colfer (619105)
          Concrete and marble are similar, and they used it as a substitute in buildings and other structures, not just roads. During the dark ages Romans burned their marble statues to make lime (which is in concrete, or something like it).
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hughk (248126)

        Especially since making concrete effectively weather proof hasn't been all that hard for a very long time. You can still go to Italy and find concrete from the Roman times.
        They were worshipping Saturns not launching them!
    • by p0tat03 (985078)

      I would hope NASA would have thought of this before.

      I'm sure they have. In fact I think this article is only news to everyone *but* NASA. Seriously guys, thermal cycles, stress cycles, all cycles eventually cause failure. So long as this failure is foreseen and accounted for we're in the clear.

      Your vehicle's axle also has a definitely lifetime, defined as the number of times it can turn before it has a X% chance of failure (fancy term for OMFG IT BROKE). The trick is knowing what range your lifetime lies in, and making sure the vehicle isn't driven to th

    • by Kingrames (858416)
      "I don't know what these bricks are made of"

      They're magic.
  • Not too surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:19PM (#23630113)
    Disregard the age of the pad; This mission was the heaviest for the shuttle. It was taken all the way to the max. Basically, this one took longer to take off, chewing away at the pad that was designed and built LONG ago to handle such loads.
    • by Thelasko (1196535)

      This mission was the heaviest for the shuttle. It was taken all the way to the max. Basically, this one took longer to take off, chewing away at the pad that was designed and built LONG ago to handle such loads.

      One of the best explanations on the page! I suspect it was a combination of things that ultimately caused the failure. But your post explains why it failed on this mission and not others.

      The Pad had been used for many years and probably had some cracking due to thermal cycling. The Statistics used to determine the time the bricks should be replaced assumed an average launch payload. This payload was larger and the safety factors used were not large enough to accommodate it. With it's heavier payload

  • toilet (Score:5, Funny)

    by tjw (27390) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:30PM (#23630231) Homepage
    Looks like the ISS occupants got their new toilet parts just in the nick of time.
  • Do they know if any of the concrete or bricks blasted off during takeoff rebounded and struck the Shuttle? Brick or concrete would really hurt things.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by imipak (254310)
      Fortunately, both the SSMEs and the SRBs blow, rather than suck, superheated combustion gases. This effect tends to lead unsecured objects exposed to the blast to move away from the source of the overpressure.

      Today's comment was brought to you by the publishers of "My Very First Big Book of Classical Physics".

      • by peragrin (659227)
        that being said and of which i agree completely i also wouldn't be surprised if a few pieces ended up on the structure, or even directly under where the shuttle was sitting.

        Once again basic physics. two particles are flying away from a point source, and collide there is a remote chance that one of the particles will bounce backwards. While actually hitting the orbiter is a far fetched. (a moving target away is tough, and with that amount of thrust will push the bounce back debris away again.)

        think of a b
  • by just fiddling around (636818) on Monday June 02, 2008 @03:53PM (#23630539) Journal
    .... that'll buff right out.
  • Missing W (Score:2, Funny)

    by Doc Ruby (173196)
    I heard that the departing Clinton administration stole all the "W" keys from White House ("hite House"?) keyboards. But wrecking the Shuttle launch pad on Bush's way out is really vindictive, especially considering all the damage Bush's regime already did to the Shuttle program.
    • ha... that's funny... I once cleaned my keyboard and the W key is the one I lost!
    • by oodaloop (1229816)
      As I remember, they didn't steal them; they superglued them to the ceiling. Not to mention rewiring all the phones in the White House. It took weeks and god only knows how much money to fix it all.
  • by goretexguy (619280) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:00PM (#23632081)

    Since I haven't seen this mentioned elsewhere, this NASA article [nasa.gov] talks about the refactory materials and specifications of the flame tunnel...

    Obligatory quote:

    "The selection of a refractory surface for the walls, floor, and an area outside of the flame trench was exacting. Such a surface had to withstand temperatures of 1,922 kelvins and flame velocities four times the speed of sound. Special refractory fire bricks were held to the walls by interlocks, mechanical anchors, and a modified epoxy cement. All concrete surfaces protected by the brick had to have a smoothness tolerance of 0.3 centimeters in 3 meters to provide a bonding surface. This careful work was to limit the maximum temperature in the adjacent concrete structure during launch to 310 kelvins (37 degrees C)."
  • by ausoleil (322752) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:47PM (#23632531) Homepage
    here are some closeup photos [pigeonfish.info] of the pad damage.

    The photos show the debris field, holes blown through the security fence by flying debris and the bricks on the walls of the flame trench ripped away. Interesting stuff.

Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurence of the improbable. - H. L. Mencken

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