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NASA Bug Space

Stuck Knob Causes Serious Window Damage To Atlantis 291

Posted by timothy
from the for-want-of-a-nail dept.
FTL writes "While in orbit a metal knob floated between a window and the dashboard of Atlantis. Once back on Earth, the shuttle contracted, wedging the knob firmly in place and damaging the window. Initial attempts to free the knob have failed and engineers may need six months to disassemble that section of the orbiter. Given that the shuttle program will probably end next year anyway, such a delay might mean scrapping Atlantis early rather than repairing it. Efforts to remove the knob using less invasive techniques continue."
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Stuck Knob Causes Serious Window Damage To Atlantis

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  • The article neglects to mention the extreme disappointment of John M. Grunsfeld who spent the majority of Mission STS-125 photographing a strange phenomenon he could witness through his window but could not detect on radar. A large knob-shaped object would move about above the atmosphere with an almost supernatural fluidity and change of speeds relative to the Earth. He neglected to mention it to his crewmates hoping that he had stumbled upon either the first contact with alien life or observed a new phenomenon he dubbed in his journal "Grunsfeld's Effect." Unfortunately the engineers at NASA have immortalized his name by calling the stuck debris "Grunsfeld's Knob" or "Grunsfeld's God." The engineers have also started referring to being duped as "being grunsfelded." Example: "I called up to order some of those damn Video Professor instructional DVDs and ended up with 8 of the stupid things. Man did I get Grunsfelded!"
  • by afidel (530433) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:24PM (#28472665)
    Or is that only an outer protective layer? I know I've seen pictures of the pitting that micrometeors and paint flecks have caused on the Shuttles while in orbit, I just assumed they were made to be easily replaced.
    • by pz (113803) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:57PM (#28473193) Journal

      Or is that only an outer protective layer? I know I've seen pictures of the pitting that micrometeors and paint flecks have caused on the Shuttles while in orbit, I just assumed they were made to be easily replaced.

      The article isn't wholly clear, but implies that there are three layers of glass, only the outer one gets replaced. The inner ones have never been replaced on any shuttle. The innermost one is the most important for retaining the internal pressure, and is the one that has sustained damage.

      And to be clear, if you read the article, it's obvious that the engineers working on this are SERIOUS and have thought of just about anything that slashdot readers have come up with. Drill/cut? Too high risk because of (a) vibrations transmitted to the window and microgrinding of the knob against the window and (b) metallic dust it will generate. Pressurize orbiter? Yep. For some reason, they think they can only get it to +3 PSI. Might help. Apply cold to the knob to shrink it? Yep. They tried dry ice. Didn't work. (My guess is that they'll try liquid nitrogen, too at some point.) They're planning on trying dry ice and pressurization at the same time. Apply downward pressure to the dash with a crobar? Probably very risky because of unknown damage it might cause to dash.

      Once the knob is out, they'll make visual inspection of the remaining surface, including taking microscopic moldings to assess the damage. The pane is tempered, so scratches are a big problem, as they can lead to spontaneous, catastrophic failure.

      • Sounds like they'll just have to scrap this orbiter early.
        • by matrim99 (123693)

          All they need to solve this (or any) problem is some Mighty Putty (TM) and a Slap Chop (TM). You know the Germans make good stuff!

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Have they tried a powerful excimer laser?

      • ... the engineers working on this ... have thought of just about anything ... Drill/cut? ... Pressurize orbiter? ... Apply cold to the knob to shrink it?

        How about tying a string to the knob (so it doesn't get away), reheating the orbiter, and pressurizing it - recreating the situation (except for zero G) that let it float in in the first place?

      • by DigitAl56K (805623) * on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:17PM (#28474339)

        Why not spray a sealant around the surrounding materials, lay in an extraction nozzle attached to a pump, pour a mold around it then use a chemical to dissolve the metal, at least the edges of the metal, enough to remove it? No vibrations, no pressure, no crazy coolant or heating solutions. You can pick a site to work on that is least risk, such as the area in contact with the glass (assuming the glass isn't affected by the chemicals dissolving the metal).

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Other ideas that probably won't work:
        -- Thaw out one of the aliens from Hangar 18 to spit on the knob and dissolve it.
        -- Beam the knob out of there using NASA's experimental teleportation device.
        -- Eliminate the space between the atoms in the knob, causing it to shrink to the size of an amoeba.
        -- Use the sun's gravity to travel back in time to before the knob got stuck.
        -- WD40.
        -- Have the holographic doctor reach through the windshield and poke the knob out.
        -- Talk to the knob. Teach it Phenomenology.
        -- Wai

      • by radtea (464814)

        Too high risk because of (a) vibrations transmitted to the window and microgrinding of the knob against the window

        This makes no sense. There may be other reasons for not cutting, but these can't be them.

        Cutting would obviously be done by hand, or with a very slow speed reciprocating saw, which produce minimal vibration. They'd probably encase the whole thing in epoxy first to further reduce vibration. More importantly, if the choice is a) scrap the shuttle early for sure or b) risk having to scrap it due

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by pz (113803)

          Cutting would obviously be done by hand, or with a very slow speed reciprocating saw, which produce minimal vibration. They'd probably encase the whole thing in epoxy first to further reduce vibration.

          Movement of the knob against the glass, no matter how slow, is potentially going to grind the glass away. Encasing the knob in epoxy isn't going to help unless the epoxy is also adhering to the glass to prevent relative motion between the knob and glass. And, in that case, there's the difficulty of removing the epoxy afterward. Could be done, but probably not a very good approach, and certainly not without risk.

          If scratches can lead to "spontaneous catastrophic failure" in the window material then obviously there is zero risk because the window must have a strong scratch-proof covering, probably a thin layer of plexiglas or similar. Otherwise trivial incidents over the course of the shuttle's working life would pose an unacceptable risk--anything breaking loose on re-entry, in particular, could scratch the surface if it was not heavily protected.

          The article (you did read the article before spouting off, right?) does not describe any coati

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by seyyah (986027)

      Or is that only an outer protective layer? .... I just assumed they were made to be easily replaced.

      No, sadly, the knob's outer, protective layer can not be easily replaced (cf circumcision).

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by geekoid (135745)

      They are easy to replace FOR A SPACE SHIP.

  • they can borrow mine. I never use it.

  • Saw. The one in the form of elastic cutting "wire".

    • by Animats (122034)

      The problem is getting it out without dumping metal particles all over the place. But they'll think of something, probably something that involves a cutting tool and a suction system.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        Powerful magnets tend to be good in collecting those... (coupled with some industrial "vacuum cleaner" and sealing off the area)

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by lgw (121541)

          Yeah, why didn't those rocket scientists think of using a magnet to clean up aluminum dust - what losers!

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:30PM (#28472751) Homepage Journal

    Title suggestion: "Shuttle has a Wedgie"
       

  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:34PM (#28472807)

    Throw a bucket of cold water on it and the knob should slip right out.

  • and is underfunded and ending soon anyways, give atlantis the same proper ghetto treatment a contemporary of its time would receive, like 25 year old plymouth horizon: plastic sheeting and duct tape

    also knock out a back tail light and finger daub "wash me" in the cosmic dust on its hood

  • Well... (Score:2, Funny)

    by locoztx (1532715)
    it's knobody's fault. Sorry.
  • by Chelloveck (14643) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:37PM (#28472859) Homepage
    They need to call one of those chip-and-crack auto glass replacement people that I hear on the radio all the time. They come out to your workplace to do the job, and best of all, you only pay the insurance deductible!
  • by Tablizer (95088) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:37PM (#28472861) Homepage Journal

    I know how they feel: Toyota's quoting me $400 to fix a loose sun visor because they have to take the entire @&%#! side of the car apart to get to it.
       

    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      That's why I'm glad I have a Honda: each sun visor is only held on with two screws which are not obscured in any way.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tinkerghost (944862)

      I know how they feel: Toyota's quoting me $400 to fix a loose sun visor because they have to take the entire @&%#! side of the car apart to get to it.

      Try replacing a heater core in a modern car - usually the entire dash assembly has to be removed to get it out. Figure out how much a factory shop is going to charge you for that.

      Better than the Chevy 2.8L transverse V6 I suppose. The section of the shop manual for replacing spark plugs starts with: "Unbolt the dogbone and engine mounts and rotate the eng

  • Dissolve it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rally2xs (1093023) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @05:37PM (#28472865)
    Acid.
  • ...the answer is simple.

    If you can cut it out (vibration damage to the area.)

    If you cant freeze it out.

    how about a strong suction device and a bottle of some strong acid. Pop the acid and try and suck the knob till it comes.. out...lol ^_^

    Or in reality.. just use the acid to burn some of the knob away and take it out. Make sure you've got some alkali handy to stop the reaction before it does an "Alien" on you and melt the whole way through the deck ...

  • Stuck knob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @06:15PM (#28473389) Journal

    If this condition lasts for more than 4 hours, call a doctor.

    • I know this is off topic, but I saw this [comics.com] cartoon today in a similar vein. But it took my a few seconds to get it...

  • ...you read that as "Stuck Know Causes Serious Windows Damage To Atlantis", and think "How the hell do they know what OS they were using on that sunken island?"

    I just know realized, that even my question does not make any sense...

  • Am I the only one thinking wearing it down with solvent or electrolysis might be the way to go? It looks like they've got pretty good access, they could even pour a silicone sealant past it to keep the solvent out of places it shouldn't be, then peel it out afterward.
     

    Only at NASA can a stuck knob result in 6 months of delays.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Only an idiot would bash NASA over something he has no facts about.

    • by pz (113803)

      Am I the only one thinking wearing it down with solvent or electrolysis might be the way to go? It looks like they've got pretty good access, they could even pour a silicone sealant past it to keep the solvent out of places it shouldn't be, then peel it out afterward.

      Looking at the photos of attempts to use dry ice, it already appears they are doing things like applying sealants, or protecting the areas around the knob. Electrical dissolution is an interesting idea. I'd be worried about the heat it would generate, though.

  • Why any car is made with other than LED lights (perhaps cold-cathode is good enough, or for some reason that I don't know even better) rather than little incandescent bulbs is beyond me. "Here's an important part we know will fail, that's about 18" from the driver. Let's make it very, very difficult to remove, so when the important dashlights fail, he'll need to pay someone with more tools a lot of money to fix the 10-cent lightbulb."

    Headlights, the same way, at least the ones on a) a 1998 Subaru Outback an

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by lgw (121541)

      I have found the that the main difference between a $20K car and a $50K car is that the $0.20 parts get replaced with $0.50 parts. Not shaving every possible penny on every possible part seems to help a lot quality-wise. I just wish I could buy the $21K car with just those parts upgrades!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tomthegeek (1145233)

      The radio that came with my 99 Grand Am has an incandescent bulb to light up the display. No way to easily replace it, in order to fix it I had to pull the whole radio apart. Tell me that's not planned obsolescence. Oh and if I ever find the guy that designed the headlights I'm going to kick him square in the nuts.

  • and once in space, remove the knob.

    Seriously though, heat it until it softens and changes shape, or slowly dissolve it.

  • OK, so they can't cut it with ordinary tools because damage to the window from the vibes and chips would be an issue.

    Looks like a job for electrodynamic machining.

    Sparks through a liquid to the part temporarily create a plasma cavity through the liquid and melt a spot where they land. When the spark stops the cavity collapses with the resulting shock wave splashing the still-molten material into the liquid where it instantly freezes as dust.

    Repeat several thousand times per second, monitoring the spark vol

  • by Sebilrazen (870600) <blahsebilrazen@blah.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @07:58PM (#28474967)
    How many rocket scientists does it take to get a stuck knob unstuck?
  • why can't they put postive pressure inside the orbiter and pop it out?

    but a better question perhaps, is why the hell is there junk rolling around inside the space shuttle?

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