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NASA Space Science

Another Leak Delays Final Discovery Launch 104

Posted by timothy
from the find-the-leak-and-plug-it dept.
vsolepr writes "Today's scheduled launch was scrubbed because of a gaseous hydrogen leak near the spacecraft's external tank. This is the fourth time in the past week that Discovery's launch was delayed due to various leaks and electrical issues. NASA now is aiming for a launch date no earlier than Nov. 30."
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Another Leak Delays Final Discovery Launch

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  • Re:Ugh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by harrytuttle777 (1720146) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:23PM (#34143090)

    I would rather waste money on this than some of the other crazy things that the government wastes money on. Have you ever seen a shuttle launch. It lights up the sky from 90 miles away. It is kind of impressive what humans kind can do when they are not fighting against each other.

  • Re:Ugh (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fishbowl (7759) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:40PM (#34143198)

    More important than the abstract idea of what it costs to launch the shuttle, is "who gets the money?" and "for what?"

    I have a feeling that if we actually *had* to put a shuttle up, and managed to keep things like corporate profits, individual compensation, and natural resource market costs out of the equation, it would be a lot less.

  • Re:Another Leak??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffmeden (135043) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:45PM (#34143224) Homepage Journal

    Is it sad that this was my first thought, too? It seems that there is nothing we can't blame on WikiLeaks...

  • Silly assumption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Quadraginta (902985) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:49PM (#34143250)

    It always puzzles me why folks imagine saying a given piece of tech is old is axiomatically equivalent to saying it's been mightily improved upon since then.

    Has the pencil been improved on yet? How about the wheel? Are we still burning gasoline in cylinders with pistons to power cars, like we started doing in the 1880s? Do we still use propellors to make boats move? Et cetera.

    I'm not suggesting it's not possible to improve the Shuttle -- but that case has to be made in detail, not tossed off with an assumption that because it was designed in the 60s and built in the 70s there must be a far better idea. After all, the biggest advances since the 70s have mostly been in stuff like electronics or avionics, and besides the fact that this doesn't do squat for things like thermal protection and reliability of very high energy rocket systems under very heavy load (the two weaknesses that killed Columbia and Challenger, respectively) the best of these advances in electronics have in many cases been retrofitted into the Shuttle anyway.

    Point me to a genuine major advance in airframe materials, thermal protection systems, or rocket engine design since the 1970s and maybe this contempt might be better supported by actual evidence.

  • by Osgeld (1900440) on Friday November 05, 2010 @07:54PM (#34143308)

    Point me to a genuine major advance in airframe materials, thermal protection systems, or rocket engine design since the 1970s and maybe this contempt might be better supported by actual evidence.

    maybe cause NASA has not done much of anything in these feilds since then?

    and its not the technology of getting it done, yes we still burn gas in our cars, no I do not drive a 1979 buick with a leaky fuel tank

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:16PM (#34143576)

    Genuine MAJOR Advances: aeolotropic composite materials, inflatable structures, directional crystal metals, better understanding of the non-linear behavior of the structures that allow lower factors of safety, ...

    To highlight this point - the Endeavour is much lighter than the Columbia was. The external tank today is much lighter than it used to be.

  • Re:Ugh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by harrytuttle777 (1720146) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:27PM (#34143720)

    Absolutely. But there is a world of difference between competing in a noble competition to be the first in space, vs the competition for wealth and power that is unconstrained by any sort of moral compass.

    I am all for competition, but thing there should be some like drawn between just and unjust competition. Competing by creating a better product is good. Competing by creating a patent pool and suing anyone that makes a better product is unacceptable and cowardly.

    Yes, I am way too idealistic.

    -Obedience to the rule of law is obedience to the rule of tyrants.

  • by Raenex (947668) on Friday November 05, 2010 @08:30PM (#34143752)

    Are we still burning gasoline in cylinders with pistons to power cars, like we started doing in the 1880s?

    Do we drive cars from the 1880s? Or do we continuously improve on them?

  • This is Suprising? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stormy Dragon (800799) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:08PM (#34144192) Homepage

    This was the last external tank made at Michoud. As it rolled down the assembly line, everyone who worked on it did their particular task and then was laid off as soon as they were done.

    And people are shocked it's not particularly well made? Frankly, I think the astronauts taking this tank into orbit have to be nuts.

  • by AJWM (19027) on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:11PM (#34144220) Homepage

    The vehicles are getting too old to fly, despite the overhauls they get after every mission. Even the disposable parts (like the tank) because of attrition in the skilled workforce that built them.

    Not that we haven't known this was coming for longer than it took to go from a standing start to men walking on the Moon, but too many managers have been more concerned with protecting their turf than ensuring continued manned access to space.

  • Re:Ugh (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:21PM (#34144304)

    It is kind of impressive what humans kind can do when they are not fighting against each other.

    Funny, considering the entire space program was a spending war against the Russians to see who could build the best ICBMs and Spy Sats.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 05, 2010 @09:23PM (#34144322)

    Is this nasa's way of playing politics? As long as they don't lunch the shuttle program isn't over. There has just recently been a power switch in government so maybe they are waited to see what will happen than. It is also possible that all of these things are happening.

  • Re:Ugh (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Friday November 05, 2010 @11:39PM (#34145050)

    I'm not in disagreement with you, but I still am really interested in knowing how much of the "cost" of launching a shuttle is amortized into the space program's sunk costs, how much is in the market value of natural resources, how much is in salaries and real estate expenses and stuff, and how much is marginal costs...

    It's a few years since I looked into this, but I believe at the time the variable cost of a shuttle flight was around $250,000,000 and the fixed costs of the program were over $3,000,000,000 a year. A lot of those fixed costs go into maintaining KSC and other NASA facilities; imagine how much an airline ticket would cost if you flew a mere six times a year and did so from your own multi-runway international airport with a staff of thousands.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:03AM (#34145148)

    They have no real motivation to do a good job because they could do a catastrophically bad job and they still wouldn't get fired.

    I'd hate to work where you do if the only motivation you people have to do a good job is the fear of being fired.

    But that's not really the problem anyway: the real problem is not that the 'crucial employees' start doing a bad job, but that once they realise they're going to be out of a job in two years the 'crucial employees' are the first ones out the door because they can easily get a new job elsewhere.

  • by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:39AM (#34145302) Homepage

    What is needed is reliable, reusable launchers which don't require months of maintenance by thousands of people between flights, and that's perfectly possibly with enough engineering effort... the idea that it will 'never' happen is just silly.

    Balancing yourself on a giant tower of explosively combusting gas is never going to be particularly safe; hence the high maintenance costs to quadruple-ensure everything is "just right", before committing to what could very easily become a human fireworks display.

    What's really needed is a reliable way to get high volumes of material into orbit -- one that doesn't require fuel to be present in the vehicle (other than possibly as payload). The problem with putting fuel in the vehicle is that it adds to the weight of the vehicle, which means you have to add more fuel to help lift the fuel you've already added, and so on, until the snowball effect limits the size and capacity of your vehicle to "not very much".

    Once that's solved, and we can get significant amounts of material out of this nasty gravity well inexpensively, the rest is cake. Until then, it's doubtful that any rocket design, no matter how advanced, can do much -- it's like trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @01:14AM (#34145388)
    Here we have yet another example of the Eloi hate of the greasy Moorlocks that actually do stuff other than lounge around in a garden waiting to be eaten. Have you considered that the workers in question would actually be proud of their work and watch the launch with the joy of seeing the results of a job well done?
  • by Ga_101 (755815) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @07:41AM (#34146390)
    Taking pride on one's work died round about the time that job security and pay that wasn't "How low can we get away with?" did.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:20PM (#34147578)

    Has the pencil been improved on yet?

    Yes. Modern mechanical pencils are a huge improvement over the original.

    How about the wheel?

    Yes. Spoked wheels are an improvement over the original round disk, as is making the metal parts out of aluminum. Magnetic levitation trains might also count.

    Are we still burning gasoline in cylinders with pistons to power cars, like we started doing in the 1880s?

    Care to compare modern cars to 1880s ones in any metric and tell me there's not been improvement? And let us not forget Wankel engines, fuel cells, etc.

    Do we still use propellors to make boats move?

    Yes, we do. Of course, modern propellors are not only more efficient than old ones, but are also often mounted so they can be turned, to help steering.

    Et cetera.

    Yup, pretty much.

    I'm not suggesting it's not possible to improve the Shuttle -- but that case has to be made in detail, not tossed off with an assumption that because it was designed in the 60s and built in the 70s there must be a far better idea.

    To put it bluntly: aerodynamics, material science, and chemistry have all moved on. So have flow dynamics and the ability simulate various scenarios. As a result, to suggest that a modern replacement of the Space Shuttle wouldn't be an improvement over the current one is simply idiotic.

  • Re:Ugh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by quacking duck (607555) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @12:57PM (#34147736)

    One estimate in 2007 put the cost of the Iraq war as high as $720M a day. Watching cockroaches mate in zero gravity, or "bringing democracy" to a region that isn't culturally ready for it and is costing thousands of lives on top of that... I know what I'd cut first.

    (Yes I know focus has shifted to Afghanistan and doesn't cost as much money, the point remains)

  • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday November 06, 2010 @10:47PM (#34151424) Journal

    I'd hate to work where you do if the only motivation you people have to do a good job is the fear of being fired.

    It's more than that. If you've ever seen a company where people are forced to train their replacements, you'd know what I'm talking about. If you know that you're about to lose your job, there's a definite sense that what you do must not be important, or else you would still be doing it.

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