Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Space Science

NASA Test Shows Foam Could Be Culprit 525

Ben Hutchings writes "The BBC has a report on an impact simulation that aimed to recreate the impact of insulating foam on Columbia's wing. The result was a large hole that probably could not be repaired in orbit even if it was known about."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NASA Test Shows Foam Could Be Culprit

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why do they always mention that the astronauts couldn't repair the damage? They could still potentially be rescued if they had known about the damage. NASA still failed in their basic responsibility to those in space by not pursuing the potential damage further and not monitoring the basic condition of the aircraft.
  • happens often (Score:5, Informative)

    by jnguy ( 683993 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:32PM (#6393830) Homepage
    I was watchinbg something on channel 7 about this, and they mentioned that this happens at almost every shuttle launch. Apparently it happened, but didn't create such a large hole on another shuttle a few months before columbia. I guess they better fix their stuff before they go off blasting into space again. It also showed how everything melted down because of that hole, scary how such a minor thing can cause such disaster
    • Re:happens often (Score:4, Informative)

      by geekee ( 591277 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:38PM (#6393909)
      It only started happening after they switched to a non-freon based foam to make the environmentalists happy. Despite that this was a known problem on quite a few missions, they were more interested in being politically correct than in insuring the safety of the missions.
      • hmm, I though I read somewhere it actually happened on Columbia's maiden flight as well?
        Also from what I heard NASA was still allowed to use freon-based foam if it still wanted to, but it switched anyway.
      • Care to point to some evidence for this?
        • Re:happens often (Score:3, Informative)

          by kmac06 ( 608921 )
          Look for yourself [google.com]. (Its the first one)

          Or, if you're lazy [foxnews.com]:

          "Despite that the Freon-based foam worked well and that an exemption from the CFC phase-out could have been obtained, NASA succumbed to political correctness. The agency substituted an allegedly more eco-friendly foam for the Freon-based foam.

          PC-foam was an immediate problem.

          The first mission with PC-foam resulted in 11 times more damaged thermal tiles on Columbia than the previous mission with the Freon-based foam."
      • Re:happens often (Score:4, Informative)

        by Psion ( 2244 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:57PM (#6394141)
        Not only did they make the switch, NASA chose to do so in spite of a special-use exemption granted by the EPA. After returning from a December, 1997 flight, Columbia had taken 308 hits from falling foam debris, with clear indication of the potential damage (some of the scratches in the delicate tiles on the underbelly were over 3 centimeters deep). Nevertheless, NASA continued to use the more dangerous, "environmentally safer" HCFC-141b instead of the reliable CFC-11 propellant.

        Thanks for bringing this up!
      • Re:happens often (Score:4, Informative)

        by gwernol ( 167574 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:05PM (#6394230)
        It only started happening after they switched to a non-freon based foam to make the environmentalists happy. Despite that this was a known problem on quite a few missions, they were more interested in being politically correct than in insuring the safety of the missions.

        NASA are in the process of switching foam types as mandated by the EPA. However STS-107 did not have the new "superlightweight" tanks with the new foam - the foam that was shed was the old foam. See the shuttle loss FAQ [io.com] for details.

        So it did not "only start happening after the switch". Its clearly a problem with the foam system in general, and is not directly related to the type of foam used, as you imply. This conspiracy theory that "environmentalists" or a "politically correct" NASA caused the shuttle disaster is wrong.
        • Re:happens often (Score:5, Informative)

          by Psion ( 2244 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:37PM (#6394591)
          Nice try. Actually, they began using HCFC-141b with STS-86. Here's some relevant info on Columbia's damage after STS-87 in 1997. [nasa.gov]

          Note the source.
          • Re:happens often (Score:4, Informative)

            by gwernol ( 167574 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:56PM (#6394783)
            Nice try. Actually, they began using HCFC-141b with STS-86. Here's some relevant info on Columbia's damage after STS-87 in 1997.

            True, but the foam shedding problems have been going on long before STS-86. See this [centredaily.com] article, for example:

            "The first NASA-reported loss of bipod closeout foam was on the June 1983 launch of Challenger. That was followed by a similar foam loss on the January 1990 flight of Columbia. No records are available from those flights about the size of the foam chunk or damage to the shuttles.

            A little more than two years later, the Columbia again suffered bipod foam loss, that time from both closeouts, during a June 1992 launch. A 6-inch divot was missing from the right closeout, and the left closeout popped loose, taking with it a chunk of intertank foam. That piece measured 20 inches by 10 inches by several inches deep, according to a debris and ice assessment prepared after the mission." (quote is about half way down the page)

            So it can't simply be the switch to the new foam that caused the shedding problems, now can it?
            • Re:happens often (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Psion ( 2244 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @04:09PM (#6394907)
              Let's see, prior to STS-86 and while CFC-11 was still used as propellant, sprayed-foam insulation loss was minimal, sporadic, and concentrated around a few problem areas and was characterized by small debris. After that, the loss became common, resulting in significant damage to STS-87 and other flights and was characterized by much bigger chunks shedding off random areas of the external tank.

              So, yes, it most certainly is the new formula that caused the problems.
        • Re:happens often (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sowellfan ( 583448 ) <sowellfan@NOSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:41PM (#6394630)
          Ok, I went & read the FAQ you linked to, but you have misinterpreted what it says. It says that the "Lightweight" tank was used on the Columbia. Regarding the "Superlightweight" tanks, it says,

          "Since 1998, however, a revised tank model - a 'Superlightweight' tank - has been in use."

          The same FAQ says in the next paragraph,

          "In addition to the development of the 'Superlightweight' tanks, Lockheed also began using a reformulated lighter version of the inch-thick, spray-on insulation used on all external tanks in the mid-1990s. The switch was made to comply with an EPA mandate to limit ozone-depleting chemicals."

          So the new foam came into use on *ALL* tanks (doesn't say 'only superlightweight'), starting in the mid-1990s, whereas the "superlightweight" tank only came into service in 1998.

          The FAQ also says that the use of the new "Superlightweight" tank started with STS-91. But the same FAQ talks about the extensive tile damage found on the return to earth of STS-87, and it mentions that the new, 'environmentally-friendly' foaming method was used on STS-87. It also refers to this new foaming method being one of a few possible reasons for the extensive tile damage. STS-87 comes before STS-91 (unless they have some weird numbering system I don't know about), so it couldn't have used one of the new 'Superlightweight' tanks with its 'environmentally-friendly' foam. So it is apparent from this evidence also, that the new foaming method was used with the Columbia tanks.

          If you are going to try to refute somebody, and then post a link to your supposed evidence, please read your evidence carefully so I don't have to waste my time responding.
        • Re:happens often (Score:5, Informative)

          by kmac06 ( 608921 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:41PM (#6394632)
          I looked at your link. You're wrong. Do a quick search on "Freon" in that page. Better yet, I'll show you what you get:

          Four possible causes were put forth as to what caused the foam to separate from the External Tank:

          1. The primer that bonds the tank foam to the External Tank itself was defective and did not set properly.

          2. The aerodynamics of the roll to "heads up." The STS-87 mission was the first time this maneuver had ever been completed.

          3. The change in the production methods of the foam to exclude the use of Freon and/or any ozone-damaging fluorocarbons.

          4. An unforeseen shrinking of the External Tank due to cryogenic loading, leading to separation of the foam from the Tank and compromising its integrity and resistance to atmospheric drag at high velocities.

          (emphasis mine)

          So. The conspiracy theory that politically correct environmentalists caused the disaster is (possibly) right.
      • Re:happens often (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @05:32PM (#6395689) Homepage
        Yes. "Fair and Balanced" Faux news would have us blame the environmentalists for forcing NASA to use unsafe foam.

        That makes all the sense in the world. Instead of blaming the engineers who made the decision to launch in the face of overwhelming evidence that:
        a) Foam is falling off of the tanks (does not matter WHY)
        b) Foam strikes are already shown to cause tile damage.
        c) Ice strikes on Atlantis mission in 2000 caused enough tile damage to create a hot-gas breach on re-entry which was non-fatal. (but easily could have been).

        These three points show that something was known about the problem and something should have been done. It doesn't matter WHY the foam fell off. It was known to be falling off. The problem was this decision-making process. Not the foam!
  • Eh... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:33PM (#6393845)
    Wasn't this already the prevailing theory? What exactly is news here?
  • woah (Score:2, Informative)

    by EMH_Mark3 ( 305983 )
    deja vu [slashdot.org]
    • Re:woah (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jeremy Erwin ( 2054 )
      NASA planned a whole series of tests. This test, the last of seven, used a panel taken from Atlantis (leading edge panel No. 8), and therefore most precisely approximated the conditions of Columbia's accident.
  • how much supplies do they have on the ship? as in: so they discover a problem that wont allow them to re-enter... do they have enough food and stuff to allow them to stay up there a few more days, until possibly another shuttle could be launched with repair materiels, or at least to ferry the astronauts safely back to earth?
    what about the ISS? could they have docked there for a while?
    • by sparkie ( 60749 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:37PM (#6393904) Homepage
      No, the Columbia could not have docked with the ISS. The space shuttle was launched into a much lower orbit and would not have been able to propel itself high enough to reach the ISS. That is one of the 'problems' that has been brought up. I believe they are going to put more restrictions on where in orbit the shuttle can go. However, don't take my word for it. It's been all over the news and on Nasa's website.
      • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:48PM (#6394700) Homepage
        I don't believe that Columbia was capable of reaching the ISS's orbit even if they wanted to. The Columbia has a lot of extra safety equipment since it was the first shuttle and nobody was certain it wouldn't just blow up on the pad. It is heavier than the newer shuttles.

        The ISS is in a highly inclined orbit (in order to launch resupply ships from russia the ISS can't just orbit the equator like most normal satellites). As a result only the newer and lighter shuttles are even capable of reaching its orbit.

        In order to visit the ISS the shuttle would have to be launched with this in mind from the outset of the mission. A shuttle launched for this purpose could not deploy normal satellites or visit the Hubble. It isn't just a matter of the orbit being the wrong height - it is the wrong inclination as well.

        Inclination is the angle the orbit makes with the equator. A zero inclination orbit stays over the equator all the time. A 90 degree inclination is a polar orbit (cruises over both poles and as the earth turns beneath it the orbit crosses every point on the surface of the earth). I think the ISS is around 30 degrees inclination.

        To change orbital inclination you need to thrust at a 90 degree angle to the orbital velocity. It takes a LOT of fuel to make anything more than a minor change.

        Inclined orbits need more fuel at launch time as well. A zero inclination orbit launched from near the equator has the advantage that on the pad the shuttle is already moving in the right direction with considerable speed (due to the rotation of the earth). All orbits of a given height require the same velocity to maintain. However, relative to the launch pad, an inclined orbit needs more velocity. The worst orbit from this standpoint is a 180 degree inclination - or retrograde orbit. This is one in which the ship is travelling east to west, and not west to east. The ship must take off and spend a lot of fuel just to get down to zero velocity (it starts off with velocity in the wrong direction due to the rotation of the earth), then it has to spend that much energy again just to get to where a 0-inclinction launch starts off. Then it must spend the normal launch energy to get into orbit.

        During re-entry all this extra velocity has to be bled off as well. This doesn't cost fuel since friction is doing the work, but it does stress the tiles more.
    • by Nyrath the nearly wi ( 517243 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:54PM (#6394100) Homepage

      All your questions can be answered with the Columbia Loss FAQ [io.com]. (scroll down to section "VI: Preventative Measures and Rescue Attempts")

      They did not have enough oxygen to last for the weeks it would have taken to prep and launch another shuttle.
      Even if they could have lasted, there were only two space-rated spacesuits aboard. And STS-107 had no airlock.
      STS-107 had nowhere near enough deltaV to be able to alter their orbit enough to dock with the ISS. This is because the ISS is in a weird inclined orbit to allow Russian supply fights to be able to make it to the station.
      This wierd orbit is also the reason that no Russian supply fight could have made it to STS-107

      All this was argued to death on sci.space.shuttle months ago. The bottom line was that the shuttle was doomed the moment the heat shield was damaged.

      • I have but a single comment to your post, and that is yes it takes weeks to prep a shuttle for launch except in the case of columbia atlantis was on the pad and ready to go for its march launch.
        A Bugg
    • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:55PM (#6394116) Journal
      The ISS was out - it was on a different orbit and the Shuttle didn't have enough fuel to make the transition.

      On the other hand, I have also wondered why the hell they couldn't send up an empty shuttle and bring everyone back on it. Moreover, once the Columbia had been emptied, they could have tried to bring it back with out bleeding off speed using S turns. The Columbia broke apart as it was slaloming and had just loaded up the damaged wing. Had they known the wing was busted, they may have been able to slide slip the whole way in and kept the damaged wing trailing on the backside the whole way down.

      All those ideas go out the door when the shuttle manager said "Even had we known, there was nothing we could have done." For that sentiment alone, he deserved to go - it was a far cry from Gene Kranz'es "failure is not an option" attitude when Apollo 13 blew an oxygen tank.
  • Emergency Duct Tape (as any studious watcher of the Red Green Show knows, you can make or fix anything with duct tape!)
  • Longer Article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Unknown Relic ( 544714 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:36PM (#6393887) Homepage
    A slightly more detailed article [foxnews.com] is available from fox news. A couple interesting things noted here that aren't in the BBC article is that this was the seventh and final test, and that in addition to the camera lens popping off, several other guages which were measuring the experiment were damaged from the impact.
    • Local reporting (Score:5, Informative)

      by JCMay ( 158033 ) <JeffMayNO@SPAMearthlink.net> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:02PM (#6394203) Homepage
      Our local paper, Florida Today [floridatoday.com], has more reporting [floridatoday.com] and it was the above-the-fold news today.

      From my point of view, this is the most impressive part of the whole thing:

      The real panels cost $800,000 each. So combined with the $1 million custom-built wing frame, the cost of the tests is $4.2 million not counting the fake fiberglass parts or money paid to Southwest Research Institute for use of its unique nitrogen gas gun.

      That's an awful lot of testing that's been done for a mere $4.2 million! Last winter I was involved with some testing that cost $500,000 and the result was a little 50-page report. Way to go, NASA! Hooray for SRI!
  • Minor curiosity... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jin Wicked ( 317953 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:37PM (#6393893) Homepage Journal
    I've been following this pretty closely since I live relatively near the Johnson Space Centre here in Houston, and quite a few NASA people come in where I work. I've heard a lot of talk about training the astronauts all to spacewalk, and be able to repair minor damage to the shuttle, but what exactly would they do if the damage was too severe to be repaired? Would a second shuttle have to be launched as a rescue mission? Would they have to just abandon the damaged shuttle in space, since it would be unfit for re-entry? There's a lot of talk of repairs but I haven't heard any predictions for scenarios where repair was impossible.

    Perhaps NASA should start looking at new designs with potentially fatal flaws. Have they not been using this design for something like 15-20 years now?
    • by Jin Wicked ( 317953 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:40PM (#6393934) Homepage Journal
      *slaps forehead*

      without potentially fatal flaws...

    • I believe that it would have been possible for the crew to ration everything to the bare minimum, long enough push up the launch of Atlantis to fly a rescue mission. Such a mission would have been fraught with danger, (short cuts on pre-flight safety, and it too might have been struck with foam on launch) but there would have been no shortage of volunteers to fly the mission, despite the risks.

      I suspect they would have abandoned the shuttle, it wouldn't be cost effective to fly a repair mission. I don't
      • I believe that it would have been possible for the crew to ration everything to the bare minimum

        Given enough fuel on-board, why not just rendezvous with the ISS and hole up there until either another shuttle or a recue craft was launched? My space station design goes as far as the second death star, so I'm not sure if the ISS can even hold nine or ten people, let alone sustain them.

      • by Xzzy ( 111297 )
        I thought the popular strategy was to make sure the shuttle could dock with the ISS, and allow the astronauts to get back to earth in the soyuz module the station has.

        Granted I got this info from the media so it could be a pointless thing to say, but it sure sounds good.. especially since I don't think they can just lob another shuttle into space on a whim.

        It would also still leave a broken shuttle up in space, which I imagine makes for an interesting engineering problem once the business of keeping peopl
        • by ceejayoz ( 567949 )
          I thought the popular strategy was to make sure the shuttle could dock with the ISS, and allow the astronauts to get back to earth in the soyuz module the station has.

          Pity there wasn't enough fuel to reach the ISS orbit, and that the Soyuz module holds a maximum of three people.
    • by wass ( 72082 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:46PM (#6394018)
      but what exactly would they do if the damage was too severe to be repaired?

      in this case, where heatup during reentry would be a huge problem with a damaged wing, I was wondering if they could bring the shuttle in at a very oblique trajectory consisting of many orbits of slightly-decreasing radii to aerobrake it orders-of-magnitude more gradually than they currently do now.

      • Though it makes me wonder why they don't do something like that now, anyway. I'm sure there would still be things to be examined and learned at different levels of orbit? Or would something like that take so long to finally get them back down, that it would only be feasible as a last-resort?
      • NASA's looked into it. Turns out they already designed the reentry to minimize heating loads. The one thing they might have done would have been to favor the left wing at the expense of the right wing.
    • Well, see, what you do is prevent anyone from realizing the full extent of the damage, so that the astronauts can complete their mission without distraction.
  • So What Now? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrankyFool ( 680025 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:37PM (#6393900)
    It'll be interesting to see what the reaction to this failure will be.

    Challenger didn't really rock the way we did Shuttle missions because the problems that led to its explosion were not core to how the Shuttles are built -- someone / some process screwed up and there was a relatively reliable way to make sure it wouldn't happen again.

    Columbia, on the other hand, was destroyed because the design of the Shuttle is so fragile that once you develop an external problem, you're dead -- since they're using tiles that are individualized, there are no spares they could carry that would help them fix this sort of problem.

    Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction -- either a radical redesign of the Shuttle, or its abandonment in favor of a more robust solution.
    • Re:So What Now? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Enry ( 630 ) <enryNO@SPAMwayga.net> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:41PM (#6393954) Journal
      NPR had a report last thursday covering the possibilities of repair in space. There's a lot of options, from filling the wing cavity with heat-resistent foam to wrapping the wing in titanium which will burn off during reentry (like the heat shields of Mercury, Apollo, etc.).
      • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:05PM (#6394232) Homepage Journal
        >wrapping the wing in titanium which will burn off

        The hidden gotcha which you'd need to account for is that if you have bumps or roughness on the wing surface, you may create a little hypersonic shockwave which will create a localized hotspot downwind, potentially hot enough to burn through even the heat-resistant tiles.

        A repair would have to be smooth enough to avoid creating more problems than it solved. Lots of computation and testing would be needed.

    • The Challenger (as well as Columbia, and the newer vehicle that was being built - Discovery) had a flaw in the design of its O-ring that NASA itself knew could cause problems in flight. The design itself worked (proven by earlier flights of the shuttles). However, the design was not resilient to, as you said, external problems that were not properly thought up before-hand, such as massive fluctuations in temperatures (which led to the failure of the seal on the booster rocket).

      A university student did an
  • by HerringFlavoredFowl ( 170182 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:39PM (#6393918)
    A quick check on Spacetoday.com [spacetoday.net] points to several good articles ...

    SpaceFlightNow article [spaceflightnow.com]
    Florida Today article [floridatoday.com] and it has three video's of the test
    Orlando Sentinel article [orlandosentinel.com]
    Washington Post article [washingtonpost.com]
    Houston Chronicle article [chron.com]
    • Noteworthy points (Score:5, Informative)

      by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:47PM (#6394027) Homepage Journal
      The impact speed and angle were not worst-case, but based on average estimates. Real-life damage could be even worse and we were lucky, lucky, lucky before Columbia.

      NASA officials resisted making the reinforced carbon-carbon panel available for destructive testing, because they take 8 months and $800,000 to make.

      The X-15 was considered experimental throughout its entire career, and it flew 199 times, which is far more experience than the shuttle program has had.
  • A pinch of salt ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BillsPetMonkey ( 654200 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:39PM (#6393919)
    The impact was so violent that it popped a lens off one of the cameras recording the experiment and prompted gasps from about 100-strong astonished crowd.

    When I hear of "entertaining" demonstrations to prove a point, I'm reminded of magicians before an audience and furrow my brow.

    Is the real "secret" here a less visually spectacular flaw, not in a bodypart but in the design process and it's assumptions?
    • I remember visitor's day at the UofI, in the materials section, they ran demos of their concrete crusher on the hour, to an audience crowd each hour.

      Big things being destroyed is cool to watch, even when it is something as simple as testing batches of concrete, when it leaves a pile of rubble that takes a dozer to remove.

      You shoot anything with a 1lb object at 500+ mph and it is going to be entertaining.
  • another story (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pyros ( 61399 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:39PM (#6393923) Journal
    It's amazing to think that prior shuttle launches have had foam break off and strike the wing without this happening (according to Discovery Channel [discovery.com]). Makes me wonder what was different, perhaps just the size of the foam chunk. It's good to know they finally tested it out to measure the impact. Tragic that people died first. Here's a link to another article [voanews.com] on VOANews.com [voanews.com]
    • Re:another story (Score:3, Insightful)

      by limekiller4 ( 451497 )
      I want to know why this comes as a surprise to anyone. A very small and/or light thing moving at a very, very fast speed can cause considerable damage. *slaps forehead.

      How do you get into NASA without passing highschool physics? If I asked these people -- the ones who declared that such an impact was not cause for concern -- what was heavier; a pound of feathers or a pound of lead, what would be their answer?

      First a metric conversion issue that dooms a Mars mission now this. ... Maybe highschool physi
  • by core plexus ( 599119 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:39PM (#6393924) Homepage
    It most definately could not be repaired in orbit. I can't find the links now, but I remember reading several articles about how the shuttle was designed and built, and how many of the tiles fall off when they are working on the craft in the hangers! To say nothing of how difficult it is even when the adhesive works. One of the articles went on in some detail about the flaws in the design. I'll keep looking, it was most informative. cp
  • by tevenson ( 625386 ) <tevenson@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:42PM (#6393970) Homepage
    Does this also account for the the angle at which the foam in the wing? They don't mention it so I thought it was a question worth asking.

    My understanding was that the foam glanced off the wing at high speeds and wasn't simply "shot" into it from a right angle. I may be completely wrong (and would love to be corrected) on my misunderstanding.

    This obviously wasn't the same kind of foam we use to sleep on when we go camping.
  • by verloren ( 523497 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:43PM (#6393982)
    In all the coverage I've seen of the damage investigation the scientists and reporters have made clear that the Shuttle had essentially no repair capability, so even if the problem had been found, there was nothing they could do about it.

    They never seem to point out that there was one thing they could do, which was stop anyone trying to land in it. Fire the thing at the moon (I've seen Space Cowboys, so I know it can be done!) and let the shuttle crew camp out until they could be rescued.

    It always sounds like they expected the crew to bound happily aboard, perhaps sharing a rueful smile at the knowledge that they were going to die, but hey, there's nothing we can do about it right?

    Cheers, Paul
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:46PM (#6394013)


    Audience: "oooooo"

    NASA engineer: "Folks, this COULD be more proof that MAYBE this is what POSSIBLY caused the accident."

    Audience: "Oh, you mean "POSSIBLY" as in, there's POSSIBLY life on mars?"

  • Just as well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <thebungi@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:46PM (#6394019) Homepage
    probably could not be repaired in orbit even if it was known about.

    Well, I hate to sound callous and all, but... if this indeed was impossible to repair then... well, it was probably for the better.

    I mean, I can't imagine having seven people up there dying slowly on live TV. That would have been terrible.

    What NASA needs to do now is to just replace the shuttle with something better for crying out loud (the Russians have been doing space on the cheap for any number of years. The STS does not really save us that much money) and get on with life.

    • No, plans would've been to send the other shuttle up to rescue & then put the damaged shuttle in an orbit that would cause it to break up & have the chunks fall into the ocean.

      The report I saw last night on the news interviewed a NASA engineer that begged for spy satellites to take pictures of the shuttle to look for damage. He was ignored.
  • by Psychic Burrito ( 611532 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:48PM (#6394032)
    Can the impact speed be really that fast? Before the piece of foam fell away from the shuttle, it was moving at the same speed. To impact at 850 km (530 miles) hour, the piece of foam would have to slow down 850 km/h during the short distance between falling off and hitting the wing... during 2 seconds or so. Are the numbers really feasible?
  • ABC News posted several emails about why the shuttle was doomed- apparently the engineers didn't follow the proper reporting procedure to send up a 'red flare' and stop it. I had all the links nicely typed into a story, but it was rejected.
    Regardless, pictures were asked for and management squashed it for failing to follow procedure. And now a shuttle is dead. TPP reports, anyone?
  • ...to anyone who's ever ridden a motorcycle. Getting nailed by a bee in the middle of the chest at 75 mph is no treat, let me tell you.

    And I'll bet a bee weighs a LOT less than the chunk of foam that hit the Columbia.

    Hey, it's not like this was rocket science...just basic PHYSICS, for Pete's sake!
  • Excuse the raw humor (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Stephen Samuel ( 106962 ) <samuel AT bcgreen DOT com> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @02:51PM (#6394067) Homepage Journal
    This pretty much literally blows a big hole in any argument that the nasa probe people were over=estimating the kind of damage that a 'little' chunk of foam could do to the shuttle's wing.

    I think that this final test is a smoking bun because it shows that pieces of foam can do much more than just cause minor holes in the wing. that might allow a fatal stream of air into the shuttle wing. If Columbia had had a hole in it's wing like this test created, it probably wouldn't have made it anywhere near as close to the landing point as it did.

    I'm guessing that this was something of a worst-case scenario, and it pretty much blew the socks off the testers.

    (having gotten in my weekly quota of pun, I'm now gonna go do some real work).

  • Why are they firing the foam at 500 mph? I haven't seen a good explanation of where they get that figure from.

    As far as I can see, I'd imagine that the foam falls from the fuel tank/booster onto the shuttle wing. The rate of fall should be only the relative acceleration that the shuttle experiences during the fall. (Since both foam and shuttle are presumably moving at the same speed when it detaches from the launcher)

    So the total acceleration should be the acceleration of the shuttle (max 3G at liftoff ac
  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitroth&5-cent,us> on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:03PM (#6394216) Homepage
    I read the news story...including the part where they said, "we could do this again, and get a different result".

    So, first, how about doing this at *least* three times?

    THEN, take the average, and put the damn thing in front of a horizontally-mounted rocket engine, to simulate actual re-entry, and see if it happens...or if, as has happened in the past, the shockwave keeps the heat from penetrating.

    Gee, if that happened, then they'd have to go back to looking for another cause...like (google for it) the diehard's analysis that it was stress corrosion cracking in the hydraulic lines that control the elevons. Loosing control of them would rip the wing *right* off.

    But then, stress corrosion cracking shold have been caught...*if* they hadn't cut safety inspectors by 75%, and if the managers, in their own meetings, cared more for safety than for "being a team player, and meeting the schedule".

    NASA's management strucure needs flattening, anyway - there's maybe 1 chief for 2 indians. Is that sane, to y'all?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:09PM (#6394281)
    It really pisses me off, everytime I read something like that.

    You'd be amazed what can be repaired if the only alternative is dying.
  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @03:24PM (#6394423)
    ... is seeing how a bunch of geeks on some website can criticize the physics knowledge of a bunch of rocket scientists. Before you start quoting various "disasters," remember that one of them was caused by a failure to convert units (some engineers made a dumb mistake), and the other was caused by an acceleration-sensitive switch having a weak spring, and therefore triggering too early. Both of these were engineering mistakes.

    These people are capable of launching a spacecraft from a planet whipping around the sun, through continuously changing gravitational fields, for hundreds of millions of miles, and put it down on a spot the width of your city park. They know physics. To put it bluntly, these people are badasses. The last thing they deserve right now is the intellectual equivalent of a 2 year old arguing over politics with Kofi Annan...

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @04:31PM (#6395152) Homepage
    http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=53 3&ncid=533&e=3&u=/ap/20030708/ap_on_sc/shuttle_ear lier_breach

    Gasses have breached the wing on a previous Atlantis flight. And they didn't even know about it until a postflight inspection, AND, it sounds like the damage almost went unnoticed, and the Atlantis would have launched with the damage from a previous flight, and no replacement of the faulty seal.

    This damage was caused by the combination of a faulty seal, and falling ice.

    The Columbia is being blamed on just the falling foam. But wouldn't you say that the heat shield was a faulty design?

    Did the Soviet shuttle use tiles?
    The X-33?

    I recall during Columbia's first flight - the tile design was questioned in the press. The aluminum structure underneath, of course, is flexible, and it's covering, the tiles, is not. A few tiles popped off on that first flight, and subsequent flights - and it was mentioned that the wrong tiles falling off would have dire consequences.

    Sad, that nobody sees this as an unacceptably risky design.
  • by sirgoran ( 221190 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2003 @06:08PM (#6395908) Homepage Journal
    "The result was a large hole that probably could not be repaired in orbit even if it was known about."

    Geez, I always thought you could fix anything with enough duct-tape.

    Who Knew!?


User hostile.