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Space Science

Astronauts To Repair Shuttle Tiles With Foam Brush 66

lhouk281 writes "Repairing the space shuttle's heat shield on the fly might be easier than originally thought, thanks to a basic, inexpensive item in any painter's tool box -- the foam brush. The brush, which costs less than $1 at most hardware stores, was described by NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe as the perfect instrument for applying two compounds that together form a Super Glue-like substance to patch potential holes in the shuttle's heat-resistant tiles."
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Astronauts To Repair Shuttle Tiles With Foam Brush

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  • But can it patch holes in the wing leading edge?
    • Probably not. Edge tiles are made of a different material to withstand the additional heat. I don't think they've found a suitable patch compound for those tiles yet, let alone a means to apply it.

      • If the leading edge panels are so hard to patch, perhaps the should make the panels modular and carry a couple of spares in the repair locker. Or perhaps they should reengineer them to be strong enough to take significantly greater impacts without breaking.
    • That's what the roll of duct tape is for.
      • I know you intended that to be a joke, but it may be the root of the solution. Suppose NASA could develop semi-flexible patch material consisting of a carbon fibre composite with an adhesive backing. The astronauts would apply patches of this material, cut to shape with hand shears. By applying a number of layers, they would build up sufficient thickness of material to withstand the heat of reentry.

        I don't know how flexible a thin sheet of carbon fibre composite would be. But, if necessary, the patches

  • hope that our new space overlords can make it down in one piece...

    Seriously though, if I were an astronaut, guess what my expression would be if they handed me a foam brush as I was leaving for the pad and said, "Here, take this in case we screw up again and punch a giant hole in your wing." o_O
    • Sure, that would give the astronauts a lot of confidence, saying to them:

      "Be sure not to miss a spot or you'll turn into a big flaming ball of fire in your way back".
  • After the Challenger blew up this year, I'd think that they wouldn't allow foam anywhere near a space-shuttle, much less the delicate tiles.
    • Two things:

      1) It was Columbia, not Challenger; both tragedies, of course, were due to the bureaucrats not listening to the people that actually understood what they were doing. Very, very bad.

      2) The problem with the foam was the velocity, not the composition of the material. This foam looks to be quite useful, although I'm a bit skeptical about outgassing rendering the foam useless before it can even be applied. And yes, I know it was a joke.
  • by chia_monkey ( 593501 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @12:26PM (#7173462) Journal
    Sounds good and all, but my skeptical side is about to come out again. Are we really going to go with the cheap $1.00 solution? I'm guessing NASA (or some other agency) will spend about $2.5 million on testing to make sure all the components of the brush are safe, will withstand radiation in space, won't react with the glue or the tiles, etc. Then all of a sudden we're up to $200 brushes (which are really exactly the same as the painter's brushes). Don't get me wrong...I like the fact we found a nice cheap solution and can repair on the fly (theoretically), but we know how the government is...
    • Are we really going to go with the cheap $1.00 solution?

      Brush: $1.00
      Specially-formulated repair compound developed after three-years of intense R&D
      by a fully-funded two-way competition between contractors: $6,450,000/oz.
    • Thought for the day.

      During the space race back in the 1960's, NASA was faced with a major problem. The astronaut needed a pen that would write in the vacuum of space. NASA went to work. At a cost of $1.5 million they developed the "Astronaut Pen". Some of you may remember. It enjoyed minor success on the commercial market.

      The Russians were faced with the same dilemma.

      They used a pencil.

      Okay okay, this is an urban legend [snopes.com]. But in every legend there is a grain of truth...
    • Yeah, Isn't the government silly!!! Imagine wanting to test something that will 'probably work.' It's not like there are lives on the line. Ya know, I'll be that wrapping the wing in duct tape would probalby work, too. Or maybe just get a can-o-cheez and spray it on the wing!
      Seriously, though, probably just doesn't cut it. You make your best effort to develop a solution that will work and then you damn well PROVE that it works in the expected situation, or actually any concievable situation! Overengi
    • Sounds good and all, but my skeptical side is about to come out again. Are we really going to go with the cheap $1.00 solution? I'm guessing NASA (or some other agency) will spend about $2.5 million on testing to make sure all the components of the brush are safe, will withstand radiation in space, won't react with the glue or the tiles, etc. Then all of a sudden we're up to $200 brushes (which are really exactly the same as the painter's brushes)

      Which would you rather bet your life on:

      • A. A brush whi
  • ... NASA will discover the caulking isle.
    • As a matter of fact, the heat shield tiles are glued on with RTV silicone. I suspect that the formulation is very similar to the RTV High-Temp (700+ deg F)silicone used for engine gaskets available at auto parts stores. The difference is that heat shield RTV is a two part silicone which utilizes a different cure method.

      The stuff that you buy in the caulking isle has similar properties. Silicone compounds can widthstand surprisingly high temperatures.

  • by jmitchel!jmitchel.co ( 254506 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @12:30PM (#7173508)
    Does the fix also involve an inanimate carbon rod?
  • ...means that the Federal government paid $400 each.

    (Eh, I'm probably the only here old enough to remember that scandal...)

  • Should be interesting to see how much a space-certified foam brush will cost.
  • by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @12:38PM (#7173639) Homepage Journal
    So, are we going to see shuttles who's primary color is "primer" and "Bondo"?

    Shuttles with one wheel that is the mini-spare, for years?

    Shuttles with plastic over one window?

    Hmmm.

    Could be worse.

    We could see shuttles with spoilers, glo-lights, ThunderThump3000 stereos, and "R-Type" stickers...
  • Unless I'm mistakened, they didn't even know they needed repairs until they were well on their way towards landing. I doubt a $1 foam brush is going to hold up to the heat of reentry while the sacrificial astronaut steps outside to apply some quick patches.

    This must be why they don't let NASA Administrators anywhere near the sharp instruments.

    • Unless I'm mistakened, they didn't even know they needed repairs until they were well on their way towards landing.

      You would think they would have a skin integrity sensor. A simple hi-res conductance sensor (or series of them) measuring RF electrical propagation on the hull should be able to determine basic integrity.

      If you have enough of them and smart enough software it should even be able to pinpoint where to check during your EVA...
  • by DeLabarre ( 236800 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @12:54PM (#7173851)
    NASA employs many smart engineers...surely they can come up with a more expensive solution!
  • I know ther is a lot of heat and what not during re-entry but give the naut's some one time use, high impact ceramic and kevlar suits. Then bail out before re-entry and use something akin to a fire extinguisher for a retro rocket and do an orbital skydive. They have jumped from the edge of space before using very high altitiude ballons (USAF project manhigh). They just need a suit that can stand the heat and viola! Orbital skydiving done easy!

    • "Suits" would not work, because they do not have the right aerodynamic properties: they would accumulate heat too fast, tumble, and so on. You would have to make carefully balanced capsules, which would get heavy; and after a certain point, it makes much more sense to spend that weight and money making the orbiter itself more robust.
    • very high altitiude ballons (USAF project manhigh).

      Ballons aren't going 17,000 mph with respect to the surface. They'd need more than a fire extinguisher for retrorockets - they'd need a compound that doesn't (and can't) exist. It's too much velocity to burn off any other way besides aerobraking.

      Plus the stresses required to brake that much would kill a person instantly.

      If you built something that the human could survive inside to withstand the stresses, congratulations, you've just rebuilt the shuttle.
      • If you built something that the human could survive inside to withstand the stresses, congratulations, you've just rebuilt the shuttle.

        Hardly.

        How about a soyuz return capsule.
        Or even a 60's era MOOSE. [astronautix.com]

        It's only a metric ton of heat when you've got 50 tons of orbiter smacking into the atmosphere. There's a lot less excess energy to bleed off when it's 1 man+250kg. Still, *I* wouldn't want to try personal orbital re-entry until every other option was exhausted.
      • I'm sorry, I'm not quite grasping that, can you convert that to VW Bugs of heat for me?
    • You mean like this gizmo:

      http://www.astronautix.com/craft/moose.htm

  • by tchdab1 ( 164848 ) on Thursday October 09, 2003 @03:09PM (#7175203) Homepage
    Knowing how I get goop all over the place whenever I use some, I can envision the fuzzy photos of the astronaut crazy-glued to the bottom of the wing as the shuttle re-enters the atmosphere.
  • by mraymer ( 516227 ) <{mraymer} {at} {centurytel.net}> on Thursday October 09, 2003 @03:11PM (#7175208) Homepage Journal
    Every time I see another article about the shuttle here, I remember when I first heard the news. It was like hearing a close friend had died (namely the US Space Program).

    I hope this foam brush thing works, but I also hope that they don't have to use it in LEO as an emergency repair. I really, really hope that what happened with Columbia was just extremely unlucky, and not business as usual with the shuttles.

    I think the interesting this is other countries are starting to enter the space race. I hope someone plans a manned Mars mission or something, anything, to really spark some interest. Oh I know, manned spaceflight is too risky, not needed, blah blah. Yeah well, guess what, humans inevitably die. I'm sure that, given the choice, many humans would rather die pushing the boundaries of exploration and discovery than dying safely on earth in their beds.

    Earth isn't going to be here forever. The more we learn about surviving places other than on Earth, the better chance we have of outliving this little blue dot we call home.

    I think my sig fits in nicely here.

  • ...which NASA will buy from the lowest bidder for $50
  • "Foam brushes" == "Reality imitates Satire"

    Click here [abc.net.au] for the full "story".

  • ..so we started with

    "No, impossible to fix a tile in-flight.."
    then "Well, ok, we will look into it.."
    then "Ah, we can use a $1 foam brush from the hardware store.."

    Do you ever get the feeling the US is paying $600 million per shuttle launch to the wrong guys?
    How about opening up competition for a cheap reusable LEO vehicle to some other guys? The X-Prize style competition could be a way to go..
    • Yeah, I'm actually pretty certain that if I was a member of the crew and NASA was claiming the hole couldn't be fixed, I'd be willing to give it a try.

      Either that, or install a landing capsule in the Shuttle, similar to the Apollo recovery modules. It would be a way to get down, and the shuttle could be left behind for a later mission to repair.
      • Better still, scrap the Shuttle altogether, go back to a simple soyuz style rocket/capsule system for now until we have a better LEO access reusable vehicle..
  • The astronauts are taking away a job from a union contractor. A shop steward may have to serve as an eighth crewperson on shuttle flights, soon.

One good suit is worth a thousand resumes.

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