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NASA Space Science

Discovery's Dangling Gapfiller Removed by Hand 401

Cyclotron_Boy writes "According to the New Scientist and NASA TV, Discovery's gap-fillers were removed successfully by hand by astronaut Steve Robinson earlier today during the eva. They didn't even have to use the forceps or the makeshift hacksaw-blade tool."
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Discovery's Dangling Gapfiller Removed by Hand

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  • Futurama.. (Score:4, Funny)

    by AsnFkr ( 545033 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:21AM (#13230674) Homepage Journal
    ...Good news everyone! You get to live!
    • Yeah, provided all the tiles around that area don't fall off on re-entry now :)
      • Something tells me that the re-entry is going to be watched by more people than any other re-entry in recent history...
        • by Skater ( 41976 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:32AM (#13230803) Homepage Journal
          "What's Bond doing?"
          "I think he's attempting reentry, sir."
        • Re:Futurama.. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Winterblink ( 575267 )
          The amount of attention people are putting towards this launch is kind of disturbing in a way. It seemed a lot like people watching car races for the crashes. Lots of people I know basically tuned out of the coverage once they knew it was up safely, like they were just waiting for it to go boom after takeoff. :(
          • Re:Futurama.. (Score:3, Interesting)

            by The_K4 ( 627653 )
            It seemed a lot like people watching car races for the crashes. Lots of people I know basically tuned out of the coverage once they knew it was up safely, like they were just waiting for it to go boom after takeoff.

            It might also be that once it was up safely and the external tank was away (and it's video feed cut out) there wasn't much more to see. On NASA TV (via the web) at that point they went back to covering Jeb and Laura Bush (who i will point out got lots of coverage on NASA TV BEFORE the lauch t
      • The gap filler is needed to keep the tiles from rattling on LIFTOFF. Once in space, we don't need it.

        The reentry has very different pressures/angles - I believe the pressure of the reentry keeps the tiles from moving enough to bump each other too badly.

    • Re:Futurama.. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by eln ( 21727 )
      For all we know, they would have lived anyway. It's possible that those things protrude like that on every flight, we've just never seen it before now because we've never had cameras looking at the underside of the spacecraft.
      • Re:Futurama.. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by plover ( 150551 ) *
        Agreed. Here we are, over a hundred missions into the program, and this is the first time they've had a look. I'm guessing this little bit of padding ooze has happened on many previous missions (maybe all). And if that's enough to somehow "throw off the aerodynamics" then that rig is way less stable than it's being sold as.

        The other thing I was annoyed by was the constant repetition of "dangerous EVA" by the "news" media this morning. "It's dangerous and hazardous and risky, oh my!" Despite the fact

    • Good news! It's a suppository!
  • I, for one, think that the less makeshift hacksaws we are forced use on multi-billion-dollar equipment, the better.
    • Oh come on man, where is your reality distortion field, your supposed to feel chuffed at the ingenuity of the patriotic astronuts that have pulled together and overcome overwhelming odds! t'is just like a hollywood movie!

      I just hope the gap filler didn;t leave a gap where hot gasses can unseat the tiles...

      • Understand your comment, however, there are no gases at their current location (and I will assume that NASA didn't engineer a compound that would produce gasses while it cured in a vaccuum. I wonder how a vaccuum bubble would affect it during reentry?
        • I think he's talking about hot atmospheric plasma leaking in the gaps formerly occupied by the filer...
          • That's, "I think he's talking about hot atmospheric plasma leaking INTO the gaps formerly occupied by the filer..."

            Gotta learn to use that Preview button.

            • Aw, cmon.

              One more time.

              "I think he's talking about hot atmospheric plasma leaking INTO the gaps formerly occupied by the filler..."
    • I, for one, think that the less makeshift hacksaws we are forced use on multi-billion-dollar equipment, the better.

      A qualified redneck can fix anything with a hacksaw and duct tape. Maybe crazy glue if things get really tough. Perhaps some Bond-o if structural materials are called for.

      • Just send Red Green to do the job, with the "Handymans Best Friend" he can fix anything! Carpe Ductum!
      • Re:Bah (Score:2, Interesting)

        by AndersOSU ( 873247 )
        Clearly you're not a redneck, what you really need is duct tape and WD-40.

        If it moves and shouldn't use the duct tape. If it doesn't move and should use the WD-40.

        Plus if you have a lighter you can make some really cool pyrotechnic displays with only those tools.
        • If it moves and shouldn't use the duct tape. If it doesn't move and should use the WD-40.

          And if it has a hole in it and shouldn't? Bond-o. Doesn't have a hole in it and should? Sledgehammer. Point well made with WD-40, but a real redneck might have tried Crisco first since the kitchen's closer than the shed.

  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) * on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:21AM (#13230682) Homepage Journal
    They pulled on the dangly thing on the underside until a substance came out, and now there is no chance of overheating on reentry?

    Hope no one takes that outta context...
    • The gap filler is primarily used to prevent the tiles from rattling around during liftoff. During re-entry, the 7000+ psi pressure on the bottom side of the shuttle keeps the tiles on -- and steady.
    • I understand on some levels it's important to get the shuttle craft out of orbit, but since there is apparently a Soyuz capsule strapped to the ISS anyway, it might be that a safer solution would be to ride down to a hard landing on the proven Russian re-entry vehicle, which can later be returned to the ISS by rocket, and bring Discovery down on computer control.
      • I understand on some levels it's important to get the shuttle craft out of orbit, but since there is apparently a Soyuz capsule strapped to the ISS anyway, it might be that a safer solution would be to ride down to a hard landing on the proven Russian re-entry vehicle, which can later be returned to the ISS by rocket, and bring Discovery down on computer control.

        Except that the Soyuz capsule can carry three, and then only if they have personally fitted acceleration seats. (Technically the seats are fixed,

      • You can bring a shuttle down under computer control.
        You can go into final approach under computer contro.

        But you can't land. No landing gear.

        The only way to open the landing gear is with a manual control. AFAIK it's the *one* part of the shuttle with no connection to the computers. ISTR that they were afraid of a computer glitch deploying the landing gear prematurely - say on orbit. The landing gear can only be stowed by the ground crew. There is no "raise landing gear" switch on the shuttle. Actually, the
        • Thanks for that. I knew the shuttle was largely computerised but wasn't aware that the final approach had to be done manually. I guess it makes sense given those reasons, but it's unfortunate in this case...

          ..and would also prevent the craft being saved were there to be some accident which killed or disabled the crew without destroying the lander (I'm thinking depressurisation)
        • The gear lowering switch is also there because the astronauts wanted there to be a function that the computers couldn't do so that a crew would always be required.

          The gear and doors are mechanically connected so that if the gear door opens, the gear must come down. If it does not, there are explosives that will force the doors open and the gear down. That's how important it is.

          There is no gear retraction mechanism switch because there is no need to be able to raise the gear again and the system would be jus
      • I'm not sure I'd rather ride a Soyuz down, given things like Soyuz 18 (almost rolled off a cliff) and Soyuz 23 (landed on a frozen lake, broke through, and nearly killed the cosmonauts), etc. And while no Soyuz has killed a cosmonaut in decades (they've killed plenty of ground crew, mind you), unmanned Soyuz craft have had some disturbing failures in recent years. More than anything, it looks like they've just been lucky with their manned craft not being the ones to fail.
  • Landing in a space shuttle where you can pull the filler out by hand (like it were bathroom tile grout?) Scary. Rather than using tiles wouldn't it be better to use some sort of spray adhesive that does the same thing?
    • You can also punch a hole into the tile itself with your bare hand, the tiles are from what I know no more stable then a piece of chalk, so having one huge area instead of tiles wouldn't help all that much if something, like a piece of foam, crashes into them.
      • sure it would, just bust out the Ace Hardware paint-gun and spray on some more truck-bed liner.

        Seroiusly though, these tiles are a marvel of science I know, but they're just not cutting the mustard.

    • Sure. Do you happen to have a formula for some spray-on stuff that will withstand the 3000F re-entry temperatures? Oh, and it has to be very light, at least as light as the current "gap filler," because if it's too heavy at all it will drastically hurt the shuttle's load-carrying capability (there are a lot of gaps to fill for the tens of thousands of tiles on the shuttle, of course). And it has to be cheap so it doesn't increase launch costs. And it has to be easy to apply so it doesn't increase turnar
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @12:20PM (#13231300) Homepage
      Rather than using tiles wouldn't it be better to use some sort of spray adhesive

      The tiles are heat radiators, not adhesives. Perhaps you meant the filler? It's not an adhesive either. There has to be gaps between the tiles (because the skin and tiles don't have the same thermal expansion coefficient), but gaps can pose problems (they increase the likelyhood of tiles falling out, for one; they also tend to channel in extra heat during reentry). The fillers deal with both of these issues.

      What actually attaches the tiles to the skin isn't the filler, or even an adhesive - it is a felt strain isolation pad. A simple adhesive would come loose under thermal expansion. The tiles are attached to the pad, which is in turn attached to the skin.
  • Wouldn't it have been better to leave there then have a gap now? Now if they fill it back with something that might be better but I dont see how removing a barrier is better? Sure it could pull off a long piece but I would have cut it then stuffed it back in. And no I didnt RTFA.
    • Re:Gap Filler (Score:5, Informative)

      by Nytewynd ( 829901 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:29AM (#13230775)
      The idea was that this dangling material might focus heat onto those surrounding tiles like a blowtorch on re-entry. Intead of the heat being evenly distributed over the entire surface, that area might get super-hot and burn up the shuttle.

      The fabric is to prevent the tiles from banging together on lift-off. From the gist of the article, it sounds like it doesn't matter for re-entry. I guess they'll find out the exciting way when they try to land.
    • Since, in true Slashdotter fashion, I don't read anything before posting a comment, I'm going to be +1, informative and point out that the gap filler is to keep the tiles from banging together on lift-off, and isn't needed for reentry. I'm sure the other four replies to your comment I haven't read don't say the same thing.
  • Steve Robinson sneezing, and hundreds of tiles slowly peeling away towards space...
  • I filled a gap on my rusting car's fender about 6 months ago, and not long ago I could pull everything off by hand as well. That'll teach NASA not to use bondo...
  • PR Stunt (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stratjakt ( 596332 )
    This whole thing reeks of "see, we can fix the shuttle in orbit so it wont a-splode anymore".

    From what I understand, this type of thing is normal, and the filler stuff tends to peel out on every flight, and it's basically designed to that.

    The whole thing just seems so staged. But if it keeps the shuttle from a-sploding, then good for them, I suppose.
    • Re:PR Stunt (Score:4, Insightful)

      by s20451 ( 410424 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @12:22PM (#13231336) Journal
      Are you serious? How would it have looked if they had left the gap filler in place, and then they lost the shuttle? Especially since they came out and said that they didn't understand the phenomenon well enough to guarantee that it was fine. The reasoning of "it didn't hurt us last time, so we can get away with it forever, even though we don't understand what is happening" contributed hugely to both the Columbia and Challenger accidents.

      It's like saying: sometimes when I walk briskly, I get a crushing pain in my chest and numbness in my arm. I don't understand why it is happening, but it goes away in a few minutes, so I must be perfectly fine. -- It only takes one "major problem" to disprove the assertion that there is nothing wrong ... but by then it's too late.
  • by TripMaster Monkey ( 862126 ) * on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:26AM (#13230740)

    Transcript of conversation between Discovery and ground control:

    Discovery: OK, Houston...I'm in position..I see the dangling gap-filler now.
    Houston: OK, Discovery...just grasp the gap-filler and pull.
    Discovery: OK, Houston...I'm pulling's coming's coming out rather easily.
    Houston: Just keep pulling gently and're doing well.
    Discovery: It's still coming, Houston...there's a lot more here than I thought...
    Houston: Say again, Discovery?
    Discovery: I said there's quite a lot of gap-filler here...about twenty yards so far...
    Houston: STOP PULLING, seems you're unravelling the whole belly of the ship!
    Discovery: I'm what, Houston? Say again, ple...OH SHIT! THE GODDAMNED TILES ARE ALL FALLING OFF!
    Houston: Don't panic, Discovery.
    Houston: Stand by, Discovery...we're working on a solution.
    Discovery: SCREW YOU, HOUSTON! We're going to the ISS now...send up another shuttle to carry our asses back home!
    Houston: Um...yeah...about the other shuttles, Discovery...
    Discovery: What NOW?
    Houston: Yeah...the shuttle fleet has been permanently grounded...too many people freaked about the foam thing...
    Discovery:Nobody up here CARES, get us a flight outta here NOW, or we start smashing satellites!
    Houston: OK, OK, need to get violent...I'll make some calls.
    Discovery: do that...and just so you know we're serious...
    Houston: What do you mean?
    Discovery: When we hear some good news from you, you'll get CNN back. Not before.
    • Funny! Wish I had Mod points. Except the TV sats are not in LEO, many of them are geo-stationary at 22,500 miles out, the ISS is around 700 miles. But they could hijack TDRSS and some Science Sats...No more nifty Weather pictures of hurricanes from space on the 6PM weather forecast.
  • Everytime I approach my wife with my Dangling Gapfiller, she threatens to hacksaw it off!

    I thank you!
  • hey baby. (Score:2, Funny)

    by wankledot ( 712148 )
    I've got your dangling gap filler right here! *grabs crotch*
  • It finally makes sense that NASA Houston has a Saturn V up on blocks in their front yard.
  • Wouldn't that mean the whole exercise was pointless sense anything that can be removed by hand would surely be blown away by wind going 1000s of miles per hour...?
  • rm -rf /shuttle/gapfiller is a lot safer than rm -rf /shuttle/gap* - it's always better to do it by hand.
  • with all the negative comments here - I guess it would have been much cooler to have a buzz-droid crawl along the shuttle exterior trimming off protrusions.

  • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @11:57AM (#13231048)
    the sooner we are going to start moving again.

    I'm sorry but way more people died travelling to california when america was being explored. We have become so risk averse it is paralyzing us.

    It may just be that the best we can hope for is 1/50 blows up. Do we give up space so we can save a few lives when millions die without purpose everyday to allergic reactions, cancer, stupid accidents, animal attacks, religious stupidity, stupid stunts, hazing, beer chugging, etc?

    I'm sure many astronauts would accept a higher risk if it meant they could fulfill their purpose and go into space. How terrible it must be to train for many years and then watch all your dreams disappear in a suspended program.
  • They can remove this thing with a hacksaw or by hand.. and yet they can't leave it there to just burn off? Something is fishie..... if it is that small that it can be removed by hand shouldn't it just burn off like other debris and dust?
  • Roofing cement - $100 million per bucket!
  • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @12:12PM (#13231210) Homepage
    I'm just finishing reading "Comm Check," a book on the Columbia accident by Michael Cabbage and William Harwood. I've read a lot about the shuttle ever since its first flight 24 years ago, and if there's one thing that's abundantly clear, it is this: the shuttle is a lemon.

    What's so tragically funny here is that, in the book, a NASA rep is quoted as saying "the shuttle isn't a lemon" right after the CAIB report pretty much said NASA was flying a platform that was not only unreasonable unsafe, but also one having such serious design flaws as to be much less safe than necessary. Spaceflight may never be as safe as an airplane ride, but the level of risk associated with the shuttle is just much more than it could've been with a better design.

    Disocover magazine had a lengthy article about twenty years ago on how the shuttle was developed, and it was an amazing insight into how so many compromises can add up to a vehicle that is not only hugely different than what was originally invented, but also one that just doesn't do anything really well. The cargo capacity was too small. It can't achieve high orbits. It lands as an unpowered glider with a glide ratio of a brick wall. It has solid boosters that can't be throttled, trimmed, or turned off. There is no practical escape or abort manuver during the most dangerous parts of the flight (launch & re-entry). Worst of all, it's designed in such a fashion that there are an amazing number of "criticality-1" items. If a crit-1 item fails, it will result in "loss of mission, crew, and vehicle." The shuttle system has several thousand crit-1 items. To the average I.T. geek, that's like running a few thousand servers, each holding billions of dollars worth of data, and not having any redundant hard drives, power supplies, or UPS's. In other words, madness.

    There isn't a single solitary thing the shuttle does better than the Apollo-era capsules it was supposed to replace. Launch costs for the shuttle were supposed to be 1/10th those of the throwaway boosters, but instead they are more than ten times what the Saturn V cost in adjusted dollars.

    So, to sum it up, the shuttle is more expensive, less reliable, less capable, and more dangerous than its predecessor. Yeah, gimme more of that.

    The ISS is also a boondoggle for many of the same reasons. Why do we have a shuttle fleet? To build the space station, of course! Why are we building a space station? To give the shuttles somewhere to go, of course! It's a circular argument. No shuttle equals no station, and no station equals no shuttle. No wonder NASA has its head so far up its exhaust nozzles it can't see the shuttle is an amazing failure. To admit failure would be to kill off the two biggest projects the organization has.

    As has been said elsewhere here, our technology is just not yet at the point where something like the shuttle is practical. We just don't have the propulsion and materials to do it just yet. What we should be doing instead is using the best practical technologies out there, namely BDB's (Big Dumb Boosters). The aren't sexy, but they work, and they can haul a cubic buttload of cargo into orbit -- or beyond.

    Unfortunately, I have the sinking feeling NASA is going to have to kill another seven astronauts before they finally, regrettably put the shuttle to bed. It was a good try, but you have to be able to admit when you are wrong. Build us a modern version of the Saturn V. With modern materials and modern computers, it could be made more cheaply and even more reliable than before, probably with more lift capacity as well. Make it so it does one thing very well. We don't need a Swiss Army knife of a shuttle to get into space, not when you've got much better proven technologies that are already available. NASA can get this right. The big question is, will they?
    • you have a good point. Although I do not completely agree re the space station. I think the ISS is necessary as a place to do general experiments in space. If we go on any ambitious space exploration project we will probably need the ISS to do testing and/or in space assembly.

      But it can be easily serviced by simple cheap capsules instead of the expensive and dangerous shuttle.

      But yeah the main problem with the shuttle is that NASA has too much money. If congress had any balls they would cut funding for the
      • by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Wednesday August 03, 2005 @12:40PM (#13231511) Homepage
        The Russians have the much cheaper and safer soyuz, not because they are especially smarter, but because they just cannot afford to run their shuttle.

        The Russians understand something that NASA does not, namely that their technology is limited and thus must be overengineered for saftey. Everything about the former Soviet space program was overdesigned for a reason, just like our Saturn V was: to give good safety margins without going gonzo with costs. If you've got four engines making enough thrust to get you into orbit, you add a fifth for safety and then run all your engines at 80% rated thrust for even more safety. Is it efficient? No, but it's safer.

        Now, I'm not about to argue that space exploration is, or ever should be, perfectly safe. That is obviously absurd. However, the more of a design margin you have, the less meticulous you have to be when preparing to launch the vehicle. Almost all the cost overruns in the shuttle program are due to the incredible number of inspections and maintenance needed to turn a shuttle around. With a throwaway booster, you don't have any of that. Sure, you're junking valuable hardware every time you launch with a throwaway booster, but it actually costs less to do it that way. Why do you think commercial satellites are launched on Delta rockets instead of the shuttle?

        Take a modern top-fuel dragster as an example. It is designed to do one thing: go as fast as you can in one quarter of a mile. Everything inside the engine is designed to last roughly just that distance, and it is torn down and rebuilt pretty much completely between every run. It is, in essence, a throwaway booster. Dragster teams do it this way because it is impractical to build an engine that can survive multiple runs and be competitive. Sure, it's expensive. But losing the race is even more expensive.

        NASA needs to get away from giving us a Ferrari of a shuttle, with all its myriad valves, camshafts, and amazingly expensive maintenance, and instead give us a slightly-updated version of the 60's-era Chevy Big Block. Sure, a Ferrari can get 400hp out of a 2.5-liter engine, but it must use exotic techniques to do so. A big block V8 can make 400hp all day long without working hard, and it costs pretty much an order of magnitude less to construct and maintain. We need the Chevy, not the Ferrari, if we're going to get back into space on a large scale.
        • Hell, everything about Russian (and Soviet before that) industrial design focused on simplicity and maintainability to the exclusion of features. Given their resource constraints, that absolutely makes sense, and they still managed to pull of some amazing design wins with what they had to hand. Prime example that comes to mind is the Mig-25 [], an interceptor capable of mach 3+ flight at the edge of space, built using things like riveted steel and vacuum tubes. Other examples of "simple, kind of ugly, but w
          • Except the Mig-25 needs a complete overhaul if the does a flight near it's maximum speed (which is mach 2.83) for more then 30 minutes.

            Since the end of the Cold War many have over estimated how good, the simple reliable Russian system were. They had some good designs, but they have had alot of utter crap.

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success. -- Christopher Lascl