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NASA Space

NASA Debates Second Discovery Repair 257

An anonymous reader writes "NASA is debating today whether or not they should attempt a second repair attempt of the Space Shuttle Discovery to repair a possible problem with the thermal blanket. On Wednesday, an astronaut removed two protruding cloth fillers from between the ceramic tiles on the space shuttle's heat shield. "I think in the old days we would not have worried about this so much," said shuttle programme deputy manager Wayne Hale The astronaut extended his gloved hand and quickly removed the first fiber strip, which was sticking up from Discovery's smooth, tiled underside. "It's coming out very easily," the astronaut said. Arm operator Jim Kelly then maneuvered the arm about three meters to the second protruding strip, known as a gap filler, and Robinson gently pulled that piece out as well. The concern now is whether or not a damaged thermal blanket under one of the cockpit windows would tear apart during re-entry and strike the orbiter."
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NASA Debates Second Discovery Repair

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  • (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ptbarnett ( 159784 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @01:39PM (#13241996)
    Is this truly the best source to quote for this type of story?

    No, it's a pretty transparent attempt to bring readers to The Slashdot editors should know better.

  • by ciroknight ( 601098 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @01:50PM (#13242148)
    I'm worried they are actually doing more damage by removing materials than just leaving them be.

    Those gap fillers came out when some guy pulled on them, you'd think the force of re-entry would have pushed them right back into place with no problem. By pulling it out they've left a gaping, but small, hole in their thermal protection system. I'm still convinced that they should have just left it alone, and that the orbiter's completely ready for re-entry.

    Whatever they decide to do, I hope they hurry up and get it done, so that when they come back unscathed everyone can breathe easier.
  • by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @01:58PM (#13242251) Homepage Journal
    it's all part of the culture of fear which permeates the red states and the DC beltway.

    they're all chickens who've never flown, and the only risk they take is going to a race car rally or trying to step down from their monster trucks without breaking their ankles.

    if you want real adventurers, you have to tune out those fear mongers, and live.

    i've done more impossible things before breakfast than many, and find this Oh My Fricking G.. attitude to permeate those scaredy cats thinking. it's all they have, fear.

    Real americans are made of sterner stuff than that. When we screw up, we deal with it and move on, we don't watch car crashes on the 6 o'clock news, cause we're busy scaling mountains for fun or surfing off Longpoint WA.
  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:04PM (#13242345) Journal
    You're completely missing my point.

    Technically, things may be going fantastically. It doesn't matter. The whole mission is about "Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" and every future mission will be "Don't screw up! Don't screw up!" until inevitably something does get screwed up. Every flight will consist of going into space to do the equivalent of refinishing a bathroom floor.

    If NASA starts something new and ambitious with a clear, exciting goal -- the media and public will be able to accept risk the way they did with Mercury, Apollo and the early shuttle program. But sending people into space purely for the goal of not killing them? It's a dead end.

  • by ptbarnett ( 159784 ) * on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:10PM (#13242420)
    OK, There is risk but what is the chance of an accident during the space walk? Has there ever been an accident during a space walk?

    There have been some close calls, but no serious accidents in the US program. During the 60's, a Soviet astronaut had problems getting back into the capsule and shutting the hatch, due to the pressuration in his suit. More recently, a problem with pressure in an oxygen bottle forced a spacewalk at the ISS to be aborted.

    But, the risks aren't just to the spacewalker. Just moving around near the outside of the orbiter risks a collision that can cause more damage.

    It seems like there have been more space walks than shuttle flights.

    If you add up all the spacewalks since the 60's, I sure that there are more. However, the relative infrequency of these events doesn't provide enough samples to compare the risk on that basis alone.

  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:23PM (#13242571) Journal
    Pierce the space suit and the astronaut is in a world of trouble. Space is a hostile enough envirionment that if the debris strike didn't kill the astronaut outright, the resultant loss of air pressure would. To get an idea of the liklihood, you can look at the shuttle windows as they record every hit they take on each flight. This article [] notes:
    With all the cosmic debris orbiting the earth, it's little wonder the space shuttles routinely get dings in their windshields.

    A tiny speck of space debris smashed into Space Shuttle Challenger's windshield on astronaut Rick Hauck's first mission in 1983, leaving a 4-mm crater, about 0.2 inches. Hauck spotted the small pit in the glass and alerted the crew. The debris was later identified as a chip of white paint, likely a remnant of a previous rocket launch. Though small, the debris was estimated to be hurtling through space at about 10,800 mph when it hit the window.

    "We end up replacing one to two thermal windows after each shuttle mission," said Nick Johnson, NASA's Orbital Debris Program manager.

    So the question NASA faces knowing they're replacing one or two windows each mission due to debris strikes is: is the hazard posed by the filler higher than the hazard posed by sace debris?
  • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:37PM (#13242740) Journal
    Don't think that every shuttle mission except for the Challenger incident, the columbia incident, and then this one have all been perfect. The media just usually didn't care about the little problems that popped up from time to time. You're dealing with a very complex piece of equipment, going through some of the most stressful experiences and environments around. There's been lots of problems. That's why NASA chooses very smart people to be astronauts, then trains the hell out of them.

    The astronauts know it's not going to be easy. They know stuff's going to go wrong, and that they're going to have to fix it. The public (and occasionally the NASA administrators) are the ones that forget that there's always plenty of risk, and decide to occasionally make a bigger deal out of what happens than they should. The Challenger and Columbia accidents were unfortunate, no doubt. But you'd be foolish to expect that the human conquest of space would be without casualties. People still die driving to work every morning, and that gets done millions of times per day. Why should we get discouraged when a spacecraft blows up. Certainly, we should figure out what went wrong, and learn lessons from it. And we should definitely take any steps we can to protect astronauts. But a few unsuccessful missions hardly means the space program is a failure.

    It's kind of weird actually. when you think about the people involved in the space program, how many of them do you think feel that space exploration should be stopped because it's too dangerous? Probably somewhere around 0%. The astronauts know the risks. The engineers know the risks.

    How many politicians think it's too dangerous? I'd guess not many. They know the astronauts are volunteers. They understand that space program has scientific value, and also acts as a good inspiration for national pride. Not to mention jobs.

    Now how many members of the public think it should be shut down due to the dangers? Again, I think that number would be rather small. How many people died on Columbia? Seven? How many people die every day for reasons way more pointless and interesting than space exploration? I'm thinking that the public at large supports the space program.

    Yet when everyone comes together as a nation, we turn into a bunch of sissies, horribly worried that something might go wrong. I just don't understand where the fear comes from, and why it's so debilitating to the space program.
  • by Buran ( 150348 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:40PM (#13242779)
    Dude, the new designs are already being worked on. New hardware descended from either the STS or the Delta IV Heavy. One or the other will fly based on some stuff we already have. The "better ideas" (really, just different ones that are better in some ways) are coming.

    SafeSimpleSoon.Com [], for example, has tons of info on an idea that looks likely to work. You don't cancel one idea because you don't like it before the next is ready, though. You go through transition first, and the transition is just starting right now.
  • by DumbSwede ( 521261 ) <> on Thursday August 04, 2005 @02:57PM (#13242984) Homepage Journal
    If memory serves correctly the very first shuttle missions returned with entire missing heat tiles that broke off during ascent and where known to be gone. Much hand ringing, but a safe landing. No 2 ½ year delay while better adhesives were worked on for the tiles, though I am surprised some repair in space protocol was established back them.

    The rather large hole in Columbia's wing did doom the mission and should have prompted an abort to land, or at least a repair attempt of some sort if no rescue could be attempted, even if it was just stuffing pieces of a spacesuit in the hole.

    My point is, we didn't image the huge damage, but now we are being way to cautious with every nick and ding we are seeing in exquisite detail that were probably there in similar degrees on every previous mission. Am I the only one worried they are going to break something critical trying to fix these minor problems? It wasn't some minor airflow problem over Columbia that doomed the mission, but a gapping hole.

    On a related note, it does seem that more debris is falling of the external tank than ever before. One reason for the increase shedding was explained as a change in fabrication techniques for the foam using ozone safe chemicals. This being speculated in the wake of loosing Columbia. Have we gone back to the older fab technique, or are the few shuttle launches a year just too much of a strain on the environment? Seriously, I support the replacement of dangerous CFCs, but only in situations where they don't endanger life. What percent of ozone depletion could the foam on the Shuttle possible represent?

    Seems like NASA should concentrate on first causes, not this piddling after the fact stuff.

  • Ok is it just me? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gwydion68 ( 904816 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:00PM (#13243018)
    Or do these shuttle 'repairs' seem like its just a bunch of PR to show off the new safer NASA?
  • by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @03:15PM (#13243175) Homepage
    q[During the 60's, a Soviet astronaut had problems getting back into the capsule and shutting the hatch, due to the pressuration in his suit.]q

    To be fair that was during the first space walk. Ever. The Russians didn't let the rest of the world know about the problems encountered though -- including that he had to drop the suit pressure below the minimum safety level in order to get back in.

    It's only been since the fall of the Soviet Union that a lot of the problems of the Soviet space program have come to light.
  • by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Thursday August 04, 2005 @07:37PM (#13245800) Journal
    I've commented on this in other posts, but I'll bring it up here.

    As I understand it, the CRV would cost something like 3 billion dollars to develop. I would imagine that, for less money, we could redesign the docking adapters to support two Soyuz capsules. Let's say that costs a billion dollars. Two Soyuz will hold six people, so that's what we limit the space station crew to.

    Buy six Soyuz capsules at 100 million dollars each. Send them up and attach them to the new docking capsules. Presto! Lifeboats for half the cost. You also have more redundancy, which is always good in lifeboats. For that matter, you have some advantages. Suppose one of your crew gets injured. Toss him in a Soyuz capsule with a buddy and send them down. You still have 5 capsules left for everybody else.

    Another idea is to do a competitive bid. The "space lifeboat" must have the following capabilities:
    • It must be able to survive exposure to space for 1 year -- For budgeting purposes, it must be at least one year (so "replacing lifeboats" can be conveniently budgeted). Obviously, more years is better.
    • It must be able to support a crew of 7 for 6 hours -- Again, the number of hours is arbitrary.
    • It must be able to land anywhere -- Water or ground, it shouldn't matter. When you're trying to get away from a dangerous situation, the last thing you want to do is to have to wait for a "return window." If it lands in water, it should be able to float for at least ten minutes. Ideally, longer, but if one person can't open a self-inflating lifeboat and dump 6 unconscious colleagues into the raft in under ten minutes, they've got bigger problems.
    There are somewhat more mundane things (strength of chairs etc.) that would have to be specced. But, again, it's a freaking lifeboat! It should cost nowhere near 3 billion dollars. Put it out to a world-wide competitive bid (after all, it is the International Space Station) and see what people come back with. Sit down with a calculator and figure out which bid will be cheapest over five years (Cost of each lifeboat times number of lifeboats times years). Give bonus points to craft which exceed specifications (eg, can support a crew of 7 for 12 hours, can float for two hours, etc.). Pick the best one. Give them the contract for five years. In four years, start the process all over again.

    I mean, this isn't rocket science...

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun