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NASA Space

Images of Endeavour's Damaged Tiles 331

Roland Piquepaille writes "Neptec Design Group, a Canadian company and a NASA prime contractor for 25 space missions, was kind enough to send me exclusive images of Endeavour's damaged tiles during its last take-off. So here are some of these pictures" The pictures are pretty amazing and make the urgency of this whole thing much more amazing.
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Images of Endeavour's Damaged Tiles

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  • Exclusive images? (Score:5, Informative)

    by jdhutchins ( 559010 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:02AM (#20235969)
    I wouldn't call those too exclusive.... look at the "3D Video of Endeavour Tile Damage" video on this page: ex.html []
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:04AM (#20236005) Homepage Journal

    Image 1 []
    Thermal Image []
    Image 2 []
    Image 3 []
    Image extracted from a video made by Neptec LCS []
  • by grommit ( 97148 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:13AM (#20236123)
    You do realize that the Shuttle has landed many times before the Columbia disaster with whole tiles missing. This most likely is a non-issue although I'm glad NASA is treating it seriously. Besides, these tiles are on the belly of the orbiter. The damaged RCC panels on Columbia were on the leading edge of a wing where there are greater temperatures on reentry.

    I don't think you realize the inherent danger in attempting to fix these either.
  • by SomeGuyTyping ( 751195 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:18AM (#20236207) Homepage
    from Wikipedia ( al_tank):

    Development of the ETs thermal protection system has been problematic, and has proven a fatal weakness to shuttle mission safety. NASA has had difficulty preventing fragments of foam from detaching during flight, ever since a 1995 decision to remove chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-14) from the composition of the foam in compliance with an Environmental Protection Agency ban on CFCs under section 610 of the Clean Air Act. In its place, a hydrochlorofluorocarbon known as HCFC 141b was certified for use and phased into the shuttle program. The "new" foam containing HCFC 141b was first used on the aft dome portion of ET-82 during the flight of STS-79 in 1996. Use of HCFC 141b was expanded to the ETs acreage, or larger portions of the tank, starting with ET-88, which flew on STS-86 in 1997.
  • Turn in your geek card. It wasn't the 80's, and the shuttle wasn't coming back because it hadn't been to space. It was the Enterprise, it was the 70's, and it was during the development of the shuttle.
  • Re:Is it so urgent? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Boilermaker84 ( 896573 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:24AM (#20236297)
    It is a resource issue. This mission is 14 days with some additional days in reserve for bad weather issues with landing. That limitation is mostly a crew environment issue (need to generate water and oxygen, have food on hand, etc.)

    The vehicle could stay up longer in an unmanned configuration, but still has limited fuel resources to run the OMS. The shuttle just isn't designed to go anywhere but orbit and back.
  • wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:25AM (#20236307) Journal
    Oh, and for another tidbit. Ice, since its denser, and heavier than the insulating foam, is a bigger problem than the foam is when it breaks off. It takes a smaller chunk of ice to break off and smack the orbiter to cause an equivalent amount of damager to a larger chunk of foam.

    Foam does more damage than ice. Ice is dense and keeps its velocity high, which translates to a low velocity relative to the shuttle. Foam on the other hand is much less dense and slows down very quickly, translating to high velocities relative to the shuttle.

    Remember, kinetic energy = 0.5 * mass * V^2. Velocity is what kills, not mass.
  • More information (Score:2, Informative)

    by AkumaReloaded ( 1139807 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:29AM (#20236359) Journal
    More information on the size and use of the anti-heat tiles or High-temperature reusable surface insulation (HRSI) can be found in this article on wikipedia: _protection_system []

    It seems they are not that big, and I do not think one or 2 damaged tiles whould have a massive effect on the safety of the shuttle. However if someone leaked that tiles were damaged (no matter how few tiles) and NASA did not act on it, the public would be outraged. So perhaps NASA thinks its best to mention this in public and fix it, even if it doesnt have to be fixed at all. Or what if the chance is 1 in a million that it has any effect, NASA doesnt act and the thing crashed, people would be outraged as well. Better safe than sorry.
  • by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:33AM (#20236421)
    Is it possible to find a way to launch the shuttle with the belly facing AWAY from the main tank?

    Sure, if you redesign the entire thing. That tail sticking up kinda screws that idea.

    That way any impacts from ice or foam would strike surfaces not critical for reentry.

    'Non critical'. Like the windshields, flight controls, thinner skin of the body. Non critical stuff like that.
  • *Yawn* (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:35AM (#20236449)
    Those are some dinky little low resolution pics. Here's one of Endeavor with the Earth as backdrop [], today's NASA "Image of the day". Yesterday's [] is spacewalking astronaut Rick Mastracchio fixing something outside the space station. Here it is [] taking off, and here's another liftoff pic. [] These are all of the present mission that's still up there inspecting tiles. Here [] is the "Image of the day" gallery. These are bigassed, high resolution pictures, most of them breathtaking.

  • by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:37AM (#20236465) Journal
    Leave the launching to the Europeans, they're the only ones who seem to be able to get it right.

    Whens the last time the Europeans have launched humans into space? *crickets* ...
  • Delicate tiles (Score:5, Informative)

    by electromaggot ( 597134 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:38AM (#20236487)
    What's interesting is how delicate the tiles are. I saw a presentation by a NASA guy some time ago and I was allowed to hold the tiles. They're extremely light, almost feeling like their core is some kind of foam. The black ceramic layer on top is surprisingly thin.

    I asked the presenter specifically about how delicate they felt. He then "flicked"/snapped the tile with his finger/fingernail, which put a sizeable dent into the tile, easily cracking the brittle black layer, and you could see the white foam underneath.

    Therefore, it's no surprise to me to see this kind of damage. It probably wasn't even impacted with what could be considered excessive force.

    Makes you wonder what kind of tile damage shuttles had -- all those successfully landed shuttle missions -- before such close scrutiny.
  • by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @10:40AM (#20236525) Homepage

    environmentalist groups got their way and now we have a riskier space program.

    This point about how the foam insulation process was changed has come up many times in discussions about the damage to Endeavor. And it's wrong.

    It has its origin in one of Rush Limbaugh's lies []. As it turns out, the foam that dealt Columbia the death blow was the old-style CFC foam. The problem was in the hand-spraying application method used on that area, which left gaps and voids in the foam.

    Yes, when they first started using the CFC-free foam in 1997 there were some problems seen. Changes were quickly made to improve the adhesion.

    There were also plenty of problems with the CFC foam - "popcorning" from trapped air bubbled was noted in 1995 [], while in 1992 Columbia was struck by a large piece of foam, ripping a 12cm gouge in the tiles. Both of these were before the switch to CFC-free foam.

  • Re:Is it so urgent? (Score:3, Informative)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:00AM (#20236799)
    The reason for the landing gear part is because that is a 1 shot deal. The Shuttle must be going less than 300kts when the gear is deployed. And there is no 'retract'. Once the gear is deployed, that's it. It can only be raised in ground operations. And you cannot reenter with the gear down. And after reentry, above 300kts you might tear the gear off. If the computer burps at the wrong time, scratch one shuttle.
    For just about every other problem, there is a workaround. Fire the reentry rockets at the wrong time? Not great, but you can land at a different runway.

    Other than that, it could be completely guided from the ground.

    The Russians flew theirs unmanned, and it only flew the once, because the crew module and software wasn't finished.
  • Re:[AC]wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by everphilski ( 877346 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:05AM (#20236891) Journal
    It isn't momentum, again, it is kinetic energy that causes damage, KE = 0.5 * m * V^2. The velocity, squared, overcomes the density difference in short order. Again, go do some research on Columbia. It is consensus that foam did the damage.
  • April 10, 2007 (Score:4, Informative)

    by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:07AM (#20236913)
  • by iocat ( 572367 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:26AM (#20237217) Homepage Journal
    Dynasoar. I mean, Dynasoar. [] Neil Armstrong was chief test pilot before he bugged out for Apollo, and given his engineering background, he wouldn't have been on board if it wouldn't have worked. It was killed to concentrate resources on the nation's moon obsession (not that that's a bad thing, necessarily).
  • by C10H14N2 ( 640033 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @11:31AM (#20237301)
    The vast majority of the Russian population is west of the Urals [], making them Europeans by definition. Most of those European Russians are Slavic [], which is by definition also European. So, you're right, a European purchased a ticket on a European-built spacecraft, launched in Central Asia by the Europeans who were the first to put a man in orbit [], were the first to launch a space station [] and still hold the record for longest orbital habitation [], which of course proves that only Americans can succeed at spaceflight.
  • by scharkalvin ( 72228 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @12:58PM (#20238375) Homepage
    At the time of its' design, the Space Shuttle made a lot of sense. The original concept called for full horizontal takeoff and landing with ALL parts being reusable. Due to cost over runs we ended up with the system we currently have. The original idea was to have an air breathing booster taking off from a runway which would fly up to the top of the stratosphere at which point it would switch to rocket power and climb up to a sub-orbital arc and release the orbiter. The 'booster-naults' would then guide the winged booster back to a safe landing at the 'cape while the shuttle would climb on its' own rocket power into orbit like now. The shuttle would need less rocket power to do this and the fuel tanks would have been self contained instead of external. Engine development on the shuttle would have been cheaper and the entire system would have been a lot more reliable. The problem was the cost of developing TWO space craft at the same time. The current shuttle made use of existing solid rocket technology (up scaled versions of the boosters used by the Delta rocket), and upscaled Apollo engines.
  • by fremsley471 ( 792813 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @01:24PM (#20238717)
    One word: Vandenberg. The 1000 miles range was necessary as the Air Force were s'posed to want to launch on the West Coast and that would leave the Shuttle over the Pacific with the next polar orbit and emergency landing opportunity. The lifting body (Dynasoar) plans were dead with this simple, and completely unfulfilled, decision.
  • The tile was then passed from student to student. As I said above, it was as hard as ceramic and as light as styrofoam. Even if an astronaut hit a tile deliberately with a sharp instrument, it is unlikely they could damage it.

    I'm not sure what your teacher was showing you, but the Shuttle tiles are quite definitely fragile. See these articles:

    If by any chance you do need to contact the tile with your hands, we would require only gentle hand reaction alone. We want you to distribute the load over several fingers or the backs of the fingers. Source []

    [The tile is] a rather soft piece of material. You can easily scratch it with your fingernail. It has ... a very thin layer of fiberglass on the outside. It's a fabulous insulator and NASA gave it to us to use as an insulator for an experiment we were doing. We were working at high temperatures and needed an extremely good insulator. So I had this tile sitting on my desk and it was a curiosity all along. And then it became much more meaningful when I realized that, gee, it wouldn't be very difficult at all to damage this. I could probably, with my finger, break through it. Source []

    The only known technology in the early 1970s with the required thermal and weight characteristics was also so fragile, due to the very low density, that one could easily crush a TPS tile by hand. Source []


  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Wednesday August 15, 2007 @05:20PM (#20241647) Homepage
    The Air Force bears much of the blame.

    They wanted to be able to launch NRO payloads, and with the Keyhole platform, that meant the larger cargo bay, and "high-inclination" orbits, (ie. Vandenberg. . . ie "cross-range capability"). Well, Thiokol never delivered on the SRB's that would have given the cross-range capability, so that was the first thing to get shitcanned. So the Air Force was already screwed there, and for much of the 1980's could not launch NRO payloads into high-inclination orbits.

    Then Challenger happened, and the Air Force whined to congress - because now they couldn't launch NRO payloads AT ALL. So they got the EELV program (Atlas/Titan/Delta - where Atlas and Titan were mainly recycled ICBM's - and now, Atlas is a totally new platform based on the old design.) - after that, the Shuttle really needed a new purpose in life, and got one, in the way of the ISS. Say what you will about it - I'm not a big fan of it myself - I think it shows a lack of vision, and was really driven as a means of pork-continuation. Though, we did learn a lot about international collaboration on a really huge, really complex project. That has to be worth something.

    In the aftermath of Columbia - I'm not sure that recycling Shuttle technology and hardware is the best approach to getting a new generation of launch vehicles. But given the likely funding profiles, who knows if even THAT will succeed?

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"