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Early Abort of Ares I Rocket Would Kill Crew

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the do-not-push-the-big-red-button dept.

NASA 414

FleaPlus writes "From studying past solid rocket launch failures, the 45th Space Wing of the US Air Force has concluded that an early abort (up to a minute after launch) of NASA Marshall Flight Center's Ares I rocket would have a ~100% chance of killing all crew (report summary and link), even if the launch escape system were activated. This would be due to the capsule being surrounded until ground impact by a 3-mile-wide cloud of burning solid propellant fragments, which would melt the parachute. NASA management has stated that their computer models predict a safe outcome. The Air Force has also been hesitant to give launch range approval to the predecessor Ares I-X suborbital rocket, since its solid rocket vibrations are violent enough to disable both its steering and self-destruct module, endangering people on the ground."

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414 comments

Badass (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744499)

As nasty as it sounds, it'll be an awesome sight to watch. Maybe in some movie..?

Re:Badass (0, Troll)

Eternauta3k (680157) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744523)

That's the plan. They do the launch, if it goes wrong they turn the footage into a movie. If it goes right they stage a 'live' launch and broadcast the recordings.

Re:Badass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744885)

They only do that in China for events like the Olympics.

No abort? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744521)

Does this mean they're pro-life?

100% (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744525)

Spaceflight was so much easier forty years ago...

Re:100% (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744679)

sarcasm isn't trolling, you stupid mod

Re:100% (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744869)

No kidding! That's why it's marked as a troll, stupid commenter.

IANARS but... (4, Insightful)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744533)

If I'm reading this right, the Air Force is saying that in the event of a complete failure (ie, the entire thing going to hell all of a sudden) the chances of survival would be zero.

This doesn't really indicate that chances of survival would be zero in all possible emergency abort scenarios.

Re:IANARS but... (5, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744591)

Solid rocket motors, however, tend to "go to hell all of a sudden" in a rather spectacular way. "Sucks to be you" is really their only failure mode.

Re:IANARS but... (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744617)

Solid rocket motors, however, tend to "go to hell all of a sudden" in a rather spectacular way. "Sucks to be you" is really their only failure mode.

Why is this so funny, if it actually happens it would be a tragedy.

Yet I can't get off the floor from the initial ROFL factor.

Re:IANARS but... (2, Interesting)

Repossessed (1117929) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745055)

It's funny *because* its horrible. Your brain doesn't want to empathize so it trips the laughter switch instead.

Thats why comedians love politics so much.

Re:IANARS but... (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744637)

True enough. Also the linked articles are unclear what, if any, propulsion mechanisms the escape pod has. It seems to me like they may be relying on the explosion of the engine failure to propel them out of the explosion.

If this is the case then I can very much see how the Air Force's report makes sense. Small chunks of burning propellent are sure to fly faster/farther then some hunk of metal.

Re:IANARS but... (2, Funny)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744677)

Fortunately it seems like this is a problem that *could be corrected* fairly easily -- with, say, a propulsion mechanism on the escape capsule, just enough to give enough delta-V that it would clear the debris cloud in time to deploy the parachutes. It's even easier since you're flying through the air: perhaps you could deploy some sort of air brake or aerodynamic device to change the drag characteristics of the capsule enough to escape the cloud?

It doesn't have to survive the heat or provide a safe landing -- all it has to do is bump you out of the debris cloud, and you're good.

Re:IANARS but... (4, Interesting)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744999)

Fortunately it seems like this is a problem that *could be corrected* fairly easily -- with, say, a propulsion mechanism on the escape capsule, just enough to give enough delta-V that it would clear the debris cloud in time to deploy the parachutes.

From what I understand, the Orion capsule's launch escape system already has a jettison motor [nasa.gov], but it's not enough to take it out of range of the flaming debris. Increasing the range of the motor isn't an option, because the capsule is already too heavy for the Ares I and they can't add even more weight to it.

Even though rockets like DIRECT's and the Ares V would have the "field of flaming solid rocket propellant debris" problem, my impression is that they have a big enough margin that you'd be able to have a launch escape system that could escape the debris cloud.

Re:IANARS but... (4, Informative)

Mercano (826132) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744969)

The Orion escape system is similar to the Apollo setup; that is, a rocket mounted above the crew capsule is, in the event of an emergency, supposed to yank the capsule off with enough acceleration to get clear of any explosion. Of course, there's an upper limit of how much force you can apply without killing the crew, and on a normal launch, the escape system is just dead weight, despite the fact that it's more powerful then the Atlas rocket that put Mercury capsules into orbit, so there are constraints. Obligatory Wikipedia link. [wikipedia.org]

Re:IANARS but... (3, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744997)

It seems to me like they may be relying on the explosion of the engine failure to propel them out of the explosion.

The Bruce Willis Rocket Design Company, eh?
     

Re:IANARS but... (2, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744607)

It's about the rocket falling back to the ground, so that's about any event in which the rocket would crash back to the ground within the first minute of flight. Not complicated.

The Air Force is right. (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744649)

I tend to believe the Air Force. The armed services avoid affirmative action and promote solely on the basis of merit. The Air-Force scientists are among the very best in their field. I know as I was a recipient of a Department-of-Defense 3-year graduate fellowship. My doctoral dissertation focused on algorithms for tracking multiple objects (i. e., missiles) flying in the air.

By contrast, NASA is a highly political organization. It hires on the basis of affirmative action. An African-American with a degree from Texas Southern University (which is barely better than a typical ghetto high school) will be promoted before an Asian-American or a European-American with a degree from Caltech. The quality of reports and studies issued by NASA is quite low.

Re:The Air Force is right. (1)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744771)

Racist much?

Re:The Air Force is right. (3, Insightful)

iksbob (947407) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744841)

>Racist much?

From Oxford American Dictionaries:
"affirmative action
noun
an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, esp. in relation to employment or education; positive discrimination."

Yes. Yes it is.

Re:The Air Force is right. (1)

Latinhypercube (935707) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745053)

Yeah. You loons are right. The problem with NASA is all the blacks. HAHAHAHA !!! Do you know how racist and stupid you sound ?

Re:The Air Force is right. (2, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744947)

hah, how typical, raising a "racist" smokescreen when someone talks how people with no ability are given jobs they aren't qualified for on the baasis of their race in the name of affirmative action. The truth is affirmative action is racist, only ability should matter.

Re:The Air Force is right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744795)

nice dup post you've got there.

Re:The Air Force is right. (3, Informative)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744941)

The armed services ... promote solely on the basis of merit.

As a former member of the armed services, I find that hilarious.

Re:The Air Force is right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744973)

I suspect you were in the Navy ...

Re:The Air Force is right. (0, Flamebait)

geekboy642 (799087) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744979)

Blatant moronic racism aside, you're a complete and total idiot. The Air Force promotes based only on two factors: the ability to get above 40% on a nearly open-book history test and time served. A wooden manikin can be promoted to sergeant in five years.

Re:The Air Force is right. (3, Informative)

EQ (28372) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745013)

They are not talking about some dumbmass SSgt E-5 cook that, as you say "get above 40% on a nearly open-book history test and time served". He is referring to the civilian scientists and engineering officers in the test, development and design as well as range safety officers. It seems YOU are the idiot.

Re:The Air Force is right. (2, Funny)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744987)

"An African-American with a degree from Texas Southern University (which is barely better than a typical ghetto high school) will be promoted before an Asian-American or a European-American with a degree from Caltech."

They dropped your resume on the floor, and didn't even send you a card saying how much they regretted it, didn't they? And the only explanation for that is someone of a more fortunate race also applied. Bless your heart.

Re:IANARS but... (1)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744701)

The diagrams in the released PDF seem to indicate this is in the context of an air-burst type failure.

A failure of the rocket which involves the rocket simply crashing back into the ground doesn't seem to be covered here (though it's somewhat doubtable if such a failure could realistically take place).

Re:IANARS but... (4, Informative)

cratermoon (765155) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744967)

The Range Safety Officer can't let it just crash back to the ground. The stark reality is that in the event of a guidance failure the RSO's job is to activate the destruct system. Although the lives of the astronauts might be lost, the lives of hundreds of people on the ground take precedence. And no, there isn't really going to be time to determine which way the rocket is going. In the time it would take to figure that out, Cocoa Beach could be a flaming inferno.

Re:IANARS but... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744611)

I believe you're reading it right. They're not saying all possible emergency abort scenarios. Only those that occur in the first minute of flight.

I think the reason they're being so pessimistic is that any sort of failure during such an early stage of the flight is basically going to result in the range safety officer having to send a self-destruct signal to the rocket which in turn leads to a high temperature debris cloud which in leads to a melted parachute which leads to zero survivability for the crew when the crew capsule slams into the sea.

Re:IANARS but... (4, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744613)

I don't get the impression that there are many other types of failures within the first minute of launch.

100%? (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744569)

Well, there's a nail in Ares' coffin, so to speak.

Re:100%? (4, Informative)

Sir_Lewk (967686) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744601)

To be fair, the survival rate of exploding space shuttles is currently 0% as well... At least the Ares as a mechanism to even allow for an early abort.

Re:100%? (5, Interesting)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744863)

The survival rate for exploding Soyuz rockets is 100%. It happened once in 1975, and again in 1983. Both times, the crew escaped without major injury. The Russian/Soviet space program has never had a launch failure that resulted in fatalities to crew aboard the ship.

The 1983 incident occurred as the rocket exploded while on the pad, and threw the capsule 6,500 feet into the air, subjecting the cosmonauts to approximately 17g of acceleration. According to popular legend, the cosmonauts destroyed the capsule's voice recorder due to the lengthy string of profanity that it captured during the incident.

Re:100%? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744899)

That's the emperical rate then .. these other guys are talking about the theoretical rate.

Re:100%? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744981)

You really trust the SOVIET GOVERNMENT to report accurately?

Re:100%? (4, Interesting)

dbIII (701233) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745029)

Oddly enough that regime was so fond of paperwork that there were weird documents along the lines of "order to destroy all records of the mass graves at lat X long Y containing Z bodies from the incident on DATE" with all the correct numbers filled in. People were so careful to cover their arses that everything was written down (even attempts to duplicate things that had been ordered destroyed) and is now a goldmine for historians. However there is still the garbage in garbage out problem if the information was wrong in the first place.

The Air Force is right. (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744571)

I tend to believe the Air Force. The armed services avoid affirmative action and promote solely on the basis of merit. The Air-Force scientists are among the very best in their field. I know as I was a recipient of a Department-of-Defense 3-year graduate fellowship. My doctoral dissertation focused on algorithms for tracking multiple objects (i. e., missiles) flying in the air.

By contrast, NASA is a highly political organization. It hires on the basis of affirmative action. An African-American with a degree from Texas Southern University (which is barely better than a typical ghetto high school) will be promoted before an Asian-American or a European-American with a degree from Caltech. The quality of reports and studies issued by NASA is quite low.

Re:The Air Force is right. (5, Interesting)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744655)

I worked at Marshall Space Flight Center -- the facility where the Ares is being developed -- for a while as part of an undergrad summer research project. While it may not be polite to say such things, AC's criticism of NASA's affirmative action policies is spot on.

My boss and his officemate were both affirmative action hires. My boss couldn't remember his computer password and called IT every time he crashed WinNT and needed to reboot. His officemate just put his on a stickynote on his monitor. When he got a new computer he had to get me (an undergrad) to make him a desktop shortcut to Solitaire. I have no idea what that guy did other than order office supplies.

My boss often skipped work to play golf, leaving me in charge of the lab. I wound up growing samples in a gas deposition chamber and giving them to him to catalog and characterize. At one point I asked him how the characterization was going, and he said that the Raman spectroscopy lab was buried under a backlog of debris from Columbia (which was earlier that year). At the end of the summer I had a chat with *his* boss, who told me that there was no such backlog... and then we found all the samples I had painstakingly grown and labelled lying jumbled in the bottom of a drawer of his.

While it makes me sad to say it, I've seen Marshall Space Flight Center incompetence with my own eyes. I'm from Huntsville, the city where MSFC is located. When I was growing up Real Science got done there -- my high school English teacher is the guy who built the Lunar Rover. But it's gone downhill.

I also know the guy who's in charge of systems integration for the Ares project. He's a young-earth creationist. I have little faith in the engineering acumen of anyone who can accomplish such a massive feat of ignoring experimental evidence.

Re:The Air Force is right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744719)

my high school English teacher is the guy who built the Lunar Rover.

That's quite the career change...

Re:The Air Force is right. (4, Funny)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744743)

Especially for a German. He designed the thing, wound up retiring from NASA, and teaching English in his German accent.

Guy had quite the sense of humor, along with a reputation for being hard as hell. I asked him in the halls one day how many people had dropped dead from his latest exam, and he said "Oh, all of them! I run a mortuary on the side; good way to get more business!"

Re:The Air Force is right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744793)

That's nothing. Buzz Aldrin sold used cars.

Re:The Air Force is right. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744861)

The Gov't is replete with AA hires (regardless of color of skin). It's a sad, sad state that things are in, but it won't get fixed. It will simply implode. I work in the Intel community and I have seen with my own eyes incidents in which people died downrange that could have been readily avoided if the incompetent moron in charge had simply been fired in time. The forces of socialism are stronger than the forces of common sense, I'm afraid.

Re:The Air Force is right. (2, Insightful)

ShakaUVM (157947) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744935)

I also know the guy who's in charge of systems integration for the Ares project. He's a young-earth creationist. I have little faith in the engineering acumen of anyone who can accomplish such a massive feat of ignoring experimental evidence.

Well, I don't know how long it took YOU to experimentally replicate the universe in your high school lab, but MINE certainly took less than 6 days to do.

Re:The Air Force is right. (4, Insightful)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744939)

I also know the guy who's in charge of systems integration for the Ares project. He's a young-earth creationist. I have little faith in the engineering acumen of anyone who can accomplish such a massive feat of ignoring experimental evidence.

Have you considered asking him how he reconciles the two habits of mind?

Re:The Air Force is right. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744749)

You made the exact same comment in comment number (#28744649). Do you have some sort of agenda?

Re:The Air Force is right. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744871)

I tend to believe the Air Force. The armed services avoid affirmative action and promote solely on the basis of merit. The Air-Force scientists are among the very best in their field. I know as I was a recipient of a Department-of-Defense 3-year graduate fellowship. My doctoral dissertation focused on algorithms for tracking multiple objects (i. e., missiles) flying in the air.

By contrast, NASA is a highly political organization. It hires on the basis of affirmative action. An African-American with a degree from Texas Southern University (which is barely better than a typical ghetto high school) will be promoted before an Asian-American or a European-American with a degree from Caltech. The quality of reports and studies issued by NASA is quite low.

Re:The Air Force is right. (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744769)

Sadly, your education was not that much. I see that you did not learn to be brave enough to sign your name to such a statement.

Slide 2 Lower Right (2, Informative)

El Torico (732160) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744603)

Slide 2 Lower Right "CAPSULE IS HERE" [spaceref.com]
Feel free to draw your own conclusion.

Re:Slide 2 Lower Right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745037)

Check out the "Contact Info Deleted" section on Slide 1.
Seems people still haven't learned how to redact PDF documents.
His contact information is still there under the yellow box.

(321) 494-5130
(DSN) 854-5130
Sean.Stapf@Patrick.AF.mil

More Broadly... (4, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744621)

The specifics of this issue aside(since I know next to nothing about modeling solid fuel rocket explosions, and two experts appear to disagree, along with a snide comment from a commercial outfit that would probably like the contract for themselves), what sort of safety should we bother shooting for with launch systems?

Obviously, if we have the choice between a more safe and a less safe system we should, all else being equal, chose the more safe one. However, all else is rarely equal. More safety likely adds weight, design time, cost, whatever. How much safety is worth adding, before we get to the "For fuck's sake, dude, garbage collectors die on the job at twice the rate, and being crushed in a dumpster isn't exactly a blaze of glory..." point and live with the risks?

Is there some direct assertion to be made(astronauts should suffer no more than X risk, period)? Should we take an empirical look at the risks of various occupations, and peg the acceptable astronaut risk as equal to that of some similar occupation for which an empirical actual risk value is available? Should we accept very high risks; because astronauts are highly likely to be well informed volunteers who have plenty of life alternatives?

Pushing for perfect is chasing a dream. Deciding what we should be aiming for seems much more relevant.

Re:More Broadly... (1)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744691)

I think rather we should look at the cost-benefit ratio of decreasing the risk by a given amount, i.e. if a design decision that costs $X will on average save the lives of Y astronauts over the course of the design, should it be made?

I'm not claiming to know what the correct values of X and Y are. But I believe we should take all reasonable precautions to decrease risk, and this is really the only way to quantify "reasonable". (Granted, "reasonable" might include a lot fewer things than Nasa's doing.)

Re:More Broadly... (1)

blackraven14250 (902843) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745011)

Value of astronaut = training costs = x

Value of saving lives 1% of time = 1/1000 of training costs = y

y is immensely greater than x at this point, thus making it pointless to save lives. Fucking corporate values system. Money = money to corporations. Whatever saves the most money and is most profitable is the best solution, even if that means forcing competitors out of business by strongarm tactics, anticompetitive practices. Why the hell should we apply this model that doesn't work (as markets prove repeatedly), to something not based on an attempt to make money?

Re:More Broadly... (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745021)

Do these garbage collectors die from things that are their own fault, or from the fault of the engineers and ground-crew? That makes a big difference in the statistics.

Also, I doubt garbage collector deaths are due from someone saying 'ah, it's safe enough' and letting it be. Their equipment is as safe as it could be made. Why expect any different for an astronaut?

Re:More Broadly... (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745043)

along with a snide comment from a commercial outfit that would probably like the contract for themselves

FYI, Bigelow Aerospace [wikipedia.org] (the company quoted in the article) is in the business of building private space stations. They're a buyer in the commercial launch market, not a seller, so it's not like they'd be a getting a contract for any of this. I'd assume they have quite a bit of experience in studying the pros and cons of various launch systems for their own payloads, which is probably why they were asked for a quote for the article.

Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (2, Interesting)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744645)

The problem is that a parachute with a low melting point enters a region with high temperature particles. Solution: increase the melting point or move the parachute away. IIRC, in the case of an abort, the capsule is lifted away from the rocket by using additional thrusters. If they were allowed to operate for longer, then they would move the capsule further away from the flaming debris.

I have no doubt that the Ares engineers will quickly solve this (if they haven't already).

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (3, Informative)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744747)

Some things are not worth solving. We are talking a 1 minute window of issues. With Ares I already at the max load, it makes no sense to add more weight for the escape rocket. That is just part of the risk of being an astronaut.

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (3, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744759)

Rather than investing more in escape systems, it might make more sense to spend the same amount of money making rockets that blow up less...

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744873)

Or train some backup astronauts.
Are they doing a cost analysis of this?

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744937)

Or train some backup astronauts. Are they doing a cost analysis of this?

Ahah! A PHB. Take away his Geek Card now!
   

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (2, Insightful)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744755)

Perhaps the solution is to screw the whole thing (blackjack, the hookers and the solid rocket booster) and to design a proper liquid-fuel rocket?

Re:Sometimes /. is so fatalistic (3, Funny)

momerath2003 (606823) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744785)

Of course, a solid steel parachute! Why didn't we think of this before!

Signed,
Ares Engineers

oh come on... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744667)

what's the worst that could happen? :)

Ares Rocket less safe than a Space Shuttle? (1, Interesting)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744669)

How did NASA (Need Another Seven Astronauts) manage to make a replacement for the Space Shuttle that is actually more dangerous to the crew than a Space Shuttle with loose heat absorbing titles or malfunctioning O-Rings?

Was this "design flaw" in the Apollo series and the public was not made aware that aborting an Apollo rocket would kill the crew 100% guaranteed?

Re:Ares Rocket less safe than a Space Shuttle? (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744703)

I'd be surprised if any manned launch system up to now would allow the crew to survive under the condtions specified. Apollo? Apollo 1 killed its crew before even getting off the ground. Probably back then it was better understood by the public that space travel is crazy dangerous.

A possible solution (1)

Mitchell314 (1576581) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744695)

Why not just equip the crew capsule with retro rockets?

...Oh, right, the exploding part. Is there any powerful form of lift that doesn't require exothermic reactions and isn't privy to melting/boiling/exploding?

Re:A possible solution (2, Informative)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745067)

Why not just equip the crew capsule with retro rockets?

It is. That's the thing that looks like an antenna on top of all manned expendables, including artists' impressions of the Ares I/Orion stack. The escape tower. It has a bunch of solid rockets (oh the irony) that lift it away from any explosion.

That's not the problem. The problem is they then parachute back through their own debris cloud. Which, in the case of solid rocket based launchers, is on fire.

Escape Towers [wikipedia.org]

Escape Launch Systems [wikipedia.org]

We used to be so good at this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744737)

It's amazing that after the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo successes we can't seem to figure out how to make heavy lift rockets. This is nearly 40 years after Apollo was canceled. The Saturn rockets were real workhorses yet with all the advances we can't match them. I have to wonder if it's more beaurocracy than technology.

Re:We used to be so good at this (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28744825)

That was back in the day when (1) cost was no object and (2) people didn't take (as much) advantage of that blank check.

Re:We used to be so good at this (1)

Lord Byron II (671689) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745063)

Only 15 Saturn V's were built and only 13 of those were actually launched. They could have had an actual catastrophic failure rate of 10% and we would have never known it given the small number of launches that we did.

Also consider that two of the launches (Apollo 6 and 13) experienced partial failures (engines that quit prematurely).

Not surprised (2, Insightful)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744739)

folks it was built by the LOW BIDDER - what on earth would you expect - the design has been an abortion since day 1 and has had problems with virtually every single subsystem.....

That's OK... (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744745)

After all, it's a replacement for Space Shuttle, isn't it? *ducks* (But seriously, Russians really got this right. You just *don't* put people on top of a big solid propellant booster if you want them to survive.)

Re:That's OK... (3, Interesting)

richdun (672214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744821)

The Russian and us, sans 40 years of "experience." You'd think Challenger would've taught us something about stackable SRBs and people. Or Columbia something about non-melting crew return vehicles.

Oh, I just had an idea! How about a capsule with an ablative heat shield mounted on top of a liquid-fueled, multi-stage heavy lifter?! I know, I know, I'm a genius (and a rocket scientist, IRL, coincidentally).

Re:That's OK... (2, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744955)

Well, then you should know the answer: Cost.

Space travel has to be cost effective. We're not in the 60s anymore where it was a matter of national prestige, where money was no matter and where nobody would have questioned spending another billion to get our men there before those pesky Reds. And of course we must not lose any astronauts when those Russkies don't. After all, we gotta prove our technology is superior to theirs and much safer, and we care about the life of our men while they risk their life carelessly.

Try to argue it today. Space travel is not a matter of prestige anymore. Anyone can do it. Even "backwater" countries like India have rockets today, being a spacefaring nation is no longer something to show off how superior you are. People accept the need to put satelites into the orbit so they can watch sat TV and have international calls, but putting people up there? What for, leave it to countries that have spare money to blow up.

Yes, it's quite near sighted and many people don't even come close to understanding what technological progess we owe to the space program. A lot of research done for space programs created as a by-product some discoveries nobody would have invested a cent in because of the lack of a direct reward. From metallurgy to propulsion to computers, a LOT was tried and most of it was a dead end, but the remaining pieces are gems that we would not have today. Worth it? Hard to say.

But there's no time and money left for ground breaking basic research. If it can't be turned into profit, it's hard to sell it to the taxpayer these days.

Risk? (4, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744761)

How much risk is acceptable? Is the Air Force suggesting that space exloration should be 0% risk, or less?

If so, then we should probably ground all aircraft, scrap all automobiles - you get the idea.

Let's face it. Sitting on top of tons of explosive, and lighting them off, is going to be risky. Minimize the risk, yeah, but there will always BE RISK. It doesn't matter what kind of engine you are using, or what kind of fuel it is using. A crash within the first minute of flight is often quite deadly in aviation simply because the pilot has so few options for ditching or bailing out. The same will always be true of spaceflight.

If we want 0% risk, we had better get started on that space elevator. Of course, there may be some hidden risk at some point in that ascent - but at least we won't be blowing it up to use it.

Re:Risk? (5, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744801)

The Air Force doesn't seem to be making a moral judgment.

They're doing what any good scientist or engineer will do: "If you do this, this will happen. I'm not telling you what you *should* do, but simply what will happen if you do it."

Re:Risk? (3, Informative)

richdun (672214) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744847)

Also, it helps to understand the AF's perspective here. As safety officers, they may have to be the ones pushing the Big Red Button (TM) if things go wrong. They're just laying things out so NASA knows what to expect. And as others have pointed out, "aborting" a solid rocket launch is... well... about as successful as aborting a nuclear reaction. You don't get to stop things from burning like you might with a liquid-fueled rocket. You just get to watch the remaining fuel get burned up, people on top or not.

Re:Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745059)

The Air Force doesn't seem to be making a moral judgment.

They're doing what any good scientist or engineer will do: "If you do this, this will happen. I'm not telling you what you *should* do, but simply what will happen if you do it."

Not true. The Air Force has responsibility for safety on the Eastern Range and sets safety guidelines that NASA must follow for all their launches from the ER. If the Air Force says NASA can't jump, then NASA can't jump.

Re:Risk? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745033)

How much risk is acceptable?

Public Law 60 requires spacelift be as safe as air travel.

Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (4, Insightful)

Shag (3737) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744773)

Here's the straight-talk version:

"Welcome to NASA. We're going to send you into space, but this involves sitting you atop something that's basically a big stick of explosives. We're aiming for a controlled burn, and most of the time we get that part right, but as you're probably aware, every now and then something does blow the heck up.

Now, as you might imagine, if you are sitting atop a big stick of explosives, and it blows the heck up, you probably go with it. We're going to try to give you some kind of an out so that the explosives can blow up without you doing the same, but we want you to know it's not really going to make your odds all that much better."

I mean, seriously, folks. People don't sign up to be astronauts without grasping that there's a very real risk of death at pretty much every point in the mission.

Re:Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (2, Interesting)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744889)

My first thought was, "I wish they spent this much time reducing risk for soldiers as they do for astronauts."

Yeah, I'm a soldier. This is kind of sickening in a way since I spent the entire day practicing, "If the first post-attack recon team doesn't report back within 5 minutes, we'll send the backup par team. If the backup par team doesn't report back within 5 minutes, we'll send..."

Our chem warfare training assumes at least a 50% casualty rate. This is not what I signed up for. Astronauts DID sign up for this.

-b

Re:Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745009)

Wait, you think astronauts sign up to die, and soldiers don't? Those recruiting video games are working better than I imagined...

Re:Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (0)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745039)

I didn't join to die, and astronauts didn't join to die. We both joined because of our similar passions for our trade, our mission, and (dare I say it) our society. But being an astronaut, a soldier, a lumberjack, a trucker, etc- these jobs entail a great deal of risk. NASA's death toll is no secret and joining up with NASA is a very competitive, very rarified atmosphere. So are those other jobs, plus many, many more that you never hear about that kill many people.

The point of my post was that I wish that OTHER high-risk jobs had such high expectations of safety. I was saying that NASA's expectation of safety far outpaces their *record* of safety- and I wish the military had the same luxury. In the military lives are lost or saved because of $50 worth of medical supplies. NASA spends millions for a 50/50 chance at fiery death.

-

Really? (1)

greyhueofdoubt (1159527) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745015)

Really? This was modded troll? I've never really cared enough to ask about my moderations but this one bugs me. What is my motivation to post if it might get randomly modded troll and never see the light of day?

Sorry I'm just tired after a long day.

-b

Re:Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (0)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744943)

And your comparison is only as true, as a rocket is a stick of explosives.

Or in other words: It is not a stick of explosives, or it would be called that.

Sure it's not without risk. But hey, remember that your car uses an *explosion* motor too? So in your spirit, I could argue that you are sitting behind a box in which there are thousands of explosions a minute.

You see how far this can be from the truth.

There being a big tank of fuel below them does *not* mean it has to kill them. That's just being lazy!

Sure it is no childs play to make it safe and working. But damnit, you're *rocket scientist*. It's your *job* to do that.

and wanna know how i'd protect them? Between the main capsule and the fuel tanks, I'd put a upside-down cone, with the capsule partially "inside" it. I'd build that thing in a way, that pressure from the (exploding or burning) tanks would push the capsule away. The worse, the further. Then use the usual parachutes, and you're good.
Optionally, add some *small* explosives, and a strong plate *on top* of it, so that the explosives can impossibly penetrate the plate, but just help to push the capsule away, enough to be safe.
(A bit like a ejection seats.)

Re:Maybe it's just an occupational hazard. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#28745057)

News flash: a solid fuel rocket is pretty much a stick of low velocity explosive.

numbers for the LAS (1)

at10u8 (179705) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744777)

I sure would like to see the numbers which show how the solid fuel debris velocity compares with the velocity imparted to the capsule by the launch abort system.

Ares is a Disaster (1)

segedunum (883035) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744827)

Ares is simply a disaster and rehashing old designs to shoddily heavy lift payloads into space is plain wrong if you expect to try and get into space on a regular basis. Don't get me started on how stupid solid rocket boosters are. You need something that you can control. It's yet another disaster waiting to happen after the Shuttle. There is no way in this day and age after fifty years that getting in space should involve a completely irreversible, one way process of lighting a solid rocket booster.

I believe others have pointed to the lack of scientific talent and and lack of merit within NASA these days and we're seeing the results.

Made up data Real life ( Wait. What? ) (5, Insightful)

StarsAreAlsoFire (738726) | more than 4 years ago | (#28744867)

From TFA:

"But Jeff Hanley, who manages NASA's Constellation program that includes the Ares I, questioned the validity of the Air Force study because it relied on only one example. He said NASA had done its own study, using supercomputers to replicate the behavior of Ares I, that predicted a safe outcome."

Allow me to translate this:

"[...] He said NASA had done its own study, *USING NO EXAMPLES AT ALL WHATSOEVER*, that predicted the results that NASA required for further funding."

Show me that 'the supercomputers' model the Air Force's one example to within .5% of reality and I will consider apologizing to Mr. Hanley.

I am incredibly passionate about space flight. The incompetence and political gaming which has produced the fiasco that is the Ares has not caused me any surprise. From the moment NASA decided on solids for a manned vehicle I knew that, without question, the advancement of the state of the art was not going to come from NASA. Ares isn't about space travel. It's about government subsidies to existing aerospace contractors. Thiokol /ATK, I'm looking at you.

Wait For The Bang..... (3, Insightful)

IHC Navistar (967161) | more than 4 years ago | (#28745003)

"NASA management has stated that their computer models predict a safe outcome."

-In retrospect, NASA also predicted the safe outcome of the last Challenger launch.

"It's time they you take off your Engineering hats and start putting on your Management hats."

- Famous last words. Unfortunately, with the current disagreement brewing, I think someone at NASA must have uttered those very same words, not knowing what trouble they can cause.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think NASA has all the elements for the Perfect Storm:

1. Underfunded,
2. Overzealous and overbearing management,
3. Overconfidence,
4. Massively complex, high-risk mechanical systems,
5. Career managers making critical decisions, instead of career engineers,
6. Over-valued managers,
7. Under-valued engineers.

Ever notice how when something goes wrong at NASA, it almost always results in a massive, explosive failure, along with several deaths?

Oh well. This conflict will give the networks something to scruitinze instead of endless "specials" on the life and death of some freaky-deeky nutjob pop singer.

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