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NASA Delays Discovery's Final Launch To February

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the hope-you-brought-a-blanket,-keith dept.

NASA 62

Velcroman1 writes "NASA has postponed the launch of space shuttle Discovery's final mission to no earlier than early February — the latest in a long string of delays that have kept the spacecraft grounded for more than a month. Discovery is now slated to launch no earlier than Feb. 3, with the delay allowing NASA engineers more time to analyze why small cracks developed in the shuttle's huge external fuel tank. The cracks have since been repaired, but NASA wants to make sure similar issues don't pose a future concern."

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62 comments

Future Concern? What Future? (3, Insightful)

jdastrup (1075795) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435734)

If it's fixed, launch it. Why worry about future concerns? There won't be anymore Space Shuttle.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (2)

KillaGouge (973562) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435782)

They would like their last mission not to end in a horrible explosion.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (2)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436182)

Except February is the coldest month of the year here in Fl.... which has been known to cause an issue or two with critical parts on the shuttle...

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34436360)

Except Endeavour went up this past February without a hitch. I know, I was at the launch site (no, not on the stack).

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (3, Insightful)

dbialac (320955) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437864)

Right, that way they can add an additional delay. The goal is to string along the salaries of the 800 people who lose their jobs as soon as the shuttle hits orbit as long as possible. And as somebody who works near Cape Canaveral, I fully support not having 800 more unemployed people here.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437888)

As someone who pays taxes, I fully support putting those 800 on unemployment. Far cheaper to just give them tax money then to give them tax money and pay their employer his cut.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34444128)

If memory serves me right the first shuttle blew up on take off in late January (29th) 1986. NASA, read your own history and LEARN from it.

Anyways, Space X is launching their test capsule this week and with any luck will have an operational man-rated system in place before NASA will ever get their last shuttle off the ground. ;)

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435806)

Presumably, they want to know if this is a symptom of a problem that could cause it to crack again during launch--a decidedly bad outcome even if there are no more shuttles.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1)

mtinsley (1283400) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435838)

I know right. Why are they being so caution, it's not like this is rocket science or something. Oh wait.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1)

mtinsley (1283400) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435874)

Arrrrg my arch nemesis the typo strikes again.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34435962)

Bwa ha a! That's rigt, you will never defeet me1

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1)

inforichland (1946038) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435900)

Rocket science - it's not brain surgery! -- shamelessly stolen from someone's .sig

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34436648)

Getting a little OT but I imagine it was from the Mitchell & Webb sketch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THNPmhBl-8I). You can see the punch-line a mile off, but it doesn't make it any less funny.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34435852)

exactly my thought, if it's fixed and this is it... the end, finito, the big goodbye.. *ahem* to the whole shuttle thing... why are they worried about similar issues posing a future concern?

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (2)

ender1598 (266355) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436102)

If it's fixed, launch it. Why worry about future concerns? There won't be anymore Space Shuttle.

This is the last flight for the Discovery shuttle but there's still two other launches. One for each of the other shuttles. But I believe they use a new tank for each launch so I'm not sure where the future concerns are coming from.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34439346)

There is only one more scheduled Shuttle launch after Discovery.

There is some talk about one additional launch (using the Shuttle that will be available as a rescue vehicle for the currently scheduled final launch), but at this point it's just talk. Unless they get additional money, there will only be a total of two more launches.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (1)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437512)

A problem isn't fixed if you don't know what caused it. Until then it's just working around the symptoms.

Re:Future Concern? What Future? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34437610)

Are you an imbecile, or is posting without any thinking at all just a hobby?

I should work for Nasa (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435844)

allowing NASA engineers more time to analyze why small cracks developed in the shuttle's huge external fuel tank

Might it have something to do with every component being built by the lowest bidder because funding keeps getting cut anytime someone at NASA blinks?

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435968)

They switched to the lightweight tank some time (some years) ago. Although it's kind of late in the game... They are now concerned this may be related to the switch -- it would be bad, if you know what I mean, to find a design deficiency through loss of one of the last three scheduled flights.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

mtinsley (1283400) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435978)

I'm pretty sure that even if NASA had more funding it would still have been built by the lowest bidder.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436068)

Would it though?

Anyone who understand budgets enough would understand that buying good stuff first, inspecting it, and getting your launch on time ends up with cost savings much higher than if you buy bad stuff, inspect it, repair it, inspect it again, and postpone the launch.

Not only do you lose the cost savings on the component by having to implement repairs, but thats all extra time you need to have your various contractors on site.

Stop for a moment and imagine what it would be like if the National Defense and the Space Program's budgets were accidentally switched for a year. Do you think we'd see cancellation after cancellation, faulty equipment problems, or postponed launches, or any of that stuff nearly as much as we do now?

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

Jakester2K (612607) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436230)

Hmmm. Aren't military contracts also "lowest bidder" ?

And don't military programs experience all those negative effects you mentioned?

Nice idea, though - I once posited that if you switched Military and Education budgets for a year the effects could be pretty astounding....

Re:I should work for Nasa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34436348)

Switching a M to a B in an illion makes anything astounding.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436378)

Hmmm. Aren't military contracts also "lowest bidder" ?

No silly, all the good ones are awarded with no bidding to the most politically connected company! Do your research.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437536)

Hmmm. Aren't military contracts also "lowest bidder" ?

Many government contracts, including most major NASA and military contracts involving development of new technology, are not lowest bidder, they are best-value using a per-project scoring in which cost is one, but not the only, factor.

I don't think straight lowest-bid is used for much of anything other than purchases of directly-substitutable, off-the-shelf commodities.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436376)

All those decisions are made as the result of trade studies (which are sometimes biased based on personal/political ideas). Ideally, what should happen is that the system integrators of the shuttle launch system should gather all the relevant data of the possible parts they want to use for their system. In the case of this tank, that would involve looking at data like money, time to build, dry and wet weight, and risk factors associated, etc. They would then compile all of this data into a very complex trade study. They would use the risk estimates from each potential component in a large risk model and see how the risk of each part failing affects the over all chance of catastrophic failure of the system. They would integrate all of the possible money figures into their budget models to determine how far over or under budget each potential part would cause the system to go. The would do mass stack ups and schedule models (including potential slips) to determine how those factors affect the system design.

Then, they would take all of those factors, determine which things are more important to them (less risk, less money, less weight, or less time, what's more important?), and make a component/subcontractor selection based off of this data in order to get the highest quality "bang for their buck" so to speak. So it is not likely that NASA, an organization of extraordinarily smart people, is sitting around looking at a price list and selecting the cheapest components every time.

Of course, the real problem is that NASA is a government organization and, like all government organizations (or really, any large organization) it is prone to misinformation, bias, and the development of a "company personality" if you will. If the final design decision comes down to two subcontractors' parts: X, or Y, and the trade studies show that they are very close in nature, then NASA will probably chose subcontractor X if it has a long history with X because having worked with them before means something to everyone working on the project. Alternatively, maybe the PR guys at subcontractor Y can fudge their data just enough to make their part look more appealing. Well then, NASA might select that part due to the misinformation it has been fed. Finally, if a lobbyist catches the ears of certain congressmen (I'm looking at you Hatch and Shelby, you corrupt bastards), then those congressmen may write an "offer that NASA can't refuse" into the budget legislation, thus forcing NASA to use a particular part or subcontractor even if it sucks compared to others.

Really, the situation at NASA is much more complicated than simply, "We don't have much money, find the cheapest shit you can and use it!" Due to politics, dishonesty, corruption,incompetence, and good ol' fashioned laziness inherent in all parties involved, NASA is both the proprietor of, and victim of, a very complicated design process that sometimes leaves them doing their best to keep a few humans alive using sub-par systems. That said, I very much respect, and feel for, my fellow aero- engineers at NASA.

Now, whether or not this new tank turns out to be one of those sub-par components I mentioned is not really clear yet. It hasn't had enough flight time to make that determination. Hopefully, the engineers at NASA currently working to hash out this new issue will help to determine that.

Re:I should work for Nasa (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437922)

No, the correct methodology is to make the contractor pay for the inspections and any repairs, plus a fee for any delays to launches.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34442774)

And that would simply triple the cost of the tank. Anytime you put the risk on a contractor the contractor will charge you the value of that risk (and more) even if it does not happen.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

kels (9845) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436416)

Might it have something to do with every component being built by the lowest bidder because funding keeps getting cut anytime someone at NASA blinks?

Or the fact that major components have to be built in every state with a powerful Senator?

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

arielCo (995647) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436856)

Source Selection Criteria (SSC)

SSCs can be simple or complex depending on the subject of the acquisition. If FAR Part 15 is used, then a concept called best value can be used; best value simply is an idea that the lowest bidder is not necessarily the winner of a competition - rather, an evaluation of the overall offer based on specified SSCs is accomplished and a source selection decision is accomplished (see below) based on those specified SSCs using a fact based business judgement of the acquiring activity.

[...]

Contractors must also be aware of whether or not price is more important than non-price factors. Where price is more important than non-price factors, then the lowest bidder who is technically acceptable in view of the source selection factors and work statement requirements will be selected. Where the solicitation indicates that the requirement is a best value acquisition, then a contractor must draft their proposal to emphasize how their proposed technical solution will meet each and every requirement and source selection factor.

Government procurement in the United States [wikipedia.org]

No, you shouldn't (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34436860)

Are you implying that the lowest bidder makes the worst product? And that the highest bidder makes the best product?
Are you saying that NASA did not provide specifications to the vendors? And that NASA accepted whatever was provided?
Are you saying that the blink rate of NASA employees has something to do with their budget?

Re:No, you shouldn't (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436946)

Actually, NASA didn't give specifications, at least not as you are implying. All of the submitted proposals included all liquid propellant vehicles. It was just the one that happened to be cheapest that had the solid boosters and NASA went with it to save money. So, evidently, given all of the problems they've had with the launch system, yes, in this case, the lowest bidder made the worst product.

Re:No, you shouldn't (1)

pnewhook (788591) | more than 3 years ago | (#34442780)

This is often true. If you send out a proposal for quotes and you receive a bunch back, they will mostly be all around the same value. If you get one oddball that is really low, then very likely they either do not understand all the requirements, or are bidding low to get the job and will screw you over later for more money. Speaking from experience.

Re:I should work for Nasa (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 3 years ago | (#34438022)

Might it have something to do with every component being built by the lowest bidder because funding keeps getting cut anytime someone at NASA blinks?

This statement doesn't match up with the actual numbers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Budget#Annual_budget.2C_1958-2010 [wikipedia.org]

Also, the idea that NASA components are built by the lowest bidder is laughable. Saying that they're built by the most politically-connected bidders (e.g. ATK and the solid rocket boosters) is closer to the target.

When are they going... (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435916)

...to say "fuck it" and load everything onto Falcon 9? Seriously, if this keeps up, the Dragon capsule will be fully tested before the last shuttle goes up. It's like trying to eek your '78 Pinto up to 300,000 miles while a 2010 BMW is sitting in the driveway.

Re:When are they going... (0)

confused one (671304) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436122)

Stuff won't fit on the Falcon 9. Now the Falcon X heavy (up to 125mT to LEO) might do... Makes me wonder how serious they were about those.

Re:When are they going... (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436178)

Spoken like someone who's never taken a vehicle past 100k. Just last week I rolled over 200k in my 15yr old mitchubishi. Those who cant afford new toys use what they have 'till it breaks.

Re:When are they going... (2)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436624)

(Disclaimer: While I was in school I broke 100k on my parents' '96 Corolla, and then moved onto an '86 Volvo with close to 200k on it. Then I got a job and bought a new Corolla.)

Actually, there were multiple levels to my car analogy--one being that it's a Pinto so it might burst into flames at any moment (yes, stereotype, but true of the shuttle), another being that after 32 years it's not even up to 300,000, and the third being that the new safer car is already paid for. But I should have picked something other than a BMW, maybe a Honda, to emphasize that the new one isn't expensive, and should have included that you were doing thousands of dollars of work on the Pinto.

THEREFORE, I will include my revised car analogy below.

It's like rebuilding the engine on your '78 Pinto--for the third time--so you can make one last cross-country trip, while your wife takes the new 2010 Accord out for errands.

In this fine-tuned analogy, I make the point that the old experienced vehicle is not reliable or safe yet expected to perform on a grueling journey, while the new safer vehicle is being tested in baby steps.

Re:When are they going... (1)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 3 years ago | (#34440336)

And your 2010 Accord is analogous to.... what, exactly, in the manned space program? Certainly not the Soyuz spacecraft (don't get me wrong, the Soyuz is a proven and reliable design). And the private spacecraft being tested aren't even capable of doing the errands in your car analogy, let alone make it on this cross-country trip.

Re:When are they going... (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34440746)

Ok, so maybe I'm being optimistic, but if going to the ISS is a cross-country trip, then the Falcon 9 launch of a test capsule into a perfect orbit (except reentry) should count as an errand. In less than a week, we'll see the first reentry attempt by a commercial spacecraft, another fine errand.

I refuse to be skeptical about SpaceX's rockets until we see an actual failure. I have much more faith in their engineering-driven design--so far proved flawless--than any politicized, bloated creation of NASA.

But I do believe I overlooked the fact that the shuttle is more like a pickup truck than a pinto--the cargo capacity is larger, though the F9 can lift nearly half what the shuttle can. If they really wanted, I'm sure they could break up this shuttle load in to three or four F9 launches, which was my original point. The first F9 *mission* to the ISS is scheduled to happen within a year, so if the shuttle really doesn't go up there is another option to get stuff there.

Patience and Safety (4, Interesting)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34435946)

I hope their final voyage is a safe one, and one day we will have a manned mission back to the Moon and maybe to Mars.

Here is a cool infographic I found on the Space Shuttle [space.com]

Re:Patience and Safety (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436696)

I hope their final voyage is a safe one, and one day we will have a manned mission back to the Moon...

Been there, done that.

Re:Patience and Safety (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34438430)

It's now two generations (40 years) since people were on the moon. And NASA now spends more on senate-mandated bureaucracy every year than the entire moon program costs. In order to control the horrible government spending, the clueless politicians guaranteed that there would be a horrible spending -- on nothing productive.

No, we won't go back to moon any time soon.

Now sing with me, kids:
ISS is falling down, falling down, falling down.

Bad and Good (1)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436140)

On the on hand, this sucks. On the other hand, its more time that I have to get enough money together to go see a launch in person.

Re:Bad and Good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34436692)

Yep, read my mind. I was there to see STS-133 on Nov 1 and now I have time to save money for a trip from Brazil to see the last one.

Shuttle vs. Everyone (3, Interesting)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436462)

Meanwhile [spaceflightnow.com] , various [spaceflightnow.com] other [spaceflightnow.com] launch [spaceflightnow.com] systems [spaceflightnow.com] , that aren't pork-bloated, politically-designed flying bricks, just keep chugging along with their launches and schedules successfully. I suppose this is what happens when politicians and business majors decide they can be engineers. Go figure

Re:Shuttle vs. Everyone (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34440480)

If you think the Shuttle is the only booster ever built or even flying that had political and business decisions embedded in it's design - I have some nice waterfront property and a nice bridge to sell you. Doubly so since or the 'launchers' you link to - one (the X37B) is a payload, and another (the Minotaur) is a Peacekeeper missile... (and neither are commercially available.)

Re:Shuttle vs. Everyone (1)

THE anonymus coward (92468) | more than 3 years ago | (#34440978)

I think this is a function of manned vs unmanned more than anything else. The acceptable margin of error is orders of magnitude less when there are people on board, so any little concern becomes the object of great scrutiny.

I heard the real reason was.... (4, Funny)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 3 years ago | (#34436868)

I heard the real reason was that the crew refused to let the TSA agents do the new pat down procedure.

Dec 17 launch was stupid anyways (4, Interesting)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437266)

I don't know who or why they would push the launch to Dec 17. First of all, the Shuttle is not tested across a year boundary, and the last flight is not the time to be testing to see if this works. (Dates are complex enough, and handling all possible date transitions is even harder. Thus it's easier to not fly the Shuttle across a New Year transition rather than have to test everything to ensure it can handle it).

I believe it was supposed to be a 10 day mission, so if it launches Dec 17, it means it returns Dec 27. Which gives you 4 days before you're in test-pilot mode (the missions may get extended unexpectedly due to launch delays or weather on return). While I doubt the shuttle would just explode when the clock ticks over, 4 days doesn't seem like a lot of leeway.

All they had to do was push it another couple of weeks and they'd have a whole year to schedule and launch. At least it seems saner heads have prevailed.

Re:Dec 17 launch was stupid anyways (2)

N0Man74 (1620447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34437640)

I hate to admit it... but I'm not really sure if that post is a joke or not.

Re:Dec 17 launch was stupid anyways (3, Informative)

SmilingBoy (686281) | more than 3 years ago | (#34438380)

No, it is true - they normally don't fly over new year's eve. In a press conference they mentioned that they could reconfigure the computer systems on a quiet day in orbit to deal with it but that it still entails some risk.

Re:Dec 17 launch was stupid anyways (1)

N0Man74 (1620447) | more than 3 years ago | (#34440940)

Well thank you for that interesting fact, I had never heard such a thing before. I'm very glad that I posed the sincere question now instead of jumping the gun.

At first I thought they might have been condescending, and then I thought they were naive and paranoid... but then I thought maybe they knew something I didn't know.

Apparently I was the naive one. Is there a +/-1 Humbled mod? ;-)

Just Repair the New Cracks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34437350)

Two missions left and they want to study to see if there will be "future" problem? This one is fixed. Shoot it. Inspect Endeavor. Fix cracks if present. Shoot it.

That goddam boondoggle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34438702)

Can't even go out of buisiness on schedule.

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