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More on Columbia

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the foamology dept.

Space 518

RodeoBoy writes "It seems that regardless of what NASA and Boeing wants the public to believe there are still questions about damage to the shuttle's left wing. Some Boeing engineers have raised concerns that proper analysis of the damage was not done at the time, due to changes and cutbacks in Boeing. It is also coming out that more than one chunk of foam might have hit and damaged the wing. With Boeing having some financial troubles and NASA under public scrutiny again, what is the future of the space shuttle program..."

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More on first posts (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367091)

Hooray!

duh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367098)

yeah stop the space program, that'd be cool guys... :-P

Re:duh... (1, Troll)

k_stamour (544142) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367102)

alas, how do you think they will fund the war.................

Re:duh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367327)

look here stamour... i want you to pay very close attention to what i'm about to szzzzzzzzzz....

Replace it with something better (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367103)

Hopefully the program will get axed and replaced with something better, possibly a space - elevator maybe ...

Re:Replace it with something better (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367119)

Or some kind of weapon against which no defense exists. That could be bought by the terrorists to finally defeat the US then.

fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367104)

fp!

Need Another Seven Astronauts (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367110)

Rumour has it that NASA is going to put Eight Astronauts on the next mission to avoid this unfortunate joke.

Where is the left wing? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367112)

It seems strange to me that the left wing has not been located. No news story as of yet has highlighted any confirmed finding of the left wing. How can anyone make a determination without finding it?

Re:Where is the left wing? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367219)

I dunno. The GOP 0wnzerz you. Hopefully they won't blow up in 2004 like they did recently. Go Go Gore!

Re:Where is the left wing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367287)

News stories here [cnn.com] .

Re:Where is the left wing? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367305)

Where is the left wing? It disintegrated along with most of the rest of the ship. What do you expect them to find? They're finding tiny bits and pieces of the shuttle scattered across 4 or 5 states and you expect them to find an intact wing?? More than likely, like I said, it disintegrated during the breakup and was very likely the cause of the accident. It either broke apart or burned up and the biggest pieces they'll find are going to be less than the size of your fist.

Re:Where is the left wing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367311)

It's entirely possible that there is nothing remaining to find of the left wing. It could be just a bunch of dust.

Re:Where is the left wing? (2, Funny)

mattfish (652906) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367367)

I bet they have found the wing. They just say they havent to cover up more information that they dont want us to see.

Re:Where is the left wing? (1)

jdav (652914) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367312)

They will *never* find the entire left wing - only pieces, and very small ones at that.

The future? Just like the past should be... (5, Insightful)

aerojad (594561) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367116)

Find problem, examine problem, fix problem, learn from problem, push forward. Sure worked (and still does) for trains, planes, and automobiles...

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (2, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367230)

All of which were invented and developed in the public sector.

NASA is a monopolistic government agency which self evaluates, self polices and has little in the way of market pressures to deal with in order to continue to exist.

It makes a difference.

KFG

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (2, Interesting)

aerojad (594561) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367314)

Is it possible for the public sector to take on something like NASA though? Could the money be gathered? I can see where you are coming from, that the program would be better if it wasn't 100% government controlled and operated, but could such a huge, broad-based organization such as the present day NASA be assembled to successfully maintain a shuttle program?

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (5, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367368)

Note that I didn't make any particular value judgment, per se. I was simply stating facts that make it difficult or impossible for NASA to operate under what would be called "normal" circumstances. They are not truly a scientific or engineering firm. They are a political agency with all the faults thereof, which just happens to be in charge of building things that go "Whooosh" into the sky.

Certainly up to this point what they have accomplished would have been simply impossible otherwise. It would be like asking some ancient Egyptians to get together and build a pyramid in their back yard.

However, even a cursory examination of the history of the whole shuttle project will reveal it to be a purely political affair.

Apollo and its forbears may have had politics as their genesis, but then, at least for a time, the politics dictated that the politicians get the hell out of the way and let the engineers get the job done.

That time has long since passed, whether public perception has caught up with the times or not.

KFG

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367325)

Seems you've (perhaps unknowingly) drawn a good parallel with the open source vs. closed source argument.

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (1)

5KVGhost (208137) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367358)

All of which were invented and developed in the public sector.

And by the millitary.

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (3, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367400)

For the most part this is not true. The military has poured vasts amount of *money* into certain areas (notably airplanes, their involvment in the others is actually miniscule).

Development, however, has almost all been by the private sector to compete for contracts. In other words, they develop a product and then try to sell it.

Fokker, Sopwith, Boeing, General Dynamics, SAAB, all private firms that develop most of their products, even the military ones, quite independently.

KFG

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367409)

Obviously you have no idea what you're talking about. NASA is accountable to Congress and the Whitehouse. OMB micromanages NASA to the point of irrelevency. Every good project that NASA was ever involved in during the past 20 years has been fucked up by budget cuts and Congressional budget cuts. They kill whatever doesn't benefit their states. Period. ISS is a multibillion dollar boondoggle to benefit the residents of Texas, and Alabama.

Re:The future? Just like the past should be... (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367445)

Obvioulsy I do. If you go back and read my post again, a bit more carefully this time, you'll find that you just largely agreed with me.

Yes, I am a physicist, who consults, and has worked with people who work on the shuttle. I've avoided the ISS because it's what we in the trade refer to, technically, as "doofey."

So's the shuttle for that matter, but what are ya gonna do?

KFG

i recently heard an interview with an (1)

waspleg (316038) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367414)

independent business man trying to fund various space programs and talking about NASA's bloat and the reason why we don't haev all that much shit in space, nasa quotes a $20,000/lb price to get things in orbit (low earth i think specifically) this guy was taling about being able to cut it down to liek $1500...

shit like this i why we don't have bases on mars already.. so much for bushes (yes that's plural both made promises) mars goals.. they need to privatize space exploration while allowing for the safety checks that keep us all from dying of radiation poisoning when someone tries to launch nuclear waste at the sun and fucks up..

Deja Vu all over again (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367291)

Here's a commentary on preparations for a shuttle launch I saw in Jan.1998:

For December 20, 1997
Shuttle launch slips again
By Jim Banke
FLORIDA TODAY
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Shuttle Endeavour is securely bolted to its seaside launch pad today but it won't be taking off to the Russian space station Mir quite as soon as NASA officials had planned.

Efforts in the Vehicle Assembly Building this week to sand away some of the protective insulation covering Endeavour's orange external tank took longer than hoped for, prompting NASA to delay the first shuttle launch of 1998 two days to Jan. 22.

The decision came Friday afternoon, shortly after Endeavour completed its 3.5-mile move from the assembly building to launch pad 39A, said Kennedy Space Center spokesman Joel Wells.

This was the second delay for Endeavour in as many weeks. Originally targeted for launch Jan. 15, the flight was bumped five days to honor a request from Russian Space Agency officials who said they needed more time to prepare for the shuttle's arrival at Mir.

In the meantime, managers looking into why Columbia returned to Earth Dec. 5 with more damage to its heat protection tiles than normal decided to have some of the foam insulation on Endeavour's tank removed as a precaution.

The work had to be completed while the shuttle was still inside the assembly building because workers would not be able to reach the suspect areas once Endeavour was at the pad, Wells said.

Normally a shuttle spends about five days in the assembly building while it is attached to the external tank and pair of solid rocket boosters. This time Endeavour spent nearly a week so a slip in the schedule became necessary, Wells said.

Endeavour's mission will mark the first time that particular spaceship has docked with Mir. The shuttle is to ferry NASA astronaut Andy Thomas up for a tour of duty on Mir and return David Wolf, who is aboard Mir now.

Meanwhile, activity aboard Mir will be busy this weekend as Wolf and his two Russian crewmates anticipate the arrival Monday of a new Progress cargo ship. The unmanned robot ship was scheduled to blast off from Kazakstan at 3:45 a.m. EST today.

The most recent Progress spaceship to bring supplies to the Mir crew was sent - empty of its cargo but full of garbage - tumbling to burn up in Earth's atmosphere early Friday.

NOTE: Launch Jan 22, 1998

Say what? (4, Insightful)

Otter (3800) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367122)

...regardless of what NASA and Boeing wants the public to believe...

I haven't been following this closely, but why would NASA want the public to believe in a non-foam-related cause, rather than a foam-related one?

I'd share your cynicism if they were saying, "It wasn't foam, it was Saddam!" But given a failure, why would the foam collision be worth burying in favor of something else?

Re:Say what? (5, Insightful)

$$$$$exyGal (638164) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367172)

I agree. Here's another quote:

speculated that NASA is downplaying the debris strike to fend off criticism it might not have done enough to get the astronauts back safely.

There is no possible way NASA could fend off such criticism by just pretending mistake C happened instead of mistake G.

Re:Say what? (4, Insightful)

S.Lemmon (147743) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367301)

Well, the foam hit was something they knew about and perhaps could have at least tried to take some sort of action on. May not of helped in the end, but if the analysis was really botched by Boeing, NASA could be criticized for relying in it too much and doing nothing.

On the other hand, something like a random hit of space junk on re-etry would be something they'd have no way to avoid at all - just very bad luck.

It's not too hard to see why NASA would perfer it to be something like the second case.

Re:Say what? (3, Interesting)

zurab (188064) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367449)

There is no possible way NASA could fend off such criticism by just pretending mistake C happened instead of mistake G.

Oh yes, there is.

On one hand they have a very public evidence - foam or possibly ice - hitting and damaging shuttle's left wing. NASA says they and Boeing analyzed the incident and determined to be not of significant concern that would break up the orbiter. Now these articles, if you read them, bring out more evidence that these analysis were done by mostly inexperienced engineers. Moreover, as one article mentioned, they ignored several of the "worst case scenarios" brought out by the software they used for analysis. All this data is becoming public and directly blames NASA and Boeing for not being careful/accurate/[insert your adjective].

On the other hand, NASA could conclude that the crash was a result of a long-standing defect (structural, mechanical, etc.) that nobody knew about until now.

Now, in the former case, blame directly goes to NASA and Boeing for basically "screwing up". In the latter case, they could market the idea that "look, space travel is dangerous business, you can't see everything coming" and then shift attention to astronauts being heroes and so on. There is a big difference between saving the face, keeping the job and public perception, program funding, etc. not only on NASA's local level, but consider financial, political, and international stage; and on the other hand being directly blamed for the disaster. Also consider public opinion difference between these two scenarios.

Re:Say what? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367176)

With apologies to The Onion:

Bush on NASA: Saddam must be overthrown

Re:Say what? (2, Insightful)

nusuth (520833) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367178)

One reason might be that prior to accident, at least one of the nasa guys (while discussing whether the foam might have damaged the craft and what would be consequences of such damage) described a possible damage scenerio which looks very similar to what happened to my untrained and underinformed eyes. Even though they could have done nothing at all to prevent that, once the craft is in orbit and damage is done, if that is indeed the culprit, they will get very bad publicity for ignoring even their internal consultants. Again.

Check copy of e-mail communications after the foam incident [nasa.gov]

Check Robert's first disaster scenario (nt) (-1, Offtopic)

nusuth (520833) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367200)

Slashcode, give us the no text option. Pleeease.

Re:Say what? (2, Interesting)

bm_luethke (253362) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367429)

While I agree that if this is the case they will get a lot of flak for this. But they really should not.

In the first explosion NASA ignored many engineers advice, even ignoring a no-go from them. In this case it was one guy. In thier position - one guy saying this - many saying not a problem - I would have gone with the no problem people also. For some reason (probably that the media focuses on them) people focus on the one or two people that had a correct conclusion and why didn't any one listen to them. Well, that's becuase we can't see the future and they were a VAST minority. You also saw this after 9/11 - one report to the govt was worded exactly as this occured. Of course it was ignored because it was one of thousands of possible terrorist attacks. If you document all possible outcomes one must be correct.

The appropriate quote: "even a blind squirril finds a nut sometimes"

Re:Say what? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367227)

Because NASA *knew* about the foam collision from day one, and they had more than a *week* to analyze the event, and they *concluded* that it had no effect on the safe operation of the shuttle. If foam is the cause of the disintegration, then 7 people died because NASA's analysis was wrong. How's that for public image?

Re:Say what? (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367297)

Because NASA *knew* about the foam collision from day one, and they had more than a *week* to analyze the event, and they *concluded* that it had no effect on the safe operation of the shuttle. If foam is the cause of the disintegration, then 7 people died because NASA's analysis was wrong.

Ahhh, that makes sense. Reading the original post again, that seems to be what RodeoBoy's point was, as well.

OK, wasn't arguing, just trying to understand!

Re:Say what? (0, Flamebait)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367436)

> Because NASA *knew* about the foam collision from day one, and they had more than a *week* to analyze the event, and they *concluded* that it had no effect on the safe operation of the shuttle. If foam is the cause of the disintegration, then 7 people died because NASA's analysis was wrong. How's that for public image?

s/7 people/7 more people/g

You forgot about the last time NASA's "analysis" killed 7 astronauts and destroyed a $2B orbiter. "O-Rings? Suuuuuuure, they'll hold up when frozen solid! Ignore what our engineers have said about it because we've delayed this launch too long, we've gotta launch the damn thing or we'll start looking bad! Columbia, go with throttle-up!"

NASA: Needs Another Seven Astronauts - because if what appears to have happened with Columbia is indeed the case, they haven't learned a fucking thing since 1986.

For the same reason they didn't want. . . (3, Insightful)

kfg (145172) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367256)

people to know about the O-rings. The modern/post Apollo NASA has always been deathly allergic to admiting they just plain fucked up or cut corners.

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,77832,00.htm l

KFG

Re:Say what? (1)

Anonvmous Coward (589068) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367326)

"I haven't been following this closely, but why would NASA want the public to believe in a non-foam-related cause, rather than a foam-related one? "

That explanation doesn't fit all the data they have. They haven't ruled it out yet, which is good because it means they're receptive to other ideas as well.

Personally, I appreciate this method of investigation. Instead of finding a suspect and trying to find evidence that supports it, they're looking at the evidence and trying to find a suspect. The difference here could mean lives down the road.

Hoping for "Freak Accident" (2, Interesting)

nlinecomputers (602059) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367435)

I think some NASA contractors are hoping that they can lay the blame on space debris or even another contractor rather then take the blame themselves.

Shuttle is and allways was a dangerous overrated toy. It is robbing the public of money that could be better used and taking the lives of men and women that could be doing more useful work then silly tests in space and housesitting a useless spacestation.

If we aren't going to colonize space, the moon, or mars then keep people out of it. Or let those who want to go there PAY for it themselves.

I don't think it's in danger (5, Insightful)

automag_6 (540022) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367128)

You know, it's quite easy to call the race after it's over. However, there are a whole lotta parts on a space shuttle that could lead to potential disaster, and all in all, I think reasonable precautions are being taken. Yes, you can't put a price on human lives, however, there's an associated risk with driving, flying, and launching into outer space, and I think reasonable precautions have been met. I find none of what happened to be neglegent or careless. That's just my $0.02 for what it's worth.

Re:I don't think it's in danger (2, Interesting)

kerteszla (576627) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367235)

I agree. In aeroplane design they follow the law of diminishing returns. they calculate how much a particular frequency of accidents (caused by problem A) will cost them (law suits, insurance, bad press etc) vs. the cost to fix problem A. If A costs more to fix than the cost resulting in the accidents, they don't fix it.

NASA works to (as I understand it) an even more restrictive version of the above. The probability theory involved is way above my head, so anyone is welcome to chime in and correct any misstatements. d.

Thoughts on the shuttle (3, Informative)

tcd004 (134130) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367130)

A column on the weaknesses of the shuttle program [knotmag.com]

Comments welcome.

Re:Thoughts on the shuttle (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367390)

The Shittle is old, weak, upgrade all you want. you can only upgrade so far before a redesign is needed. Kinda like X windows, good in its time, past its sell by date now.

They had an escape pod design in the upgrade program,but in the distant future.

Meanwhile, if you want a space launch system, look to Russia or Europe. The US is no longer in the space business. Support the other systems that WORK. Hell, even India has a working space program.

please NASA... (5, Insightful)

Captain Galactic (651907) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367134)

what would the astronauts want? would they want you to stop exploring space because of them? they knew the risks of exploration, and took them. and let's face it, with NASA down, down comes the ISS, which signifies the unity of the human race dedicated to one cause. don't dishonor the memory of all astronauts by going under.

Re:please NASA... (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367317)

What do the astronauts want? How about the taxpayers?

The thing is, when astronauts die with all the world watching, it's not just their loss. It is a big black eye for the country. The shuttle is no longer something we can have the same level of pride in as a symbol of American technical expertise, it is something that will always be seen as "pretty unsafe" and a bit of a failure.

Ultimately, we are going to have to decide if this is worth the money, regardless of whether astronauts are willing to die for science or not. I'd happily go up in the shuttle today and take the risk, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who will, but that isn't really the issue.

Spiro Agnew Is My Cousin (0, Offtopic)

Acidic_Diarrhea (641390) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367349)

I don't think that when Columbia blew up, the citizens of countries whose opinion I care about were thinking, "Ah, stupid Americans..." You think that suddenly because of Columbia, we can longer have pride in our space program? But, we've lost a shuttle in the past. Were we able to still have pride then? Or was two the magic number? After two shuttle explosions, we can't have any more pride? Who set this number? Was it you? What are your credentials?

Now, I believe with other countries beginning to make more forays into space, the American shuttle program will be looked at as an innovative first step towards reaching the goal of cheap space flight. I don't think it will be seen as a failure. The fact that we have a fleet of vehicles which can be sent into space time and time again is quite extraordinary in and of itself. The rest of the world looks at our program as something which has paved the way for what they are doing. It is because we have already forged ahead that many countries are following.

Ultimately, it is worth the money to keep investing in NASA. The money needs to be monitored and we need to ensure that new goals of safer and better space flight are being met.

To me, you sound like Chicken Little. One explosion does not an administration destroy young grasshopper.

Re:Spiro Agnew Is My Cousin (1)

catbutt (469582) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367448)

Or was two the magic number? After two shuttle explosions, we can't have any more pride? Who set this number? Was it you? What are your credentials?

Credentials? Oh please. I think its rather obvious that it is just my opinion. Feeling a bit defensive?

And no I don't believe two is the magic number. Still, I think that this incident has highlighted that the shuttle program is not nearly the same shining example of American ingenuity anymore.

For the record, I'm predicting that the shuttle will never fly again, and every day that goes by that they don't know for sure what happened, I think its more likely I'll be correct.

For much the same reason the twin towers will not simply be rebuilt (as everyone thought they would soon after sept 11), people will realize that this whole thing just isn't worth the money. But again, this is just my opinion.

Re:please NASA... (1)

S.Lemmon (147743) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367332)

They might want a better space vehicle though.

The Shuttle really isn't the beast we can do now days, but NASA has been so heavily invested in the program better solutions haven't been looked into as much as they might have been. Even if this is the death-knell for the shuttle program, perhaps in the long run it may be the event that spurs NASA to develop something better.

Re:please NASA... (1)

S.Lemmon (147743) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367347)

Er, make that "best we can do" :-)

Re:please NASA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367456)

Hey hey! OK, fine. So what do you get when you cross Kreskin [amazingkreskin.com] the magician with an insurance-peddling duck? "Hypno Duck" -- The latest AFLAC commercial. This spot received the highest consumer recall score for television ads in the bi-weekly Intermedia consumer survey. Our congratulations to Kreskin, star of AFLAC. Many will recall the Amazing Kreskin as being the omniscient seer who correctly predicted the death of *BSD. [slashdot.org]

Re:please NASA... (1)

OneFix (18661) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367369)

The ISS would probably stay up (supported by the Russians) even if the shuttle program were to be dismantled. Remember the complaints about MIR...that the Russians weren't going to be serious about the ISS till they left the MIR...

While that's what the astronauts might have wanted, and "they knew the risks", there's also a specific monetary and infrastructure impact resulting from the loss of the Columbia...

There's 1 less shuttle now, and there's still question of whither or not this could happen again. Also worth a mention is that the only purpose the shuttle is serving now is strictly scientific...satellite ground-to-orbit and military missions are using other methods (many are unmanned)...

As emotional as this topic might be, it may be better to come up with another reusable design, or it might even make sense to go back to a disposable craft design...

Like it not, the astronauts didn't design the shuttle and they didn't deal with the economics of space flight...those people are still with us...and they will be the ones that decide the future of NASA...

"wants the public to believe" (5, Insightful)

MondoMor (262881) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367136)

Oh, come on. They're scientists. They're coming up with hypotheses and testing them. The more promising ones get more time until proven false or true.

The media (and Joe Public) on the other hand, think science and space travel are just like Star Trek and that the problem is found and cured by successions of deus ex machina -- Plot Convenience Playhouse. So they pick up on Nasa's early interest in the foam theory, then think they're hiding something when Nasa says "It just doesn't seem to fit. We're not ruling it out, but we're following other leads for now."

The media (and Joe Public) want sensational instant-gratification science, of which this investigation will be anything but.

To the non-scientist, this whole careful, deliberate not-jumping-to-conclusions analysis is mind-numbingly boring. So they read their cultural biases into it and draw stupid conclusions.

You'd think that "nerds" who read Slashdot would know better than to make a sensationalistic statement like "wants the public to believe"... but then again look at some of the "from the .... dept." snide remarks by editors.

Re:"wants the public to believe" (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367307)

You think scientists run [nasa.gov] NASA? No.

NASA employs scientists. The administration however, is composed of non-scientific types - i.e. politicians and beancounters - just like everywhere else.

Here [nasa.gov] is their top dog.

Sounds like 1986 all over again.. (2, Insightful)

beldraen (94534) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367137)

This is all just sounding too close to the issue in 1986 of "we've got to get stuff into orbit 'cause we know that these problems never cause any real issues.."

Also sounds like Ford and Firestone..

You misspelled '1984' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367295)

*That's* the thing that everyone likes to reference here. hth.

Why re-entry? (0)

AustinTSmith (148316) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367138)

It is evident that the debris fell off before the shuttle left the earth's atmosphere. Why is it so much more difficult to re-enter the atmosphere, then leave?

What I find interesting (2, Interesting)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367142)

about the whole Columbia accident is that it happened during the reentry and not during the take-off. Does anyone know if there is more heat generated on lift-off or on reentry?
I can only suppose that during the lift-off most of the work is done by the primary booster and the shuttle is simply 'riding the rocket' without putting too much stress on the damaged wing. However, during the landing the wing was under high stress and that was more important factor in the accident than the temperature alone.

Re:What I find interesting (4, Informative)

Tyler Eaves (344284) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367157)

Temperature on liftoff is a non-issue, as at the time it clears 99% of the atmosphere, it's only doing Mach 4 or 5 instead of the Mach 20 of reentry. Plus, It's not pointed such that it's generating any real friction.

Re:What I find interesting (4, Interesting)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367302)

On lift-off, the goal is to have as little friction (and thus heat) as possible so as to maintain orbital velocity.

On re-entry, the goal is essentially to cause as much friction (and heat) as the system can bear, so as to bleed off speed before hitting the thicker atmosphere.

Don't close the space program yet (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367144)

But sending out those shuttles is akin to commuting to work in an eighteen wheeler.
Now that the macho space race against the Soviets is over maybe NASA should consider some size and cost-cutting.
Would anyone have a figure how much it would cost to send a space tourist to ISS on a Shuttle? I bet its a lot more than $10 million (allegedly the cost of sending them with a Russian mission).

How heavy is the foam? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367145)

Does anyone know how dense this foam is? I haven't found any mention of it. Is it like styrofoam density or is it much heaver than that?

Re:How heavy is the foam? (4, Informative)

AxelTorvalds (544851) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367378)

That's a very complex question. Water condenses on it and freezes. Making it a combination of foam and ice. The worst case according to one of the links in the article was that it was pure ice which would put it in the 60+ lbs range. Roughly like a safe hitting the wing at 365mph.

Re:How heavy is the foam? (1)

mijok (603178) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367391)

I recall an expert on the BBC news (so trust the source to the degree you wish) describing it in a very odd way: He said that if somebody threw a piece like that (which fell off) at you, you wouldn't even feel it...

I WANT TO BELIEVE. (5, Funny)

conner_bw (120497) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367149)


Relax, this is all just a left wing conspiracy.

Cutbacks (3, Insightful)

kravlor (597242) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367153)

I think that we'll get to the bottom of this eventually. Given enough time, of course.

However, I must wonder about how much of the shuttle funds were diverted to help fund the ISS...

In any event, the loss of Columbia and its crew should not be a terminating point for manned space exploration; we all have to escape from Earth in the end!

Columbia FAQ (5, Informative)

MondoMor (262881) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367160)

Is here: http://www.io.com/~o_m/home.html [io.com]

Excellent work by this guy. No irrational conspiracy theories, no useless speculation, no NASA asskissing.

Sorry if it's a dupe.

Re:Columbia FAQ (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367385)

You know, like the Columbia, Apple is another disaster in the making. Apple is on very shakey ground financially. Frankly, many prominent industry analysts have crunched the numbers, concluding that Apple's outlook is bleak indeed.

In Apple's latest numbers released in January for its fiscal first quarter of 2003, revenue fell from a year earlier and all of the company's major computer lines saw diminished numbers. PowerMac sales were down 20%, while iBook sales fell 8%.

At the same time Apple's sales were falling, PC sales rose, though just slightly, according to figures from IDC released last month.

The last time Apple was in this state, it brought back co-founder Steve Jobs to fix its issues. He fostered the development of the iMac and secured a US$150-million investment from Microsoft. But there aren't any new iMacs in Apple's future and Microsoft, bolstered by its victory over the U.S. Department of Justice, is clearly not going to help the beleaguered computer maker this time.

So what have you got left? Apple is a company that controls around 3% of the computer market, has recently undergone a restructuring and is slowly fading into nothingness. Software makers don't even have Mac users on their radar and it's not like Apple can bring Mr. Jobs back to right the ship this time -- he's already there.

Stick a fork in 'em -- this Apple is cooked.

Unfortunently... (3, Insightful)

UniverseIsADoughnut (170909) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367177)

Shit happens. That's reality. Things are going to go wrong. Once that thing left the pad, (and at that point everything seamed as right as could be) there is nothing any engineering analysis could do. Even If they had worked 24/7 for the flight with every engineer at boeing and NASA working the issue and they had found there would be a problem there is nothing they could have done. The could have thought about it for the flight or have thought about it for 5 minutes and went to lunch, it would have had the same results. Everything will fail in time. And complexity accelerates this. NASA has list of plenty of single failures that will doom the shuttle.

Far as engineers saying something during the flight in emails. Well I could send out lots of emails saying it will blow up every time it goes up. Some day I would be right, but that wouldn't mean I warned them. If an engineer thought differant about the sitution it doesn't mean NASA ignored them and some is at fault. There were others who didn't agree with him. NASA has to make a call, and the might make the wrong one. This wasnt' preventable far as we know. Maybe it will come back to being some pre-flight thing that was done wrong of neglected, then it's differant, but if it's something that went wrong after launch it very well may be no ones fault. Things like challenger were differant. There engineers told officals before launch about the O-rings. Bulk of the engineers knew there was an extremely high chance it would fail on that day. When it blew they didn't even have to ask why it failed, they knew. They just had to investigate to show they were right. That was a preventable accident that was the fault of not listening to engineers.

"What is the future of the space shuttle program?" (1)

Lars T. (470328) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367184)

I predict they won't build another one.

Kreskin and "Hypno Duck" (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367188)

What do you get when you cross Kreskin [amazingkreskin.com] the magician with an insurance-peddling duck? "Hypno Duck" -- The latest AFLAC commercial. This spot received the highest consumer recall score for television ads in the bi-weekly Intermedia consumer survey. Our congratulations to Kreskin, star of AFLAC. Many will recall the Amazing Kreskin as being the omniscient seer who correctly predicted the death of *BSD. [slashdot.org]

It must be terrorists (3, Funny)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367195)

who put that foam there. We must start the compaign to ban all foam from the United States of America. Think of the children! When, I ask you, when will the maddness end? How did it happen that we, as a country, did not see this one coming? All the products that could be potentially dangerous and/or used in a terrorist attack. First the trench coats, then the box cutters, the nail filers, the pointy umbrelas, the McDonald, and now the foam! We must open our eyes as a society. We must protect the children at all cost! The land of the Free and the home of the Brave must be cleared of all the dangerous items so that our children could go outside again. (wait, what am I saying?) Ban the outside! For the childrens' sake! It's dangerous out there, lets ban the outside!

Re:It must be terrorists (2, Funny)

dvk (118711) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367458)

We know who put the unsafe foam there.
Eco-"aware" liberals did, because old, reliable one contains miniscule amount of the stuff that the Holy Ones of Enviromental Protection Order deemed too unsafe to exist. I'm too tired to go find the actual reference but you can dig up on Google news, I'm sure, if you want the details.

-DVK

Best outcome? It's expedited demise (4, Interesting)

molrak (541582) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367204)

The best outcome of the Columbia tragedy would be for NASA to get entirely out of the suborbital and orbital business altogether. As a pure launch vehichle, the Space Shuttle was not all that efficient, especially when considering the turnaround time involved. Handing over (what should be) relatively simple tasks to the private sector, would save millions of dollars of pork and mismanagement, thereby freeing said missions from a needless government bureaucracy and private sector 'contractors-for-life'. For it to remain viable, NASA needs to focus on extra-terran missions, both robotic and manned, if it wishes to remain a worthy vassal of the United States taxpayer.

For that matter, even lunar missions would be a better use of money than testing the effects of near zero gravity on ants.

Improve and go on until a third accident (1)

xluap (652530) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367206)

The americans don't have another manned spaceship or rocket in service at the moment. A successor of the shuttle will take many years to design, test and build. So they will improve the safety of the shuttle and go on with it. Until a third accident proves the unsafety of the shuttle.

Joking about the disaster (1)

tcd004 (134130) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367213)

Is off limits.

Joking about the incompetence of the program that caused the disaster is open season. [lostbrain.com]

Or is it?

tcd004

Why no mention of *ice* in ./ article? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367216)

The most important story of the past few days is the role of falling ice, not just "foam", from the central booster.

Wow (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367236)

An article that doesn't have to do with Mandrake, bankruptcy, or money begging. I'm amazed.

Ebil Flingas (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367240)

UpYourParts.biz [upyourparts.biz]

WalterCumberland.com [waltercumberland.com]

Anonymous.

I'd still sign up for the next flight if I could. (2, Interesting)

The_Dougster (308194) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367248)

I volunteer! Pick me! I'll do it!

Really though. I thought that space exploration was a pretty risky endeavour. NASA tries to be as careful as possible, but they have a limited budget and finite resources. Given the staggering risks involved, I'd say that they are still doing pretty well. This latest explosion will cause a new wave of safety checking which is all good stuff. How many of you wouldn't give you left nut to be on that next shuttle anyways. Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!

No guts, no glory...

What I think we should do (4, Interesting)

Apreche (239272) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367264)

What probably will happen is that our government will waste a lot more of our tax money and make a bunch of stupid decisions that nobody really cares about.

What I say is we should do the following

1. Sell the space shuttles to someone else, China?
2. Make NASA a regulator agency, like the FCC of FDA.
3. Privatize the space industry.

This will result in money being spent to do useful things with space travel. People will be able to put up sattelites, space tourism will begin and eventually flourish. Someone might set up a hotel type space station. Or a moon base, or go to mars. All in all it should boost the economy by creating a new industry for people to work in and new companies to work for, as well as making life a hell of a lot more interesting.

Of course there are reasons not to do this, but this is what I want, not necessarily the best idea in the world, or the most realistic one.

Re:What I think we should do (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367383)

1. Sell the space shuttles to someone else, China?
2. Make NASA a regulator agency, like the FCC of FDA.
3. Privatize the space industry.


also

4. ????
5. Profit!

Probably Not Insulation (4, Interesting)

Galahad2 (517736) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367273)

My dad works for Boeing and does lots of stuff with sattelites and space, though admittedly not rockets specifically. He can't imagine how insulation could've caused the damage in question. The insulation is extremely light and low density; it would've had to have been going rediculiously fast to have the force to cause damage to the tiles, and launching speeds aren't that fast until you're a few miles up. Ice is a more likely contender than insulation, since it's very hard etc, but it's rare to have a piece fall off that is massive enough to have much kinetic energy, and most of the ice is kicked off before the rocket gets going very fast.

I find it pretty insulting when people try to imply that NASA and Boeing are being anything but absolutely forthcoming about information. Sure, it's in their best interest to displace blame, but this isn't the X-Files here. If NASA knows something, they're going to tell the public.

one of the best places for columbia news... (1)

rebelcool (247749) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367333)

is the Houston Chronicle [chron.com] . Since nasa has such a huge houston presence, theres usually a front page story every day that catches angles regarding the shuttle that larger news organizations ignore.

Today for example had interviews with some engineers at USA regarding the Cult of Safety, and a bunch of other things.

They've got a whole ongoing section [chron.com] dedicated to the investigation and how its going.

Re:Probably Not Insulation (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367405)

Ice is certainly a big candidate, along with space junk and some sort of human error (forgot the glue, etc.).

One thing to keep in mind is that the heat shield tiles are ceramic. Ceramics have some very undesirable physical properties - while the are strong in compression, they are not elastic. This means that they cannot adsorb much kinetic energy before mechanical failure.

Needless agnst (1)

snStarter (212765) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367280)

It's not what "NASA or Boeing wants us to believe" that is important. It's what an investigation can determine. It'll take time for enough detail to emerge before we know.

This kind of "us vs them" story indicates all that is wrong with the coverage. It will be methodical analysis, and maybe some luck, that will eventually tell the story. And we might as well get used to the fact that we may NEVER know exactly what happened - only what is probable. That's the real world.

This is what they do. (4, Insightful)

jericho4.0 (565125) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367284)

Even though I do have my concerns about the way NASA is run, I'm also worried that the public thirst for an answer and someone or something to blame is causing too much to be read into these memos.

Engineers think 'worse case scenario' all the time. I'm sure if you could read every email sent within NASA in a week you could find people arguing over 1000 design points, mission plans, etc. This is how it works. After the fact, a small subset becomes much more interesting, but that should be taken in context.

Which is not to say that we shouldn't be asking questions.

Tell me about foam (1)

Hao Wu (652581) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367316)

The Columbia disaster is still a mystery to me. What is foam? It's soft, like a pillow, or the packing insulation in your electronics shipment. The relative speed of the aircraft to the foam projectile would have to be more than hundreds of miles per hour to do any damage.

Think of throwing a baseball. A good baseball pitcher will throw at 70, 80, 90 miles per hour. Now throw a piece of foam at that speed. You could hit my head with it, and no damage would be done!

Re:Tell me about foam (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367408)

First let the pitcher freeze the foam before pitching. Getting hit with a solid chunk of ice is a lot worse. Plus it seems that indications are that the heat tiles can't withstand impacts too well.

Time to retire the shuttle (2, Interesting)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367319)

OK, we can't retire the space shuttle today. Nor tomorrow. But its time is drawing near...

Consider first that the shuttle was a massive compromise versus the original proposed designs. If the budget had been infinite, we would have had a better shuttle. If the budgeteers had had more foresight, we might (probably) have had a better shuttle. The shuttle we have now is a big series of compromises that limit its usefulness and safety.

Now consider that the shuttle program has been around since 1981. That's more than half of the time that's passwd since man first walked on the moon! It still seems shiny to some of us (myself included), because it was the only newsmaking bit of space exploration in our youth. However, it's old. It's an old (and limited) design, and we have learned a lot of what to do (or not) on the next go around. It's time to climb the next step of astronautical evolution.

So let's keep them in top shape, fly them as necessary (mostly as ferries to the ISS), while putting as much money as possible into a next-generation space vehicle.

Not to be cruel... (4, Interesting)

kir (583) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367324)

but this was a friggin car accident. Seven people died. The car happened to be very very very very very very very expensive.

Like this guy said [slashdot.org] . All this speculation is ridiculous. Let them do what they do.

Flame on.

a rocket a day (1)

intertwingled (574374) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367336)

a rocket a day keeps the shuttles away: a rocket a day [fourmilab.ch]

The future is the same as always... (1)

Cranx (456394) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367337)

...we throw money at Nasa to maintain our dominance in space, and we'll continue to throw money at them. The only "future" in question here is of the person who's going to end up the scapegoat for Columbia going down. Whoever that ends up being, I feel sorry for the embarrassment they're going to have to endure for the next couple of years while the public is busy being shocked over the assundry revelations that will certainly be revealed about the destructive nature of foam debris, right up until they're forgotten and get an early retirement with full benefits and move on to spending the rest of their days in some mountain town in Wyoming where the few people who even know who they are, are just glad to have a celebrity in town.

More people died from hunger while I wrote this than died trying to get back to earth after a visit to space, something virtually none of us will get to experience. Yeah, I feel sorry for the poor Columbia crew.

The shuttle is obsolete. (3, Insightful)

AxelTorvalds (544851) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367344)

NASA needs to move on. I think NASA threw the dice way back when, they lost but they've been trying to make it look successful ever since. It's far more expensive to fly the shuttle than it was to use the single use rockets we used before and they were more reliable now that 14 people have been killed in the shuttle.

It's simple math and economics. Financially the shuttle program has been a terrible disaster. Now you can't second guess anything and there have been advances in comfort and living conditions in space and such thanks to the shuttle but I'm sure the same kind of things would have been done without it. We've learned things because of the shuttle, it hasn't stopped science, it's just not delivered what it was supposed to have.

I also fear that NASA itself may be out of date and obsolete. Am I the only one who is disgusted by the notion of the beaurocracy? There are all of these emails surfacing. I've worked at IBM and other big places and I get this sick feeling of CYA going on. I can just see the Dilbert-esque rocket scientist sitting at his desk composing the emails to the director about the foam falling off and the other possible causes. "Properly documenting" the risk. I've read Feynman's report on the Challenger disaster and that's one of the issues he pointed out. The administration lives in make believe where the engineers make compromises to do things on time. It's kind of a bummer because there are people that die because of it. I'd like to think that someone will be held accountable, I doubt that anybody other than an administrative warm body will be and at best they'll be fired and get a really high paying job at Boeing, TRW, or Raytheon.

I think it's high time we start looking at splitting NASA up in to 2 or 3 groups and making them compete with each other. Let the beaurocracy die and the science come back, make them write proposals, beg congress and private parties for funding and then hold them accountable for delivery. Let different groups take different approaches. Reward success with continued funding. NASA is cheap, relatively speaking. We can easily fund 3 NASAs. Right now it all rides on the success and failure of one entity with nearly an impossible mission, logisitally speaking. NASA can't even admit that the shuttle program is a failure because then they lose face and funding and there isn't another organization in place to do the science. So science continues to limp and NASA continues to put bandaids on a very expensive wound that has taken more lives than all other space related accidents put together.

And for the record I am appriciative and recognize the hard work and accomplishments of everyone associated with the shuttle program. They have engineered some amazing things and I'm not attacking anybody personally. It's the program as a whole that hasn't delivered what it promised.

That won't actually work... (2, Insightful)

Cranx (456394) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367388)

...because there's very little financial advantage to space exploration and science. It's mainly a military endeavor with the side-benefit of being able to place satellites in orbit (which is financially useful). But there's nothing else to make money off of. Nothing. If it wasn't for a governmental mandate, and if the resources weren't pooled into Nasa, there would be no space program in the U.S. We'd have the Ariana system, small rockets that do jack squat but place satellites. That's it. In fact, Nasa only is what it is right now because of the race to the moon. There is no competition in that. One company was asked to do it, funded and they went. If you busted up Nasa now, there would be nothing for them to compete for. They'd all be busy eating investor money until one of them decided to compete with Ariana and then they'd buy the other failing companies for whatever puny amount of technology they developed and they'd call the conglomerate "Nasa," and then start soliciting government contracts to develop space programs to keep our military dominance in space above the rest of the world.

Did I mention they'd call it "Nasa?"

Building a new STS the right way. (3, Interesting)

Sergeant Beavis (558225) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367373)

I was thinking to myself what NASA should do to increase mankind's presence in orbit and how to go about it. It is apparent to just about everyone that the current Space Transportation System (STS) is in need of replacement. The last time we tried to do that was under the Space Launch Initiative (SLI) under the Clinton administration. That program was a failure, not because of Clintons people, but because there were technological and monetary hurdles that couldn't be properly addressed. However there is a way to do this. Right now the STS fleet is grounded, so the immediate concern is how to keep the ISS in orbit and fully manned. Russian President Putin has promised to build more Soyuz space craft to insure ISS is manned and supplied. From what I've found, it cost Russian anywhere from 25 to 50 million bucks to launch a manned Soyuz and a little less for a Progress supply ship. I would propose that the US discontinue any crew transport missions for the Shuttle to ISS and pay a significant portion of the money needed to keep Soyuz ships flying to ISS instead. If these ships cost 50 million bucks then there is a savings of about 400 million bucks for each transport (the Shuttle cost an estimated 450 million to fly). When the Shuttle is back on in the air, it should ONLY fly construction missions to finish the ISS. The the STS should be retired. That begs the question, what do we do with 450 mil for each flight that doesn't go? Since there are typically 6 or 7 flights by the Shuttle per year, about half of them are for significant construction of ISS. So we are looking at a savings of nearly 1.5 billion per fiscal year. THAT money should be invested in a completely new Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) space shuttle like the X-33 was meant to be. But that's not all. In order for space travel to become affordable, space vehicles must become more affordable. Building 5 space shuttles cost the taxpayers between 3 and 5 billion for each one (the Endeavor cost 3 billion because it was built from spare parts). If we could build say 20 or 30 space shuttles, the cost could possibly be cut in half or perhaps more. NASA doesn't need 20 or 30 shuttles, however, if we could get the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russians, the Japanese, Aussies, and even the Koreans to join up with the promise of owning their own shuttles, the cost could be easily be spread out. You see, the Europeans would get out from under NASA's shadow which they have for so long hated. They wanted to build a ship back in the 80's called the Sanger but they didn't have the money for it. The Europeans don't have the experience of space travel that we or the Russians do but they do have a lot of technology and engineering that they can bring to the table. The Russians are obvious additions because of their experience. What they can't bring to the table in money, they can definitly bring in know how. The Japanese have always wanted a manned space program but they too don't have the money to foot the bill for all the R&D involved. In addition, their rocket program has suffered many setbacks. The Koreans might look on this as national pride IMO and a chance to play with the big boys. We of course know more about Shuttles than anyone and of course can bring more money to the table. America would still have it's leadership role in the project but would still have to work with members of the development and building team. You see, I no longer see space exploration as an American dream. This is a HUMAN endeavor. We as Americans (or Russians) just happen to be better at it than anyone else. If we build a shuttle or two that can haul cargo and personnel to low Earth orbit in a cost effective manner, we will see more and more people going and that is the goal. Get more up there so we can do more. NASA has already learned that it needs to get out of the space launching business and get into the Space Exploration and Space Science business. NASA was essentially going to sell the Shuttles to the United Space Alliance and lease them back. The USA was going to maintain the Shuttles and NASA or Air Force pilots were going to fly them. NASA needs to get away from the space monopoly that it has created so that competition can be built. The same thing happened when NASA got out of the satelite launching business after the Challenger disaster. Getting people to compete and getting a new reliable shuttle with the world behind it will establish a firm foothold in space for the human race. Right now we have had our foot in the door for too long and earlier this month it got jammed. Now it's time to kick open the door and step inside. Once we have a firm foundation in orbit and on the moon, then we can procede to the Planets and the stars.

Re:Building a new STS the right way. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367437)

Look up the word 'paragraph.' Learn it. Love it. Apply it.

The government never tells the truth (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5367398)

Check out this [cooperativeresearch.org] complete 9/11 timeline if you don't believe me:

AvWeek is reporting transition to turbulent flow (5, Insightful)

Thagg (9904) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367418)

Aviation Week and Space Technology (which doesn't have a free web site, alas) reports this week that Columbia has had a problem in a few of its flights with a premature transition from laminar to turbulent flow. The Shuttle reentry profile nominally has the airflow under the wing transitioning to turbulent flow around Mach 9, but on a recent Columbia flight it happened much sooner, around Mach 19.

Turbulent flow mixes the air near the surface much more, causing far greater transfer of heat to the Shuttle. There was some 'slumping' of tiles in that previous flight, temperatures reached ~2000 degrees, right at the limit of what the tiles can take.

This happens because Columbia's wing was far less smooth than the other (remaining) orbiters.

If there was significant roughness added by the foam/ice/whatever gouging the wing, that would increase the heating even more.

Another problem they were concerned with was an asymmetric transition to turbulent flow, which would cause the drag on one wing to be higher than the other, yawing the shuttle -- but it seems that there is more than enough control authority in the elevons and RCS system to counteract that if it happens.

thad

What difference does it make? (4, Interesting)

xihr (556141) | more than 11 years ago | (#5367423)

Even if the foam hitting the wing at launch was the cause of the reentry failure, there's nothing they could have done about it, even if they had positively known that was going to cause a catastrophic failure upon reentry.

A similar event occured during Apollo XII, the second manned Moon landing. During launch, the Saturn V rocket was struck by lightning, causing a number of failures which were rapidly corrected. After they were out of the atmosphere, back at Mission Control, they pondered whether or not the lightning strike might have damaged the pyrotechnics that cause the parachute to deploy after reentry (they could hit the "chute deploy" button, but nothing would happen -- the pyros would already be burned out). Just as in the case of the Columbia, to know this information they'd need to have done an unscheduled EVA, and the additional information would have really changed nothing: If they did an about-face and reentered right then, they'd have been just as dead reentering then as they would after a successful Moon landing. So there was really no point even knowing; the knowledge would have changed nothing about the reality of the situation. (Of course, in the case of Apollo XII, the pyros were undamaged and the chutes deployed without incident.)

The point is, even if they positively knew that it was a problem, knowing and then reentering and dying isn't any different from not knowing and then reentering and dying.

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