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NASA Test Shows Foam Could Be Culprit

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the 0.5mv^2 dept.

Space 525

Ben Hutchings writes "The BBC has a report on an impact simulation that aimed to recreate the impact of insulating foam on Columbia's wing. The result was a large hole that probably could not be repaired in orbit even if it was known about."

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Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393805)

First post to scare Lunix zealots and GNU/hippies.

I'm neither and I'm scared (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393950)

She looks like she's fifty.

I wouldn't do her with Malda's dick.

horrendous (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393818)

Such a shame, they were Too late too late

First Post!!!

Re:horrendous (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393867)


(Lameness filter encountered. Post aborted! Reason: Don't use so many caps. It's like YELLING.)

So don't repair it! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393822)

Why do they always mention that the astronauts couldn't repair the damage? They could still potentially be rescued if they had known about the damage. NASA still failed in their basic responsibility to those in space by not pursuing the potential damage further and not monitoring the basic condition of the aircraft.

Re:So don't repair it! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393925)

This post is not redundant. The primary reason NASA stated for not providing monitoring tools for the shuttle in space was that they couldn't repair any damage they found. But in reality they do have multiple options if the spacecraft becomes damaged prior to re-entry. It was such an head-in-the-sand approach and they continue to state it as a defense.

Gee, it would've (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393825)

been great if they would have figured this out while the astronauts were still alive.

But, oh well - who cares if there are sons and daughters and wives and husbands who will go the rest of their lives without their father or mother or significant other.

Apparently, NASA didn't give a shit enough about the crew to do this kind of testing while they were still alive, so not giving a shit must be the official position.


fourth post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393826)

you are all fags! suck my dick and fucking like it. and I claim the fp as my own! fuck you assholes. fuck you! sarah michelle gellar sucks!

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393828)

So what? Wouldn't it still be possible to somehow move the astronauts into a rescue shuttle or something?

Re:Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394009)

No, it would take too long to prep another shuttle for launch.

happens often (5, Informative)

jnguy (683993) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393830)

I was watchinbg something on channel 7 about this, and they mentioned that this happens at almost every shuttle launch. Apparently it happened, but didn't create such a large hole on another shuttle a few months before columbia. I guess they better fix their stuff before they go off blasting into space again. It also showed how everything melted down because of that hole, scary how such a minor thing can cause such disaster

Re:happens often (4, Informative)

geekee (591277) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393909)

It only started happening after they switched to a non-freon based foam to make the environmentalists happy. Despite that this was a known problem on quite a few missions, they were more interested in being politically correct than in insuring the safety of the missions.

It was the damn tree-huggers, eh? I knew it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394031)

Fixing my A/C costs a lot more now too. []

Re:happens often (1)

fredrik70 (161208) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394062)

hmm, I though I read somewhere it actually happened on Columbia's maiden flight as well?
Also from what I heard NASA was still allowed to use freon-based foam if it still wanted to, but it switched anyway.

Re:happens often (1)

eyegone (644831) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394071)

Care to point to some evidence for this?

computer modeling (1)

williwilli (639147) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394030)

Aside from the issues of using telescopes to look at Columbia in orbit, possibly altered reentry paths, or other methods of mitigating disaster, why do these people actually need to get out a piece of foam and shoot it at a wing? Is it honestly that surprising to rocket scientists that anything, even foam, is going to cause some serious damage at 500mph? The Star Wars/SDI initiative was based around this premise -- the small plastic 'warheads' had no explosives, taking out ICBMs via pure kinetic energy.

Regardless of SDI and the size of the NASA budget, they do have numerous super computers, as well as access to other computing systems. I seem to recall they even did run some tests. How can the computer models be so far off?

Of course, none of this addresses the issue that if NASAs budget hadn't been crippled for decades there would likely already be repair infrastructure in space, rather than a single space station so hobbled by budget cuts they are now considering abandoning it (further excellent use of a small budget). I'm sorry, I know people lost friends and heros during this tragedy, but unfortunately there are also a number of issues surrounding these events that are almost rather incredulous.

visit! lots of free music downloads and more []

Looks like they found the culprit (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393831)

Hopefully they'll make changes to fix it.

Re:Looks like they found the culprit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393894)

Yeah, and hopefully they'll be quick about it. My life will not be complete untill they finish the ISS.

Foam? (0, Troll)

Bame Flait (672982) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393844)

Those astronauts should have realized their beers would get all shaken up on that rocky ride to outer space. If only NASA had told them to tap the top of the can repeatedly...


Eh... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393845)

Wasn't this already the prevailing theory? What exactly is news here?

Re:Eh... (3, Informative)

Enry (630) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393922)

It was the prevailing theory of the media. NASA didn't have evidence either way, but now that they've done the testing and looked at the results, it's now the best theory as to what happened.


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393854)

Dance. Dance.

Fuck. Fuck.

Dance. Dance.

woah (2, Informative)

EMH_Mark3 (305983) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393858)

deja vu []

Re:woah (1)

Tmack (593755) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394026)

Well, that was the first test.... This was one of the ones they had been delaying because they actually used a REAL shuttle wing panel as opposed to the fiberglass mock-up (from the prototype shuttle Enterprise) they used before. The first test was used to determine the severity to see if the second and further testing was going to be worth the $$$$$ that those panels cost. The second test showed that the carbon-carbon panels would crack significantly, prompting this test. These tests are not cheap, quoth the
The $1 million foam-impact test at Southwest Research Institute took just a second.


Re:woah (0, Offtopic)

FortKnox (169099) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394052)

what's worse? That its a dupe, or the same editor on both stories?

It's not a dupe. (2, Informative)

AzrealAO (520019) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394112)

This was the 7th Test, firing a chunk of foam at an actual Carbon-Carbon panel from Shuttle Atlantis. The first story from over a month ago, was a test on one of the Fiber-glass panels from Enterprise.

Re:woah (2, Informative)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394082)

NASA planned a whole series of tests. This test, the last of seven, used a panel taken from Atlantis (leading edge panel No. 8), and therefore most precisely approximated the conditions of Columbia's accident.

Fine, Fine (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393859)

Just replace the damn foam and launch the fucking fleet! I am already gonna loose my bet that the ISS would be complete in 2004. Motherfuckers

Re:Fine, Fine (0, Offtopic)

sparkie (60749) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393874)

loose your bet?

I assume you mean LOSE your bet.

Re:Fine, Fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393921)

Yes, well, give the poor AC a break. I'm Irish.

Re:Fine, Fine (0, Offtopic)

sparkie (60749) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394005)

They still speak english in Ireland do they not? You can't lay blame for that on your heritage.

At least they found the "smoking gun"... (1)

trompete (651953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393869)

so that the next time they observe a piece of foam coming off during the launch, they will take the time to repair the wing before they reenter the atmosphere.
The accident itself is water under the bridge. Let's just hope it never happens again.

Re:At least they found the "smoking gun"... (1)

edgrale (216858) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393911)


"He also said he believed that repairing the damage to the wing while the Columbia was on orbit would have been a nearly impossible task."

I hate trolls

Re:At least they found the "smoking gun"... (1)

trompete (651953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393941)

I read one on Google groups last night that did not mention that it would have been nearly impossible to repair the wing. I glanced over this one. I guess that it wasn't the same article :P

Re:At least they found the "smoking gun"... (1)

IWorkForMorons (679120) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393989)

Well, at the very least, they'd have known to send another shuttle up to retrieve the astronauts. Shuttles can be replaced, lives can't...

Re:At least they found the "smoking gun"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394053)

Not even with a roll of really good duct tape? Damn!

Re:At least they found the "smoking gun"... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394090)

"He also said he believed that repairing the damage to the wing while the Columbia was on orbit would have been a nearly impossible task."

Guess what, people have said the same thing about repairing Hubble Space Telescope too, but as we all know, it is working better than ever. Besides, even if it were irrepairable, staying in ISS means the space shuttle crew can still be picked up by the Russian (or even Chinese) space capsules. Guess NASA had too much pride to admit its incompetence.

I hate trolls

Don't be silly, we are not living in Middle Earth from LOTR world, we are living real life in real Earth (and its neighbouring orbit). There are no trolls in real life, only people with lack of critical thinking skills who don't bother to check the fact first.

Prevention . . . (1)

mr_luc (413048) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394080)

so that the next time they observe a piece of foam coming off during the launch, they will take the time to repair the wing before they reenter the atmosphere.

They will take the time to repair the wing . . . with . . . carbon duct tape maybe? Oy vey.

I don't think the solution to a problem like this is to say "Well, we can spot it earlier now. That will give you plenty of time to bail out and let the Shuttle break up on reentry." Or even to say "ok, we can spot it earlier, so you can fix it when you're 300 miles up . . . with whatever method of patching it up we can devise".

I think prevention is the way to go here. A good start might be to ask and answer the question "Is there some way we could clear the tanks of ice and foam immediately before or after takeoff?"

i have often wondered (2, Interesting)

JeanBaptiste (537955) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393873)

how much supplies do they have on the ship? as in: so they discover a problem that wont allow them to re-enter... do they have enough food and stuff to allow them to stay up there a few more days, until possibly another shuttle could be launched with repair materiels, or at least to ferry the astronauts safely back to earth?
what about the ISS? could they have docked there for a while?

Re:i have often wondered (5, Informative)

sparkie (60749) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393904)

No, the Columbia could not have docked with the ISS. The space shuttle was launched into a much lower orbit and would not have been able to propel itself high enough to reach the ISS. That is one of the 'problems' that has been brought up. I believe they are going to put more restrictions on where in orbit the shuttle can go. However, don't take my word for it. It's been all over the news and on Nasa's website.

Re:i have often wondered (1)

grub (11606) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394066)

do they have enough food

They could have drawn straws. The long straw gets to live and eat the other six. That would have provided many many more weeks of food. Not sure what they'd do for air.

Re:i have often wondered (4, Informative)

Nyrath the nearly wi (517243) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394100)

All your questions can be answered with the Columbia Loss FAQ [] . (scroll down to section "VI: Preventative Measures and Rescue Attempts")

They did not have enough oxygen to last for the weeks it would have taken to prep and launch another shuttle.
Even if they could have lasted, there were only two space-rated spacesuits aboard. And STS-107 had no airlock.
STS-107 had nowhere near enough deltaV to be able to alter their orbit enough to dock with the ISS. This is because the ISS is in a weird inclined orbit to allow Russian supply fights to be able to make it to the station.
This wierd orbit is also the reason that no Russian supply fight could have made it to STS-107

All this was argued to death on months ago. The bottom line was that the shuttle was doomed the moment the heat shield was damaged.

Re:i have often wondered (4, Interesting)

jmichaelg (148257) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394116)

The ISS was out - it was on a different orbit and the Shuttle didn't have enough fuel to make the transition.

On the other hand, I have also wondered why the hell they couldn't send up an empty shuttle and bring everyone back on it. Moreover, once the Columbia had been emptied, they could have tried to bring it back with out bleeding off speed using S turns. The Columbia broke apart as it was slaloming and had just loaded up the damaged wing. Had they known the wing was busted, they may have been able to slide slip the whole way in and kept the damaged wing trailing on the backside the whole way down.

All those ideas go out the door when the shuttle manager said "Even had we known, there was nothing we could have done." For that sentiment alone, he deserved to go - it was a far cry from Gene Kranz'es "failure is not an option" attitude when Apollo 13 blew an oxygen tank.

Three words (2, Funny)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393879)

Emergency Duct Tape (as any studious watcher of the Red Green Show knows, you can make or fix anything with duct tape!)

Re:Three words (1)

mhesseltine (541806) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394075)

See previous /. article [] for more information

Longer Article (5, Informative)

Unknown Relic (544714) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393887)

A slightly more detailed article [] is available from fox news. A couple interesting things noted here that aren't in the BBC article is that this was the seventh and final test, and that in addition to the camera lens popping off, several other guages which were measuring the experiment were damaged from the impact.

Re:Longer Article (0, Troll)

cybercuzco (100904) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394047)

Not only that, but the panel in question was one removed from shuttle atlantis. So not only did they find the smoking gun, they made another shuttle unflyable!

Re:Longer Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394086)

Yeah, but Fox News lies in their articles.

Example. When got DoSed, Fox News reported, on their web site, that hackers had broken into the CNN web site and taken it down. They quoted a CNN representative as saying that this didn't happen, and then they quoted "experts" saying that it did. "Experts," eh? That wouldn't be just a made up quote by the reporter, would it?

We lie, you follow.

Similar Shuttle (1)

ThePolemarch (653788) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393891)

I'm so glad they used a "similar shuttle," perhaps a model could have worked just as well?

Minor curiosity... (5, Informative)

Jin Wicked (317953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393893)

I've been following this pretty closely since I live relatively near the Johnson Space Centre here in Houston, and quite a few NASA people come in where I work. I've heard a lot of talk about training the astronauts all to spacewalk, and be able to repair minor damage to the shuttle, but what exactly would they do if the damage was too severe to be repaired? Would a second shuttle have to be launched as a rescue mission? Would they have to just abandon the damaged shuttle in space, since it would be unfit for re-entry? There's a lot of talk of repairs but I haven't heard any predictions for scenarios where repair was impossible.

Perhaps NASA should start looking at new designs with potentially fatal flaws. Have they not been using this design for something like 15-20 years now?

Re:Minor curiosity... (3, Funny)

Jin Wicked (317953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393934)

*slaps forehead*

without potentially fatal flaws...

Re:Minor curiosity... (1)

dereklam (621517) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393937)

Perhaps NASA should start looking at new designs with potentially fatal flaws.

I think NASA should instead be looking at new designs that don't contain potentially fatal flaws. 8-)

Yeah yeah... (1)

Jin Wicked (317953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393980)

I caught myself after it was too late, but thanks. ;)

Re:Minor curiosity... (1)

r84x (650348) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393963)

Perhaps NASA should start looking at new designs with potentially fatal flaws.

NASA has been looking at new shuttle designs for quite a while, but like anything involvingthe guvmint, it takes a loooong time.

You can see one here. []

Re:Minor curiosity... (2)

earthforce_1 (454968) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393993)

I believe that it would have been possible for the crew to ration everything to the bare minimum, long enough push up the launch of Atlantis to fly a rescue mission. Such a mission would have been fraught with danger, (short cuts on pre-flight safety, and it too might have been struck with foam on launch) but there would have been no shortage of volunteers to fly the mission, despite the risks.

I suspect they would have abandoned the shuttle, it wouldn't be cost effective to fly a repair mission. I don't know how long they would have had before the orbit decayed and it came down. At least the crew (and most of the science) would have been saved.

i wouldn't call that minor... (1)

ed.han (444783) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394001)

it's not like the shuttle has a lot of internal cargo space, or indeed, could afford to devote the mass necessary for extensive repair materials: most of that cargo space is devoted to payload, i thought?

i too am curious about just how one might actually go about repairing the shuttle: not all astronauts are qualified for EVA to start (just payload specialists?). and would a repair done in space hold up to the rigors of re-entry? i'm really unclear on the methods used to assemble a shuttle but either it's rivets or welding, and we know the inherent problems in trying to ignite anything in space...


Re:Minor curiosity... (3, Interesting)

wass (72082) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394018)

but what exactly would they do if the damage was too severe to be repaired?

in this case, where heatup during reentry would be a huge problem with a damaged wing, I was wondering if they could bring the shuttle in at a very oblique trajectory consisting of many orbits of slightly-decreasing radii to aerobrake it orders-of-magnitude more gradually than they currently do now.

Interesting idea (1)

Jin Wicked (317953) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394115)

Though it makes me wonder why they don't do something like that now, anyway. I'm sure there would still be things to be examined and learned at different levels of orbit? Or would something like that take so long to finally get them back down, that it would only be feasible as a last-resort?

Re:Minor curiosity... (1)

MrScience (126570) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394061)

Well, see, what you do is prevent anyone from realizing the full extent of the damage, so that the astronauts can complete their mission without distraction.

except (1)

VoiceOfRaisin (554019) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393896)

1. "probably" could not
2. they did know about it and didnt even check it out.

Artificial foam... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393898)

Personal Background

Emad was born in a donkey stable in Mustfuq, Iran, in 1982, shortly after the beginning of the heated Iran-Iraq war. His parents were lowly dung farmers, and Emad was destined to inherit his father's trade. However, six years later the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on a tour of the nation celebrating the Iranian "victory" over Iraq, took a liking to six year old Emad. The Ayatollah demanded that the child become a page in his entourage.

Apparently being a page in the Ayatollah's entourage meant lots and lots of gay sex with his Holiness, and Emad was soon introduced to Iranian faggotry. Six year old Emad was forced to stroke the Ayatollah's beard and jack him off while whispering "I love you, Holy Grandfather," in the Ayatollah's ear. Upon ejaculation Emad would to lick the Ayatollah's seed from the ground and snowball it into the Ayatollah's mouth.

When, in 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini passed into the next world, Emad was shattered. Being only seven he couldn't understand why the love of his life had left him. Emad became depressed and left the holy court in an attempt to quench his faggot thirst for beards and hard uncircumcised cocks.

Technology Beckons

In 1993, after years of hard life on the streets of Iran's dirtiest cities and whoring his hairless young body at the drop of a sheckle, eleven year old Emad met up with a group of Iranian hackers. Being fat and smelling typically like armpits, these hackers hadn't had sex in years. Young Emad, his smooth body full of promise, seemed to be the answer. They offered him room and board so long as he would feed any sexual urges the hackers had.

Emad picked up computer skills alongside the scat parties held by the lonely hackers. Between sucking farts and eating spicy Iranian turds directly from the hackers' asses, Emad learned Linux userland utilities. For every time Emad's anus was stretched and his rectum torn by eager gay faggot Iranian hacker cock, he learned a new Linux kernel compile option. Every quart of semen that found its way to Emad's stomach cooresponded to a deluge of Linux lingo and elitist thought. And by the time 1997 rolled around, Emad was virtually one of the hackers, save that he could take the largest of dark meat in his ass with nary a gasp or twitch. It was then that Emad was told the Iranian Secret.

The Great Satan

America, Emad was told by the Iranian Linux hackers, was the Great Satan, the enemy of all the virtues and truths and graces of the Muslim religion. It was a Jihad, Emad was further told, to destroy America and all it stood for. This was the reason why Linux was created, and this was the reason why the Iranians had adopted it as their OS of choice and trained legions of hackers. Emad's eyes grew wide and lit up as the truth washed over him. Years of taking dick in every orifice available finally meant more than just the pleasure he gained from it. Emad knew he could destroy America through its own faggot underground and the Linux skills he had learned.

Emad was on a plane days later, ready to take on America and make its hackers pay.

Enter Slashdot

By 1999, the Year of the Beast, Emad had been living in squalor in Long Island, in the midst of Jews. He had been trying to hook himself up with the anti-American faggot hacker underground, but so far had just been successful in luring men, mostly Jews, back to his economy apartment for round after round of scat sex. The turds weren't as spicy in America, as they always said, but the lack of pork grease in the Jewish brownmeat was a welcome change from what he knew. And then one day, while cleaning up his diarhea-splattered walls and piss-soaked sheets and pillows, he found a piece of paper that had fallen out of his partner's pocket. It contained only the web address

Minutes later Emad was logged in and turned on. He had found his means to take down America; he had found America's gay homosexual cock-lusting faggot hacker culture.

After posting frequently to Slashdot, Emad became aquainted with its Rogues' Gallery of editors: Rob Malda, Editor-in-Chief, terrible speller, and Faggot Supreme; Hemos, the bitchboy of Open Source and Free Software leaders; Emmet, the fat, sweaty Steve Jobs wannabe; Timothy, gullible Timothy, who made it feel alright to buy the hype; and Michael Sims, faggot Nazi editor / censorer and minion of ESR. Emad was elated! He could fit right into this circle-jerk of talentless ego and maniacal homosexuality! A few emails later, he and Rob Malda had worked out a plan. Something was brewing at the Geek Compound, and Emad seemed to be the right man for the job. Slashdot was launching its own IRC network. And IRC networks need IRC Operators, supreme authorities of the chat servers.

Soon after, went live, to the jubilation of gays and slashbots everywhere. Now they could interact in real time, while sitting naked and stinky in the safety of their own basements!

Emad's Gang

To Emad, his job was not work. It was joy. He got to kick, ban, devoice, password protect, and kline to his heart's content. He was a regular in #gay as well as #slashdot, and (ab)used his power as IRC Operator to hook himself up with new and exciting sexual partners. There was dwiii, the skinny, transparently-skinned faggot who likened himself a tech-elitist. He was hairless save for his genitals and his shoulders sloped near the top: a real twink! XirHo, whose name means "taker of dick in mouth joyously" in Mandarin, and who liked to play gay online email games, was another of Emad's favorites and soon had Emad hooked on trading gay erotica. DrDink was yet another depraved individual who had cleverly invented what is now know as "Chocolate Milk" in gay circles: after sucking off a huge throbbing gay dick, one would retain the semen in his mouth long enough to mix it with several squirts of diarrhea happily supplied by a fellow scat-loving donor. Emad was turned on by this and became fast friends with DrDink.

It wasn't long before Emad and his above he-bitches had a stranglehold on Slashnet, as he and Rob Malda had planned, and Slashnet was soon turned to promoting homosexuality. When individuals that fought for freedom and righteousness logged on, they were harassed and eventually banned from the server.

The Banned

Casualties in the war against Emad today include Vladinator, Slashdot enemy and admin of Geekizoid; Trollaxor, labelled subversive due to his attempts to proclaim the truth in public forums; and Error 808, who was considered too dangerous to allow on the server. To this day these heroes are still klined from censorship in practice!


Hopefully you realize the depth of what I have just revealed to you. Emad is a desperate homosexual who has gathered a band of like-minded loser techie faggots and rules with an iron fist in an attempt to undermine American values. His team, along with Slashdot, Open Source, and Free Software are slowly spreading STDs and homosexual thought among the youth of America's hacker culture. Unite before it's too late! You are now armed with the knowledge. Protect yourself and fight for freedom before you, too, become one of the censored!

So What Now? (5, Interesting)

CrankyFool (680025) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393900)

It'll be interesting to see what the reaction to this failure will be.

Challenger didn't really rock the way we did Shuttle missions because the problems that led to its explosion were not core to how the Shuttles are built -- someone / some process screwed up and there was a relatively reliable way to make sure it wouldn't happen again.

Columbia, on the other hand, was destroyed because the design of the Shuttle is so fragile that once you develop an external problem, you're dead -- since they're using tiles that are individualized, there are no spares they could carry that would help them fix this sort of problem.

Hopefully, this will be a step in the right direction -- either a radical redesign of the Shuttle, or its abandonment in favor of a more robust solution.

Re:So What Now? (4, Informative)

Enry (630) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393954)

NPR had a report last thursday covering the possibilities of repair in space. There's a lot of options, from filling the wing cavity with heat-resistent foam to wrapping the wing in titanium which will burn off during reentry (like the heat shields of Mercury, Apollo, etc.).

Challenger's O-ring led to new O-ring design... (2, Interesting)

aksansai (56788) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394108)

The Challenger (as well as Columbia, and the newer vehicle that was being built - Discovery) had a flaw in the design of its O-ring that NASA itself knew could cause problems in flight. The design itself worked (proven by earlier flights of the shuttles). However, the design was not resilient to, as you said, external problems that were not properly thought up before-hand, such as massive fluctuations in temperatures (which led to the failure of the seal on the booster rocket).

A university student did an excellent case study [] on the Challenger incident, including the O-ring design "flaw," and what NASA did to improve upon the design.

If it were in NASA's tome of simulated problems, there would have been a way to make sure a rescue would have been possible. Even if we had to park the shuttle in orbit (or on the international space station) until a rescue could have been performed. It tires me to listen to the people that say "well, they would have run out of oxygen if they were not able to return immediately."

Fact: humans will never be able to calculate for every single variable in a system. It's just impossible. I completely agree with you. We will continue to develop better designs that will hopefully prevent further destruction and loss of life.

What next? (1)

geekmetal (682313) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393903)

What we would be interested in knowing is how NASA is taking steps to prevent this from happening again. It certainly would have been nice if BBC had included a paragraph touching on that!

Shouldn't this have been obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393910)

I read an article (unfortunately, can't find it again) at a major US news source that said that NASA test engineers were "shocked" when they saw the hole that such a light piece of foam could punch in a hard carbon-reinforced surface. It said that the tests helped to enlighten the engineers about the effects that velocity can have even with very "light" projectiles.

My first thought was this: Seems like they should have been able to easily figure out that this would happen just by considering the mass of the foam, the strength of the wing and the velocity of the shuttle. Why was an experiment even necessary? Doesn't anyone at NASA know anything about Newtonian mechanics?

Re:Shouldn't this have been obvious? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6393967)

I wonder what percentage of my tax money went to this test.

Come on get some better links to the story ... (5, Informative)

HerringFlavoredFowl (170182) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393918)

A quick check on [] points to several good articles ...

SpaceFlightNow article []
Florida Today article [] and it has three video's of the test
Orlando Sentinel article []
Washington Post article []
Houston Chronicle article []

Noteworthy points (4, Informative)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394027)

The impact speed and angle were not worst-case, but based on average estimates. Real-life damage could be even worse and we were lucky, lucky, lucky before Columbia.

NASA officials resisted making the reinforced carbon-carbon panel available for destructive testing, because they take 8 months and $800,000 to make.

The X-15 was considered experimental throughout its entire career, and it flew 199 times, which is far more experience than the shuttle program has had.

A pinch of salt ... (3, Interesting)

BillsPetMonkey (654200) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393919)

The impact was so violent that it popped a lens off one of the cameras recording the experiment and prompted gasps from about 100-strong astonished crowd.

When I hear of "entertaining" demonstrations to prove a point, I'm reminded of magicians before an audience and furrow my brow.

Is the real "secret" here a less visually spectacular flaw, not in a bodypart but in the design process and it's assumptions?

Re:A pinch of salt ... (1)

jhines (82154) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394079)

I remember visitor's day at the UofI, in the materials section, they ran demos of their concrete crusher on the hour, to an audience crowd each hour.

Big things being destroyed is cool to watch, even when it is something as simple as testing batches of concrete, when it leaves a pile of rubble that takes a dozer to remove.

You shoot anything with a 1lb object at 500+ mph and it is going to be entertaining.

another story (4, Interesting)

pyros (61399) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393923)

It's amazing to think that prior shuttle launches have had foam break off and strike the wing without this happening (according to Discovery Channel [] ). Makes me wonder what was different, perhaps just the size of the foam chunk. It's good to know they finally tested it out to measure the impact. Tragic that people died first. Here's a link to another article [] on []

"probably could not be repaired in orbit" (2, Informative)

core plexus (599119) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393924)

It most definately could not be repaired in orbit. I can't find the links now, but I remember reading several articles about how the shuttle was designed and built, and how many of the tiles fall off when they are working on the craft in the hangers! To say nothing of how difficult it is even when the adhesive works. One of the articles went on in some detail about the flaws in the design. I'll keep looking, it was most informative. cp

$3.4M dollars for the test (-1, Troll)

MImeKillEr (445828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393961)

..and I knew as soon as I heard about the shuttle blowing up that it was the foam hitting the wing.

They could've paid me $1M and I could've told them the cause - and saved the country $2.4M.

Re:$3.4M dollars for the test (0)

Azadre (632442) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394023)

They paid that money to get the evidence.

Accouting for angle and all? (3, Interesting)

tevenson (625386) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393970)

Does this also account for the the angle at which the foam in the wing? They don't mention it so I thought it was a question worth asking.

My understanding was that the foam glanced off the wing at high speeds and wasn't simply "shot" into it from a right angle. I may be completely wrong (and would love to be corrected) on my misunderstanding.

This obviously wasn't the same kind of foam we use to sleep on when we go camping.

NASA, Feynman and Shuttle Disasters (1)

Bubbajumbo (687830) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393975)

NASA is a scary organization. The approach to Columbia has been much more controlled than the Challenger fiasco. If you remember: insiders knew the Oring problem on Challenger, yet slowly leaked the answers to Feynman during the inquiry, making him think he discovered it. You can be sure they knew the problem before the shuttle re-entered.

Something missing (2, Funny)

verloren (523497) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393982)

In all the coverage I've seen of the damage investigation the scientists and reporters have made clear that the Shuttle had essentially no repair capability, so even if the problem had been found, there was nothing they could do about it.

They never seem to point out that there was one thing they could do, which was stop anyone trying to land in it. Fire the thing at the moon (I've seen Space Cowboys, so I know it can be done!) and let the shuttle crew camp out until they could be rescued.

It always sounds like they expected the crew to bound happily aboard, perhaps sharing a rueful smile at the knowledge that they were going to die, but hey, there's nothing we can do about it right?

Cheers, Paul

Sound familar? I'll say the same thing I did then (0, Insightful)

ToadMan8 (521480) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393984)

We've seen something very much like this before, if not the same time. Slashdot search is failing me (it was about a month and a half ago, I posted a comment but it fell out of my recent comment page.) I will then reiterate what I said before, as it again applies:

Why would NASA be shooting the piece of foam at the wing of the shuttle at "about 850 km (530 miles) hour" (sic.)?! The shuttle is going slowly when just taking off in the relatively dense atmosphere of the surface of the earth. As it picks up speed in the thinner upper atmosphere it is also in an environment with less friction.

My point is that if the piece of foam broke off the the top of the shuttle when the craft was doing many hundreds of miles per hour (like when the ET separates - the last time the foam (covering the ET) is on the shuttle) the air is not dense enough to slow the piece of foam enough to possibly impact the shuttle at hundreds of miles per hour.

If you toss a baseball out of a car window when you're driving at 100 mph the ball isn't going to slow down to 0 by the back of the car. It maybe will loose 100 mph in comparison to the shuttle by the time it decelerates a bit from where it broke off to where it hits the wing. That's not such a big deal.

If the foam or a bird with oxygen mask and pressure suit were hanging about at a few tens of miles above the earth when the shuttle is going this fast this experiment would be realistic.

Re:Sound familar? I'll say the same thing I did th (0, Redundant)

CrackHappy (625183) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394015)

Thanks for the great comment, mod this up please, it makes a great point. The math and the physics don't work. This looks a lot like NASA doesn't really know what happened for certain, has found a plausible idea, and to appease the public with an "answer", has concocted this experiment. I think we'll start to see some real answers about what really happened with better proof in time.

Re:Sound familar? I'll say the same thing I did th (1)

sparkie (60749) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394056)

You fail to take into account that the foam breaking off no longer gets the thrust from the rocket. Since it was still accelerating at the time you were driving the orbiter INTO the foam. Not the other way around. Oh yea ... it's LOSE not LOOSE.

Escape Pod (1)

darth_silliarse (681945) | more than 11 years ago | (#6393994)

I don't want to sound blase over these tragic events but isn't re-entry in the shuttle equivalent to driving at 100mph with no seat belt? ie: you take the risks you make the choice... and again surely NASA must have considered an emergency escape pod to counter this kind of scenario? Put the shuttle into Auto-Pilot on re-entry and cram the astronauts into an onboard sardine can... or are astronauts as expendable as the rest of us?

art of understatement (2, Funny)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394013)


Audience: "oooooo"

NASA engineer: "Folks, this COULD be more proof that MAYBE this is what POSSIBLY caused the accident."

Audience: "Oh, you mean "POSSIBLY" as in, there's POSSIBLY life on mars?"

And.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394017)

...and does anyone believe a word NASA says any more?

Just as well (3, Insightful)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394019)

probably could not be repaired in orbit even if it was known about.

Well, I hate to sound callous and all, but... if this indeed was impossible to repair then... well, it was probably for the better.

I mean, I can't imagine having seven people up there dying slowly on live TV. That would have been terrible.

What NASA needs to do now is to just replace the shuttle with something better for crying out loud (the Russians have been doing space on the cheap for any number of years. The STS does not really save us that much money) and get on with life.

Re:Just as well (1)

MImeKillEr (445828) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394043)

No, plans would've been to send the other shuttle up to rescue & then put the damaged shuttle in an orbit that would cause it to break up & have the chunks fall into the ocean.

The report I saw last night on the news interviewed a NASA engineer that begged for spy satellites to take pictures of the shuttle to look for damage. He was ignored.

Re:Just as well (1)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394102)

No, plans would've been to send the other shuttle up to rescue & then put the damaged shuttle in an orbit that would cause it to break up & have the chunks fall into the ocean

I remember readin somewhere that it would have been impossible to get another shuttle up there in time before the CO2 scrubbers on the Columbia crapped out? Oxygen and water (and food to a lesser extent) were not an issue, the problem was CO2 build up. That kills you faster than most other things.

Don't get me wrong, that would have been extraordinary, but I don't think it would have been possible. With the rush to get the other shuttle up there you'd potentially be risking the second crew as well.

PC-ness kills 7? (0, Redundant)

Natedog (11943) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394021)

Right after the shuddle incident I remember reading something to the effect that the foam issue is politically charged. Basically, in an effort to be PC, administrators decided, against the wishes of engineers, to replace CFC based foam for a more environmentally friendly non-CFC based foam that wasn't as durable/performant.

Does anyone remember or know anything about this?

I can't verify the claims (or find the article for that matter), but it does seem odd that there were no known/published problems (AFAIK) with the foam for 2 decades...

Ozone layers saves billions (1)

MushMouth (5650) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394089)

I had read once that every shuttle flight reduces the ozone layer by .05%.

850 km/h in 2 seconds? (3, Interesting)

Psychic Burrito (611532) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394032)

Can the impact speed be really that fast? Before the piece of foam fell away from the shuttle, it was moving at the same speed. To impact at 850 km (530 miles) hour, the piece of foam would have to slow down 850 km/h during the short distance between falling off and hitting the wing... during 2 seconds or so. Are the numbers really feasible?

The crash happened for reasons nobody has stated! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394034)

I've been following this pretty closely since I live relatively near the Johnson Space Centre here in Houston, and quite a few NASA people come in where I work. I've heard a lot of talk about training the astronauts all to spacewalk, and be able to repair minor damage to the shuttle, but what exactly would they do if the damage was too severe to be repaired? Would a second shuttle have to be launched as a rescue mission? Would they have to just abandon the damaged shuttle in space, since it would be unfit for re-entry? There's a lot of talk of repairs but I haven't heard any predictions for scenarios where repair was impossible. I think we all need to question ourselves. The real reason this crash happened is because of niggers. Niggers cause everything bad, and the only time I feel happiness is when I think about lining up niggers one by one and shooting them in the skull with my gold-plated DE. That, and jews can suck my dick.

Emails that demonstrate how the shuttle was doomed (1)

purduephotog (218304) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394057)

ABC News posted several emails about why the shuttle was doomed- apparently the engineers didn't follow the proper reporting procedure to send up a 'red flare' and stop it. I had all the links nicely typed into a story, but it was rejected.
Regardless, pictures were asked for and management squashed it for failing to follow procedure. And now a shuttle is dead. TPP reports, anyone?

This is no surprise... (1, Insightful)

Snarfvs Maximvs (28022) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394063) anyone who's ever ridden a motorcycle. Getting nailed by a bee in the middle of the chest at 75 mph is no treat, let me tell you.

And I'll bet a bee weighs a LOT less than the chunk of foam that hit the Columbia.

Hey, it's not like this was rocket science...just basic PHYSICS, for Pete's sake!

This proves NOTHING (0)

fluffy2097 (685607) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394064)

Gee. A pound of insulation will knock a hole in a wing when it's shot into it at 500+ MPH. In an effort to give a reason for what happened they had to go this far to do it. Theres no way that a peice of insulation falling off a tank could reach that speed. Remember your high school physics. The insulation probably would have reached terminal velocity long before reaching that speed. This is a cop out, any intelligent person should be able to see that.

Re:This proves NOTHING (2, Funny)

Wakko Warner (324) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394104)

Why don't you call NASA, then, and tell them this? Clearly, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that they're wrong. I personally blame the French.

- A.P.

Excuse the raw humor (2, Interesting)

Stephen Samuel (106962) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394067)

This pretty much literally blows a big hole in any argument that the nasa probe people were over=estimating the kind of damage that a 'little' chunk of foam could do to the shuttle's wing.

I think that this final test is a smoking bun because it shows that pieces of foam can do much more than just cause minor holes in the wing. that might allow a fatal stream of air into the shuttle wing. If Columbia had had a hole in it's wing like this test created, it probably wouldn't have made it anywhere near as close to the landing point as it did.

I'm guessing that this was something of a worst-case scenario, and it pretty much blew the socks off the testers.

(having gotten in my weekly quota of pun, I'm now gonna go do some real work).

woot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6394077)

I'm looking through...

And it all would be.. so.. crystal clear...

If it wasn't for the foam...

And the foam keeps.. getting thicker...

And it just keeps.. getting hotter...

And I'm falling into a deep well.

FOD... Foam? (1)

Zooka (457908) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394081)

Geez, who'da'thunk it was something as benign as foam? Just goes to show how little it takes to create a catastrophy. Especially considering the harsh conditions space vehicles must endure. It's a wonder that the success rate is as good as it is...

I wonder how rigid / dense this foam was?

(fod = foreign object damage)

So here's my question... (2, Redundant)

dulinor (42115) | more than 11 years ago | (#6394093)

Why are they firing the foam at 500 mph? I haven't seen a good explanation of where they get that figure from.

As far as I can see, I'd imagine that the foam falls from the fuel tank/booster onto the shuttle wing. The rate of fall should be only the relative acceleration that the shuttle experiences during the fall. (Since both foam and shuttle are presumably moving at the same speed when it detaches from the launcher)

So the total acceleration should be the acceleration of the shuttle (max 3G at liftoff according to a couple of web sources) plus normal gravity - call it 4 G. At most, the foam could fall the full 56 meters of the shuttle/booster/tank height (and most likely substantially less than that).

So, a quick (and probably hideously wrong) calculation based on v^2=2 * Accel * Distance shows that the end velocity of a body falling 56 meters at 4g should be about 33 meters/second, or 119 kph (74 mph)

Anyone know where I've screwed up on this?
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