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Minor Technical Issue Aboard Shuttle Discovery

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the i-would-probably-be-nervous dept.

98

IZ Reloaded writes "Space Shuttle Discovery has a problem with the pipeline for an auxiliary power unit that controls the shuttle's hydraulic steering and braking maneuvers. CNN reports that the pipleline is leaking 'fuel' at about six drops per hour." From the article: "The leak is more likely nitrogen, but there is no way of knowing that, so NASA is treating the problem as if the leak were fuel ... If it is fuel, the current rate is still 100,000 times slower than what would cause a fire ... Just in case, NASA will turn on the power unit with the leak early Sunday as part of its normal testing and then see if the leak rate changes. If it does, NASA may burn off the hydrazine and shut down the power unit before the shuttle returns to Earth to eliminate any fire hazard.'"

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98 comments

solution (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15723898)

Two words: Duct tape.

Re:solution (2, Interesting)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723931)

Bad idea. As I recall from my college days, hydrazine is some really nasty stuff. The tiniest quantities will stink like rotting fish, way worse than triethylamine. Plus it's a potent neurotoxin, absorbed through skin or inhaled, with these 6 drops entirely enough to send the whole crew on a shroom-like trip (it would be a drug of choice on the street I think, if not for its HORRIBLE stench). MSDS just doesn't do this baby justice!

Not nasty enough? Well, it's also highly explosive, hence the reason it is used for fueling rockets.

100,000 times slower than what would cause a fire

That's just bull*. Assuming 1 drop is 20 uL or so, that's plenty enough to explode.

Just to show how the dangerous this really is, the hydrazine generators were deemed unsafe for submarines (but A-O.K. for the Space Shuffles, apparently). What next, dynamite sticks as flares?

Re:solution (0, Troll)

krod4 (516423) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723992)

So, one can smell rotting fish in space??

Re:solution (1)

ultranova (717540) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724017)

Just to show how the dangerous this really is, the hydrazine generators were deemed unsafe for submarines (but A-O.K. for the Space Shuffles, apparently). What next, dynamite sticks as flares?

Atom [wikipedia.org] bombs [wikipedia.org] .

A lot more efficient than dynamite, but murder for your shock absorbers ;).

Re:solution (Obvious Question) (1)

Joebert (946227) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724037)

Space Shuffles

It's ok.
I think with the talk of shroom-like trips before, a Truffle fragment was stuck in your brain & just happened to come loose at that time.

Re:solution (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724090)

Mod parent up: both informative and insightful.

I don't know how NASA can spin this as a minor issue. This is about as bad as a missing heat-protecting tile.

Re:solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724191)

Don't you just love when someone cracks a joke about patching a leak on Shuttle using duck tape, and another slashdotter geniously replies that it's "a bad idea" and starts lecturing about dangers of some chemical? *lol* Yeah, I guess using duct tape is a bad idea. And yes, you're quite correct, this stuff (if it's rocket fuel) may be dangerous to your health and I'm sure that's why the astronauts wear those face masks when repairing the "spaceshuffle". ;)

Re:solution (2, Funny)

Bastian (66383) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724472)

If you don't like reading random essays on technical issues, what the fuck are you doing reading Slashdot?

Once again, the engineers don't have a clue! (2, Informative)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725456)

Hydrazine reacts in the precense of a catalyst such as silver or iridium, which is why combustion chambers of many reaction control rockets are lined with such. Hydrazine is semi-stable. It will breakdown in the precense of the catalyst or if it warms up to the proper point. If neither happens, you're fine. The engineers who actually know how the system is designed (ie, not you), and know where stuff can get into, where it might come into contact with a catalyst, or where it might warm up are the ones qualified to analyze the risk.

As for the risk of explosion, well that's poorly written, but if you don't have enough to cause a pressure increase of damaging magnitude, well then there's nothing to worry about. In this case they have a lot less. That suggests to me they looked it over and decided it must be leaking in a way that there's no place for it to accumulate.

Furthermore, according to NASA [nasa.gov] , they don't actually use pure hydrazine in the shuttle RCS jets. They use nitrogen tetraxide and monomethyl hydrazine (add on a carbon atom), which are hypergolics. They're more stable but they react spontaneously in each others presence.

Of course, the shuttle engineers don't have a clue about any of this. They like playing dice with their co-workers lives.

Re:Once again, the engineers don't have a clue! (0, Troll)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725674)

Tell that to the Mars Climate Orbiter [cnn.com] . Cause you know, newtons == ft-lb.

Engineers are always right; it's just that the Nature seems to be wrong occasionally. Somehow I find it scary that slashdotters seem to know more about the dangers of hydrozine than these NassA 'engineers'.

A humble suggestion: perhaps they should consult some chemists, not the "so-what, we-can-fly-without-it" engineers.

One word: Headlines. (-1, Offtopic)

NRAdude (166969) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724193)

Ask yourselves, what better news is this NASA article engauged to supplant?

It's no different than when Cheney shot that poor sod: there is actual News occuring that the NEWS CORPORATION owners and managers are ordered to divert from. Are we expected to feel good about lies, or correct errors that are hidden from the people that have the most authority to correct or abolish their origin?

Did anyBODY show news about how it is proven that people infected AIDS/HIV, Tuberculosis, Diabetes, or Lyme disease can be healed 100% by changing their diet? No!

Did anyBODY show news that RUSSIA/USSR is mobilizing its Navy into the Sea nearest to Syria? No!

Did anyBODY show news that under the Clinton administration for the United States, that there was more surveylance at the authority of that then President and yet none of it was blamed or advertised as to "fighting terrorism"? No!

Did anyBODY show news that the Bush administration has been giving or selling a controlling-interest on US freight ports of entry to Chinese and Arab partnerships and corporations, near my estate neighboring Long Beach and the harbor and union International port? No!

Did anyBODY show news that the same excess of manufacturing capability in Nazi-controlled production durring World War 2, unable to find a path to rid their posession of the toxic traits of Fluoride as known to cause over 250 different kinds of cancer and organ defects, determined to send it through the water system and let the populous filter the poison through their own bodies? Does anyone not remember that then Rumsfeld was so inspired to continue in this same pattern of Dump, that he convinced nearly every water supply facility to do the same as earliest as the late 1960's? Is it not the pattern of most "civilized" illness occurred at the arrival of this process, as well as artificial sweetners such are aspartame et al? No!

Did anyBODY show news that most virus/anti-virus and anti-bacterial innoculations and shots contain harmful elements and chemicals including Mercury, known that ever since its use there has been an increas in Attention Deficity and Hyperactivity difficulties in children? How about the fact that Rittilin doesn't cure the uneasy activities of AD/HD? No!

Instead, we get articles of NASA and their monopoly on injecting their rocket-garbage-cans into the vacuum of space with the most cocky test-pilots, and their supposed "risk management" secured to their shallow ego is boasted as part of the "American Dream" if not mismanagement.

A corporation, such as Fox or ABC or CNN, isn't organized under the first amendment for "free speach." There is no such condition of activity by agents of a corporation, to support free speach because it is not given. It's a controlled source! The living are the ones that have the free speach; only we're treated as a corporation in the supposed admiralty-mode county Court prejudiced by "courts" until we bring our own Court reporter for a true court of record as to a peculiar and competant jurisdiction.

Who are the stockholders to NASA and why are we confusing those stockholders' portfolio and confusing it with News?

Also of note on confusing this United States with that United States, both separate and distinct from these American States united/united States of America:
  USCODE Title 27, Section 3002, 15(b); "United States" means a federal corporation.

Better use X-Treme tape (1)

asiansweetheart (977645) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724278)

Better use X-Treme tape [vyparproducts.com] . Have you seen this stuff? Silicone compound based tape, 600 psi tensile strength, self-fusing forming air-tight and water-tight seal, sticks to anything, withstands temperatures up to 500 F. Shuttle crew shouldn't leave home without it.

Re:Better use X-Treme tape (1)

zogger (617870) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724378)

thanks for the link! Looks pretty interesting.

where can you get it (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724411)

Didn't see which stores carry it, but still again, I haven't had but one bottle of Mt. Dew to wake up

Re:solution (1)

Keyframe2 (940074) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724282)

I don't think Macgyver is on board

Re:solution (1)

onedobb (868860) | more than 7 years ago | (#15731061)

Thought that was one word.

Terminology (3, Insightful)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723912)

There are pipelines in space now? Cool.

The leak is more likely nitrogen, but there is no way of knowing that.

Excuse me? The shuttle must be one of the most redundantly-instrumented efforts ever built and they don't know what's leaking?

Re:Terminology (4, Funny)

TrappedByMyself (861094) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723939)

Excuse me? The shuttle must be one of the most redundantly-instrumented efforts ever built and they don't know what's leaking?

Obviously not. I guess some rogue foam disabled the giant blinking "HYDRAZINE LEAK" and "NITROGEN LEAK" signs, so they're lost up there. You better call NASA and tell em what's what.

Re:Terminology (2, Insightful)

helioquake (841463) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723961)

It's not easy to crawl into the conduit and locate a leak. Let alone checking what the substance is. (What do you want? Let them lick and taste it to see what it is?)

I'm more bothered by the use of the word "drop" here if you ask me.

Re:Terminology (2, Funny)

leathered (780018) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724271)

It's not easy to crawl into the conduit and locate a leak.

Don't they have Jeffries tubes [wikipedia.org] on the Shuttle?

Re:Terminology (3, Funny)

leathered (780018) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724143)

There are pipelines in space now? Cool.

They're the tubes that makes the intarweb run, how do you think all that data gets to the satellites and back?

Re:Terminology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724144)

You didn't learn anything from Ted Stevens did you? That's how they get the internet into space...

Re:Terminology (2, Funny)

Ohreally_factor (593551) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724222)

In space no one can smell you scream.

I thought everyone knew that.

Re:Terminology (4, Informative)

NOLAChief (646613) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724758)

There have been pipelines in space since the beginning of the use of liquid fueled rocket engines. Propellant has to get from the tanks to the engines somehow...

They mean it, there really is no way of knowing. They know there's a leak based on pressure readings. They know it's not an instrumentation issue because those pressure readings are redundant (i.e. if one sensor started trending down and it's backup didn't, then the sensor's bad). Based on those same pressure readings they know what the leak rate is (drops per hour was probably the guy's attempt at making it make sense to the layperson by analogy to a dripping faucet. Sadly that analogy seems to have fallen flat.) Since the fuel tank (hydrazine) is connected to the pressurant system (nitrogen), the entire system is at the same pressure, so since there is a leak, every pressure sensor monitoring the system is trending down.

(Time for my own bad analogy) Let's say you've got a Super Soaker with a pressure gauge in the water reservoir. You pump up the Super Soaker and put it in a box so that the only thing you can see is the pressure gauge. Now, somehow a hole forms in the reservoir. Because you can't see the reservoir, you don't know if it's your fuel (the water) or the pressurant (the air you pumped into the thing) that's leaking, but you know from the decreasing pressure reading that there's a leak present. That's essentially what's going on with Discovery. Hence, they're playing it safe and assuming the leak is fuel, when more likely it is the smaller nitrogen molecule that's escaping the system.

Re:Terminology (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724952)

I'm a piping geek, thus my problem with terminology. "Pipelines" are large bore cylindrical structures that convey large quantities of fluids. What the shuttle uses is piping, not pipelines. To some of us there is a difference.

Re:Terminology (1)

NOLAChief (646613) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725081)

I stand corrected. Shoulda looked at your nickname, I'dve been more careful. This the part where we go lynch the submitter?

Re:Terminology (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725180)

Nah, I was just being pedantic and detail-obsessed. Thanks for the reply.

Re:Terminology (1)

ganjadude (952775) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724799)

its not pipelines, its tubes.... you should have know that the space shuttle runs on many different internets,in fact i just sent one to the shuttle today. i just hope my internet doesent get lost in all those tubes

Linked system (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725490)

The nitrogen is used to pressurize the hydrazine tanks to feed the reaction control system. It's pretty simple. Rather than have pumps that would be corroded by the hydrazine, they just warm up the nitrogen a little bit and the pressure increases. They know the pressure is dropping, but they're not sure if it's because they're losing nitrogen or losing hydrazine. I suppose they decided it wasn't worth the extra effort, cost, complexity, and weight to be able to isolate the tanks soley for the purpose of determining where a leak was, should one occur, so they just assume the worst case and prepare for that, if necessary.

Re:Linked system (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725535)

Thanks. I've done a fair amount of work with pressurized and cryogenic gases, but I didn't know the details in this situation. It makes sense to me now.

This is how most cryo installations work (eg. o2 for hospitals, n2 for industrial applications). Pumping cryogens can be a real problem, and most users don't need extremely cold liquids so ambient vaporizers [thermaxinc.com] are used.

Getting rid of it is a good idea (4, Insightful)

Megaport (42937) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723917)

Hydrazine [wikipedia.org] is nasty stuff but it is just one of the dangerous checmicals aboard the shuttle.

When Columbia broke up, it was the possible presence of Hydrazine from the APUs that make the Texas Dept of Health issue warnings about approaching shuttle debris.

The problem with spaceflight is that everything is so close to the edge. Performance requirements that can still leave a good safety margin mean that simpler and safer methods are often inadequate. Consumers don't have the same risk/reward ratio as people who sit on top of rockets for a living.

-M

Re:Getting rid of it is a good idea (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723947)

When Columbia broke up, it was the possible presence of Hydrazine from the APUs that make the Texas Dept of Health issue warnings about approaching shuttle debris.

Don't worry, since our Missile Defences tests showed yesterday ( http://www.lcsun-news.com/news/ci_4044160 [lcsun-news.com] ), at any sign of danger we can blow that WMD shuttle right out of the sky.

____
Laugh, dammit.

Re:Getting rid of it is a good idea (1)

aevan (903814) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723951)

Consumers don't have the same risk/reward ratio as people who sit on top of rockets for a living.


Who in turn don't have the same risk/reward ratio of those who get strapped to the sides of a rocket.

Myeh, personal views on the need to redesign our approach to space (i.e. get a new class of ship) aside, I'm hoping for a boring trip and landing for the shuttle.

Re:Getting rid of it is a good idea (3, Funny)

Ohreally_factor (593551) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724232)

I'm trying to calculate the risk/reward ratio for those strapped underneath a rocket. So far, I keep getting divide by zero errors.

Re:Getting rid of it is a good idea (1)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724688)

All of this is especially true if your launch vehicles are made in the USA.

Convenience rather than performance (1)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725475)

Hydrazine wasn't chosen for performance. It actually has a rather low ISP. It was chosen for reliability. The reaction control jets have to fire repeatably far more times than other types, and usually while cold. In this case, NASA uses a hypergolic form; one which spontaneously combusts in the precense of another chemical. The two are released simultaneously into the reaction control jet and voila, fire.

NASA would love to develop a methane based version with a much higher ISP and less handling risk, but it got cut out of their CEV budget. I think now they're sponsoring a private company to develop one via the COTS program. It would have to be actively ignited, which raises reliability concerns. I'm not sure what other design problems are holding it up.

3 APU's yet only APU1 drives the landing gear ? (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15723921)

Seems off that only APU1 drives the landing gear, with a backup of pyrotechnics...

"APU 1 is the only hydraulic system that can deploy the shuttle's landing gear. If APU 1 is out of action, pilot Mark Kelly would have to manually fire pyrotechnic charges to deploy the gear."

http://www.spaceflightnow.com/shuttle/sts121/06071 4mplm/ [spaceflightnow.com]

Re:3 APU's yet only APU1 drives the landing gear ? (1)

LooseChanj (17865) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725932)

I wouldn't have thought you needed an APU to drop the landing gear at all. The APU's main job is making the flaps flap, the rudder swing, etc.

Re:3 APU's yet only APU1 drives the landing gear ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15726413)

Its odd how the other 2 APU's dont control the landing gear... maybe there are space restrictions or length of the hydrolic lines.

Also makes me ponder, that extra cable they brought up so the ground can land the shuttle, if it could deploy the charges if apu1 died ? or if that can only be done manually....

STS-9 APU Fire (5, Interesting)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723934)

STS-9 came in with an APU on fire. Here is a video [johnwyoung.org] .

Re:STS-9 APU Fire (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723968)

Mod up for informative! Nice vid too.

But are you saying this makes it less or more worrying?...

Re:STS-9 APU Fire (3, Informative)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724018)

But are you saying this makes it less or more worrying?...

I would say that it is less worrying for the astronauts, and more worrying for the engineers on the ground. The astronauts know that a fire has occurred before and that it wasn't deadly (though the circumstances are different). Mission control knows a fire has occurred before and doesn't want to take the chance again!

On a side note, the two APU fires (I miswrote in my previous post--there were two!) were minor issues for STS-9 compared to the 2 failed GPC's and failed IMU that almost killed the astronauts.

Re:STS-9 APU Fire (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724249)

The astronauts know that a fire has occurred before and that it wasn't deadly

An example of the syndrome which led to them tolerating foam strikes, right up to the point where they lost an orbiter.

I can't see in TFA what the primary indication is. It can't be a loss of pressure because this would tell them what is leaking.

Re:STS-9 APU Fire (1)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724284)

An example of the syndrome which led to them tolerating foam strikes, right up to the point where they lost an orbiter.
Actually, no. It was always the people on the ground tolerating a situation. While the astronauts certainly have some say in what happens in the space program (i.e. not shaving themselves bald for fire protection), mission control is usually the one who makes the major decisions, especially when there is some discrepancy (and this always occurs--like the 1202 executive overload in the Apollo 11 lunar descent). I am willing to bet that if mission control gives them clearance to return to earth, they will believe that it is safe to do so. The astronauts aren't robots who believe everything that mission control tells them, but they can't have access to all of the information, so they have to trust mission control (otherwise they probably wouldn't have strapped themselves into the Shuttle at launch).

I can't see in TFA what the primary indication is. It can't be a loss of pressure because this would tell them what is leaking.
Actually, it is a loss of pressure. From an entry of the Write Stuff Blog [orlandosentinel.com] :

"The APU 1 fuel pressure is decaying differently than the other two tanks which is indicative of a small N2 [nitrogen] or hydrazine leak. The data is very subtle so it has taken eight days to detect this change in slope between the three APU fuel tank plots. APU 2 and APU 3 shows a normal pressure decay of 6 psi over the eight days of the mission. This is due to the temperature change in the tanks which is caused by a 9-10 degrees Fahrenheit decrease in the tank temperatures as the aft structure cools. It takes some time to see this change because ascent does a good job of warming up this part of the vehicle. APU 1 Tank pressure has dropped a total of 22 psi over these eight days which is indicative of a leak which is most likely N2."

Re:STS-9 APU Fire (1)

Aglassis (10161) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724290)

Whoops, I gave the wrong link. It is still useful information about the APU problem, but here [orlandosentinel.com] is the correct link (from which I quoted).

Minor? (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723962)

I wonder if those on board would call a fuel leak a minor technical fault?
It may be slow now, but in my experience leaks tend to get worse...

Re:Minor? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724247)

"but in my experience leaks tend to get worse.."

You are an experienced astronaught?

Re:Minor? (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724322)

lol
yes. Well... no. But I've seen leaks before, and they tend to get worse. Erosion and corrosion increase with flow-rate, causing an unpredictable runaway effect.

Re:Minor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724533)

Why did you spell ASTRONAUT with a naught? It looks stupid and retarded. It's not like the word is used once a year, it's all over the place.

Syria and Lebannon attacked !! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15723966)

Syria and Lebannon attacked !! It's a HOLY WAR ! In the name of Allah, Jesus, and Bush !! CNN is there to bring it to you live.

Re:Syria and Lebannon attacked !! (1)

chawly (750383) | more than 7 years ago | (#15727323)

Offtopic, certainly. But not as much as you might think. Who pays ?

Too late i guess (1)

Drago Kith Somtaw (983110) | more than 7 years ago | (#15723988)

I know its alreay too late for the space shuttle, but i wonder how much it would have cost them just to modernize all of the shuttle parts. Or at least make all the tubing and pipes out of duct tape. If they sell the space shuttles in fifty years or so anybody want to try?

Re:Too late i guess (1)

arodland (127775) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724073)

Well, you have to consider, this is NASA. There are certain procurement and testing processes involved. By the time they could get the whole thing sorted out, the shuttles would be rusted-out hulks. Or all burned up, as the case may be. I exaggerate, but only slightly. I'm sure it wouldn't be a cost-effective proposition.

Re:Too late i guess (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724503)

When I worked on the shuttle program, cmmercial laser IMUs became available for around $3k each. The shuttle IMUs have a drift problem that makes them need to be manually aligned every 12-24 hours. The transistion from the old big gyro-based IMUs to laser IMUs that any aircraft today might have was too costly mainly due to all the interface changes and "man rating" i.e. reliability, requirements.

If a small part breaks and you lose the vehicle over a $10k part, that isn't a good savings, right?

Shuttles need to be replaced and flown only as long as they are the least expensive way to low earth orbit. Once a replacement system --- not designed by worldwide committees --- is available, either don't use them anymore or take more risks with them.

Re:Too late i guess (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724757)

When Canada buys them up in 2040 we're going to duct tape them just enough to get them running.
We'll call them the Sea Kings of Space.

Re:Too late i guess (1)

Silver Gryphon (928672) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724801)

We could just call Xzibit and have him Pimp their Ride.
I want a shuttle that hops , man!
After a clean landing, the Air Force could have a band play "Low Rider" as it taxis down the runway.
Would fuzzy dice be overkill?

Re:Too late i guess (1)

space_hippy (625619) | more than 7 years ago | (#15726729)

I wish it was easy. But redesigning manned flight systems is not, no matter how simple the change seams, simple. All changes have to go though at least three review boards. The people that populate those boards do not necessarily know all the details of the hardware. It takes time to teach them what criteria is important and what is not.

Once you're though that, then the hard part starts; electrical test, vibration tests, "chemical off gassing test", Electro static discharge (ESD) tests, performance tests, Acceptance Test Procedures (ATP), extended material compatibility tests... the list goes on. And if you get one failure you are back at step one.

All of the testing is done to give the program as much information at possible in determining if the change is a good one. This is all done no matter if the chance seams like a "no brainer". Because there are not simple changes, every component influences everything it is attached to.

Trust me it is frustrating, but it does make sense when you look at the big picture. It takes a while and the politics will drive you nuts. But a lot of it is for the best.

So the idea of adding more sensors and components is not an easy thing by any stretch of the imagination.

As many have said, and will say again, going into space (even low earth orbit) will never be as save as walking to the local mega mart for a loaf of bread.

Ok, I'm done.

Overconservatism (2, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724013)

NASA is crippled. Rather than cover the achievements of each mission, they cover the lack of failures. It's a no-win situation. If they screw up ANYWHERE, they look terrible. If they make it back ok, they wasted a ton of money on... what again?

In the media, I've heard all about how they made sure the stupid thing can land, on at least 3 media sources. But WTF is the reason they launched? What are they up there for, other than to make it back alive? I could do that on a Mooney [mooney.com] for alot less money and with alot less stress!

This is being handled all wrong. They shoulda spun this as "making real forward progress sometimes hurts - there's risk in growth - DEAL WITH IT" - but instead they're trying to make it seem like it's a big deal to launch into low-earth orbit and make it back alive.

How stupid!?!?!? We've been able to do THAT since the 1960s.

This is a PR ball that's being dropped, and NASA is now neutered. It's a worthless waste of time. Send everybody home, take the (piddling, thanks to terrible PR management) amount of money that was being spent there, and give it to an organization that can LOOK FORWARD again...

Give me a reason to get excited, or stop spending my damned tax dollars. (Oh, and don't mention Iraq, I marched in the streets with signs over that one!)

Re:Overconservatism (1)

veeoh (444683) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724039)

You marched on the streets? Did your mother know?

Re:Overconservatism (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724046)

My mother is 9 feet under. My wife knew, though. So did my 5 kids - they all marched next to me.

Re:Overconservatism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724272)

why the extra 3 feet?

Re:Overconservatism (2, Funny)

The Snowman (116231) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724362)

It makes it 50% more difficult for her to come back as a zombie.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 7 years ago | (#15727258)

Room for her husband - my father, whose heart still beats.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

Maelwryth (982896) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724047)

"Give me a reason to get excited, or stop spending my damned tax dollars."
The reason is this. If they don't go and get rid of some of the rubbish building up in the space station the Russians are going to drown. If you want to get exited then cut off your rubbish collection for a couple of months. I have no doubt you will feel highly exited at the end of that time when the rubbish truck comes. I do find it strange that they don't just bag it up and jettison it into the atmosphere though...
On another note, perhaps it is time the U.S.A. started getting the world community together for a concerted space effort. Possibly saving the U.S. money and getting some moral points as well. Thanks for marching over Iraq (either for or against), nice to see someone standing up for what they think is right.

Re:Overconservatism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724060)

On another note, perhaps it is time the U.S.A. started getting the world community together for a concerted space effort.
Like the International Space Station?

What have we learned about the brilliant cost saving international projects? What is the current cost of the ISS? $100 billion? More? How much has it saved the US? It must be sooo useful for the entire world to get together and try to build it.

Good grief!

Re:Overconservatism (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724077)

You can't escape from taxes, and I'd rather see them spent on NASA than on Iraq.

Did you ever watch one of those news conferences held with the astronauts/mission management team representatives? ALL questions somehow related to a concern for safety and NONE are actually asking whatever the crew have done that day. NASA is surely making a big deal on re-entry, but it's the media is making it sound like it's gonna be another Columbia.

The overwhelming concern on safety is exactly what got me excited about these couple of "return-to-flight" missions. NASA is trying to MOVE FORWARD with the construction of the ISS while trying their best to keep the construction workers safe. If they slip and the program stalls it will not only be years and years of your and my tax dollars that go down the drain, but also investments from Russia, Japan, Europe and other international partners. It is ALREADY an international effort. It is a sunken-cost mentality and it is make-or-break for NASA.

Quit acting like you don't care about the lives of those astronauts if they are given in the name of "progress". Everything that NASA does to protect them IS "progress". You protested furiously about the not having any more dead soldiers in Iraq didn't you? What makes you think it is any different in space?

Re:Overconservatism (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724302)


I'm guessing that you don't deal with NASA on a daily basis, as I do. The S in NASA doesn't stand for shuttle! The tail is wagging the dog here and the shuttle is becoming the main focus of both mind and dollar at NASA.

The shuttle was designed for cheap quick turnaround flights, but in reality it costs as much as one billion dollars per launch (for launches where it doesn't blow up)? And what space science do we gain from them? Not much; considering that for that $1B, you could build 3 MIDEX-class instruments AND launch them on Deltas.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

drsquare (530038) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724643)

You can't escape from taxes, and I'd rather see them spent on NASA than on Iraq.
You're talking as if NASA's funding is syphoned off from Iraq's funding. NASA was soaking up money long before the Iraq war, and will continue to do for long after. All for very little tangible gain, other than non-stick frying pans.

It's estimated that NASA costs the average American tax-payer over $100 a year.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 7 years ago | (#15726066)

It's estimated that NASA costs the average American tax-payer over $100 a year.

NASA has a $30 billion budget?

Re:Overconservatism (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724644)

Pardon my sarcasm, but if NASA were really interested in "protecting" their astronauts, then they wouldn't have sent them into space.

My take is that the slower they go, the more unsafe they become. That's because a higher launch rate means more safety data and flight-tested components. It also means that the vehicles age less between launches. Then you add in the facts that no matter how cautious NASA is, the Shuttle has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1% that it won't come back and that the Shuttles cost around $400 million per month whether you use them or not. So I think it counterproductive that NASA choses to be so cautious about launching. Also, the ISS, which is aging as well, needs the Shuttle for the components that will make the ISS somewhat more useful. Let us recall that the ISS is already a significant portion of its way through its overall lifespan.

The "overwhelming concern" should be on doing something in space not being "safe" in space. I happen to believe that means spurring economic activity in space and increasing commercial launch volume from Earth to orbit, but NASA's unmanned program is considered productive by reasonable standards. I don't think that building the ISS and being "safe" qualify as progress. The ISS doesn't further any vital interests. It'll have minimal economic value (the "COTS" program being a mild exception).

Finally, recall that astronauts volunteered to serve in an elite, high risk occupation. Safety isn't as important as it would be for the civilian population.

Re:Overconservatism (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15726346)

You can't escape from taxes, and I'd rather see them spent on NASA than on Iraq.

You're assuming that the government would decide between them. In reality, they seem far more likely to spend on both and get the country into even more debt.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

Instine (963303) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724171)

I would say well said, but it wasn't particularly. But I like that you said it.

At a time when waste, recycling, energy crisis, wars to 'solve' the energy crisis, and other related topics are of paramount importance, such missions seem ridiculous. And a waste of money to boot.

Let just hope the current escalations are not going to grow, and further illustrate the need for strategic prioritisation.

If you want to stride forward, like the great nation you are/were/could be - then how about using nano tubes to make space elevators. At attach gigantic solar arrays, and pass the electrical energy back to earth. Solving the wasted energy getting out of orbit, AND producing very large scale renewable energy.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

Jugalator (259273) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724293)

Give me a reason to get excited, or stop spending my damned tax dollars.

Speaking of this, how much do NASA currently cost American citizens per year? Even better, is there a web site where one can see how the distribution of tax money change from year to year in a reasonably accessible form? I'm not American and have been wondering of this now and then when the subject is brought up.

Re:Overconservatism (3, Interesting)

icebrain (944107) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724690)

FY06 NASA budget: $16.5 billion

US population: ~ 300 million

Total cost, per person: ~ $54.84

About 25-30% of the population is too young to pay taxes - that leaves around $71 per taxpayer.

To put this in perspective (albeit with 2004 numbers):

NASA budget allocation: $15.5 billion

Department of Education: $53.1 billion (29.4b for primary/secondary, 15b for higher ed., 1b for vocational)

Housing and Urban Development: $31.3 billion

IRS (tax collectors): $10.4 billion

Foreign aid: $17.1 billion

Department of Agriculture: $19.5 billion

And an interesting pictorial representation:

http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/9410862/ [deviantart.com]

Re:Overconservatism (1)

chawly (750383) | more than 7 years ago | (#15727297)

Could you include the cost of the war in Iraq in your 2005 version ? Thanks

Re:Overconservatism (1)

Belgarion89 (969077) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724416)

According to NASA's website [nasa.gov] , the Shuttle's mission involves testing a lot of safety stuff. This would carry over to future Shuttle missions, as well as whatever the next vehicle is. I'd rather a spend a few billion on upgrades now than billions later on replacement vehicles.

Re:Overconservatism (1)

chawly (750383) | more than 7 years ago | (#15727289)

"Give me a reason to get excited," O.K. !!! I have a reason why an all American lad (or lass) might get excited. They are spending your "damned tax dollars" to send those poor folks up there and they don't equip them with a tool-box which contains a roll of DUCT TAPE . You lads (and lassies) need to do something about this kind of negligence, I think. After all DUCT TAPE is what holds the American empire together.

Minor technical issue? (4, Funny)

Seiruu (808321) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724087)

A leak in a "gas tank" is a minor technical issue? :p

"Hey there cowboy, word goes around that there's something wrong with my car."

"Nah sir, just a little scratch."

"Ah if it's just a scratch then I can live with it."

"Yes sir, just a bit of gas leaking through that "scratch", so you might want to cut down on that smoking sir."

Re:Minor technical issue? (1)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724318)

Minor as in "can probably make it home without exploding", not minor as in doesn't need attention.

Actually yes, it may be (2, Interesting)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724438)

If you have a car that runs on gasoline (i.e. spark ignition high volatility fuel) you may already have minor gas leaks and you are probably losing a certain amount of fuel through evaporation, unless you happen to be in very high latitudes in the Southern hemisphere. Gasoline is so volatile that it is very hard to spot small leaks. In cars and trucks this is rarely that important so long as the engine compartment is well ventilated, but there is a reason why marine approvals bodies discourage inboard gasoline engines on boats (where there are going to be unventilated spaces, for sufficiently obvious reasons.)

I had an undetected small leak in a Diesel system for some time because it only leaked under feed pump pressure, which meant the engine was running, and the heat volatilised the fuel which was then sucked into the air inlet above the leak. It may have been there for several years undetected.

Despite all the fuss about it being hydrazine, it may be safer and easier to ignore it because any attempt to fix the leak may simply make it worse.

High Resolution Detection (1)

AnalystX (633807) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724161)

It's nice to know they can detect leaks so small they're "100,000 times slower than what would cause a fire." What is that, about a few molecules a second?

Re:High Resolution Detection (1)

deevnil (966765) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724685)

It prolly has a lot to do with the vacuum.

Explosive bolts (3, Informative)

OriginalArlen (726444) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724206)

The write-up missed the important angle that if they decide to power down the possibly leaky APU, they'll have to use explosive bolts to lower the undercarriage. That's never been used in flight before. That doesn't mean it won't work, of course, but it will make the re-entry and landing a little more interesting than usual.

Re:Explosive bolts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724241)

With all the problems being faced by the Space Shuttle, it seems like the shuttle has passed its lifetime and has become a piece of junk.

Re:Explosive bolts (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724377)

afaict it was bad from the start, iirc military requirements gave it the insane plane like design (to allow it to land covertly) and the larger than nessacery size. The benifits of reusability were never really realised due to insane refit costs and timespans. Sure it can do some cool shit like bringing home LEO satalites but its very rare that there is a real need to do that.

trouble is the ISS has locked america in to keeping the shuttle program running in the medium term (plans for its long term death are already made). All the modules (many of which are from partner countries making just scrapping them or forcing major rework politically disasterous) are built to go up in a shuttle cargo bay.

there will be a time for reusable spacecraft but that time will not come until we move on from barely adequate chemical rockets to nuclear power.

Re:Explosive bolts (1)

amavida (898618) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724568)

Ley me get this straight... it's leaking HIGHLY explosive hydrazine & they're planning on firing EXPLOSIVE charges to lower the landing gear... hmmmm....

Re:Explosive bolts (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725138)

If it will make you feel better, we can call them gas generators. It's the same thing, just with a friendlier name. See your automobile's air bag for an example.

taste or smell it (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724243)

I wonder if the astronauts can taste or smell it to see what it is.

Re:taste or smell it (1)

Toba82 (871257) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724250)

Not if it's nitrogen. Not to mention the fact that this is a tiny leak in a very large space.

If it's hydrazine [wikipedia.org] , tasting it to find out is a very very bad idea.

A Hydrazine Leak (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724467)

If they really are leaking Hydrazine, they have worse problems than a possible fire. That stuff is pretty damn deadly. In fact it is the only (AFAIK) compressed explosive gas that isn't required to have a pressure release valve. Why? Because out-gassing would pretty much kill anything within a very small radius. It would actually be safer for the whole tank to explode than for the tank to be emptied. Luckily, the ship is airtight and they all have space suits if that really were the problem. I'm not sure how dangerous the other RCS fuel (nitrogen-tetroxide) is, but I'm guessing it's not that great for you, either.

Re:A Hydrazine Leak (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725395)

I fail to see why we should assume it's leaking into the habitat. The biggest worry from toxic off-gassing will be after the orbiter lands, and there is already system in place for dealing with that.

APU and some hydrazine Info (2, Insightful)

Jeff1946 (944062) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724650)

The shuttle has 3 auxillary power units. One is necessary to land. They are routinely tested while in space. If one fails they land as soon as possible. The APUs are not small, they are powered by a 100 horsepower turbine which is turned by decomposing hydrazine over a catalyst. Sometimes on good movies of the shuttle after it has landed you can see the heat waves from the hot gases (nitrogen, hydrogen, and a little ammonia) from the decomposing hydrazine coming straight up from the shuttle.

The larger thrusters and the rocket engine used by the shuttle in space are powered by methyl hydrazine reacting with nitrogen dioxide. These are hypergolic (burn on contact with each other) so no possiblity of them failing to ignite for a second or two then going boom which is possible with other fuels like hydrogen and oxygen. They are liquids at ambient temperatures so don't require cryogenic storage.

Hydrazine, N2H4, is a great rocket fuel. It is a liquid with similar boiling and freezing points to water -- but can explosively decompose (it is dangerous to measure its boiling point), is toxic at ppm levels, is carcinogenic (ie all the rats that breathed it got nasal cancer), causes skin burns. Like most amines it smells like rotten fish. Believe it or not there are people who believe that low levels in the blood is an anti cancer agent.

Huh? (1)

woolio (927141) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725462)

Believe it or not there are people who believe that low levels in the blood is an anti cancer agent.

Are these the same ones that believe low levels of fluoride is an anti-cavity agent?

#$%#it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15724800)

I'm tired of this crap. Lets just get all the people out of these death traps and blow them the fuck up on earth and save everybody a lot of time.

Worst Article Title Ever (1)

walnutmon (988223) | more than 7 years ago | (#15724886)

Minor Technical Issues is no eye catcher :)

Re:Worst Article Title Ever (1)

FhnuZoag (875558) | more than 7 years ago | (#15725927)

No kidding, I submitted this as Space Shuttle Likely To Explode, Taking Earth With It.

Problem of human nature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15727129)

Just another sign of the past catching up with us. The things that have become the norm, which ought to be the exception, that we all deal with are going to have consequences somewhere down the line, whether it's NASA, or nursing. Unfortunately, 'tis human nature to do nothing (legitimate reasons or otherwise) until catastrophe strikes, and when it does, to have a flurry of cleanup, follwed by a similar flurry of fingerpointing, denials, litigation, apathy, and then...a band-aid solution until the next disaster. Usually the causes boil down to greed at the executive, stress/ poor information/ resource management at the ministerial, and subsequent exhaustion/ understaffing/ inadequate resources at the production levels. I've seen this in nearly all aspects of society, and generally, few exceptions aside, the ones who get the bulk of the blame and the lion's share of the punishment for these disasters are those either least able to shoulder the burden or least responsible for the causes of the problem, while the ones who truly deserve ire walk away free of responsibility. In our allegedly classless society, we have the "golden rule" -Them that's got the gold makes the rules. Shame on us all, the haves for fostering this attitude, and the have-nots for tolerating it. A civillised people ought to know better.
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