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NASA's Atlantis Ready For June 8 Launch

CowboyNeal posted more than 7 years ago | from the back-in-action dept.

NASA 52

lifuchi writes "The guys and girls at NASA are at it again with Atlantis. The newly repaired space shuttle is set launch on June 8. The hail-damaged fuel tank has been repaired and is said to be a bit of an eyesore. Zee News is quoted as saying, 'Instead of being a uniform orange, it has a patchwork of white spots where technicians sprayed, scraped and filled fresh foam into the more than 4200 areas that were damaged during a freak hailstorm in February.'"

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How much you want to bet (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19095941)

That in order to fix the shuttle, NASA just went to the closest Florida trailer park and said, "Fix this like you fix your trucks"?

So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19095955)

Hmm, doesn't exactly fill you with confidence does it.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (3, Informative)

Professor_UNIX (867045) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096011)

The external fuel tank isn't painted orange, that's the natural color of the foam. Apparently the replacement foam for patch jobs is just naturally white so they can easily tell where they've added it.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (4, Informative)

arielCo (995647) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096929)

From TFA:

The tank`s deep orange colour is caused by ultraviolet light from the Sun striking the foam insulation over time. The fresh foam on Atlantis` tank is however, light-coloured, some of it bright white and some off-white, indicating different repair techniques were used in separate areas.
So it's more like new foam on top of old foam. Apparently it happens very quickly, since every tank I've seen after STS-1/2 is orange.

Now for the obligatory Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] quote:

The external tanks of the first two missions were painted white, which added an extra 600 pounds (273 kg) of weight to each ET. Subsequent missions have had unpainted tanks showing the natural orange-brown color of the spray-on foam insulation. The orange-brown color results from ultraviolet light from the sun striking the foam insulation over time.[1] The lighter, unpainted tanks have increased the payload capacity by almost the entire weight savings of 600 pounds.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096049)

From TFA: "The tank`s deep orange colour is caused by ultraviolet light from the Sun striking the foam insulation over time."

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (1, Funny)

OverlordQ (264228) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096107)

Huh, I always remembered hearing that they stopped painting it due to releasing some chemicals into the atmosphere when it burned up upon re-entry.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (1)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096145)

No, they stopped painting it because the paint didn't do anything useful, while weighing a ton. It's thin, sure, but there's a lot of area. Mass budget wasted on paint is mass that can't carry experiments, or fat astronauts.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096209)

Apparently [aerospaceweb.org] , it takes about a thousand pounds (455kg) of paint to coat the external fuel tank. The paint does nothing but make the tank look pretty, so NASA opted to skip the paint and carry more cargo/supplies.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19103917)

Interesting that it was the weight/mass budget, not the dollar budget that was the deciding point.

What's all the more ironic is the fact that there's been very little rain down in Florida lately -
the state is in its third-worst drought in history, so there'll be plenty of sunshine to bake the
insulation into the lovely orange color. Except on those days when the smoke is obscuring the sun.
So, instead of orange and white, it'll end up being orange and grey, perphaps?

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (3, Informative)

topical_surfactant (906185) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096057)

The only shuttle launch that ever had the external fuel tank painted was the first - Columbia (RIP), April 12th 1981, where the tank was painted white to match the rest of the vehicle.

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap010412.html [nasa.gov]

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (2, Informative)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096827)

Actually, the first TWO launches had white painted tanks. Then NASA realized that the paint added a lot of additional weight for zero benefit...

That Zero Benefit Thing (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#19100321)

Then NASA realized that the paint added a lot of additional weight for zero benefit...

I'm not convinced that ice wouldn't fall off of a painted surface better than semi-porous foam. At a minimum, they could use a paint with hydrophobic properties (PTFE, etc).

Re:That Zero Benefit Thing (1)

NotmyNick (1089709) | more than 7 years ago | (#19110249)

I'm not convinced that ice wouldn't fall off of a painted surface better than semi-porous foam.
The paint isn't there, but they are clear-primed [wikipedia.org] . That takes care of the porosity, but I think air liquifaction is their primary concern.

Re:So a can of orange paint was out of the budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19102761)

It is good that in this case NASA already had a repair plan in hand. On my last shuttle launchpad trip, we heard a gunshot, and being on a tiny catwalk, a good 60m above ground, I was quite surprised and a bit scared. I was told by my guide that the woodpeckers liked pecking at the cork-like surface of the external tank and the gunshots were fired regularly to keep them off to avoid damage to the tanks. But in the case that they do, there was some fix available. So I am guessing from the rather fast response time from NASA, that the repair must be similar to that done by the woodpeckers. I could be wrong... But otherwise, it would probably take them a year to come with the right filler and certify it and all that... ??

Shall we send a thank you note out to the Florida woodpeckers?

Why not a new one? (1)

Reivec (607341) | more than 7 years ago | (#19095995)

Seems like 4200 repaired sections leaves a lot of room for error. Why wouldn't they just make a new one?

I suppose it only has to last 1 run, those burn up on decent back down don't they?

Re:Why not a new one? (1)

DirtySouthAfrican (984664) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096185)

I suppose they could. According to Wikipedia these cost about $5 million each and take 4 months to produce. Gone are the days when NASA had the budget for that sort of expenditure I guess.

Re:Why not a new one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096443)

5 million would be manufacturing cost alone. Easily add another 5 million in the actual exchange operation, ancillary resource and human capital involved.

Re:Why not a new one? (1)

erpbridge (64037) | more than 7 years ago | (#19097537)

Thats what I was wondering. Whatever happened to the concept of a hot spare? In the server and networking industries, people would be hopping mad if you didn't have a spare standing by to put in place at a moments notice. A spare switch, spare router, spare hard drive, even spare server.

Granted, yes, $5 million is a substantial chunk of change for something that MAY never be used... but that is the exact reason for the hot spare. To have a qualified working piece of equipment as spare, put the spare in place, and send the broken piece out for repair or replacement so that the hot spare item is ultimately replenished.

Re:Why not a new one? (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 7 years ago | (#19099201)

A system designed to be operational 24/7 needs a hot spare. A system designed to be used for just a few days and be down for a few months in between uses (and the exact timing of when those few days of use occur is not important) does not. A competent engineer can recognize when a solution is applicable to a particular situation vs. another situation where it makes no sense at all whatsoever.

Re:Why not a new one? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096687)

Well, either you trust your QA system or you don't. And if you don't trust your system, how would you ever know that a new tank was any better? By guessing or hoping?

If the repaired tank passed the QA tests it should be fine.

What the hell... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096113)

"Inspires confidence."
"Why not replace it?"


WHO CARES? This is a rocket... going into space... manned by men and woman who know that they have a more than average chance of dying. Paint adds weight and takes away from the mission payload (for reference... painting a 747 adds about 1,000 lbs to the overall take off weight). On the shuttle it's there for a functional purpose... not for feng shui.

Get them off the ground... get them in space and do it safely and as cheaply as possible (so they can do it more often). Leave fashion and style for the paris hilton's of the world. mmm-kay?

Re:What the hell... (2, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096283)

Get them off the ground... get them in space and do it safely and as cheaply as possible (so they can do it more often). Leave fashion and style for the paris hilton's of the world. mmm-kay?
OK Paris, sound advise there for NASA. Any chance of some more girl on girl action pics from your stint in the slammer?

Re:What the hell... (1)

cb_is_cool (1084665) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096347)

And FTA the orange color of the fuel tank isn't from a man-made process, but rather the effect is caused by UV light hitting the chemically unique foam over time. Sorta like us getting a tan while being out in the sun.

20070608 = 2+0+0+7+0+6+0+8 = number 23!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19098645)

The oracle's future says:

Atlantis disaster after of Columbia disaster .

The bird will be dead because of the warming climate.

Please, please, please, don't go to the Atlantis space shuttle, don't go to the Atlantis space shuttle.

One will save, the rest will die!!!

Keep the word of my prophecy.

Re:What the hell... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096587)

Your opinion. I care. As do most people. I'm not saying that in this particular situation it matters negatively as some /.ers have already concluded, because I think it's a good thing to show the public repairs were done and it makes for a bit of PR during the launch for news crews to explain what the tank appears different.

In fact, this discussion of it IS because of the sense of status quo/the norm/aesthetics--the orangish tank (looks like rusted steel to me) has become a bit of a signature to the shuttle launches.

Most people do have a sense of aesthetics. And I don't think NASA really has a lack of aesthetics either, just that their routes to efficiency and design lends itself to more beautiful designs: the use of gold shielding, for example, is functional, but looks damn cool; the ramjet designs they tested looked a bit old and new school; the vector thrust plane, while looking typical, was a nifty look; the Mars rovers are "cute" and even the landing balloon/cushion, while not particularly unusual, had appeal. I surely don't think we should underestimate the impact of good engineer and aesthetic design away from pure functionality.

Of course, you drive a car that's just a chassis, bare no body engine block and fuel tank, dune buggy look with a tarp over you to protect you from the elements, dontcha? I'm not saying sacrifice functionality for look, but usually they are more in confluence than contrary.

Besides, sometimes something looking cool in the eyes of the public makes it cool and more likely to be funded; the slightly negative economics per flight might be offset by the overall improvement from that perception on the budget.

Re:What the hell... (1, Interesting)

3D-nut (687652) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096613)

This is utter madness. We just lost 7 people and an orbiter because a piece of foam broke off and hit the thermal tiles. We have yet to figure out how to keep any foam from coming off (short of adding so much weight that the shuttle could not carry a useful payload) and now NASA plans to use a tank with thousands of known weak points, when for $10 million or so (about 1/30th of a launch budget?) they could use a good one? I think that criminal charges will be appropriate, right up to the administrator, if we lose Atlantis due to foam coming off the tank.

Re:What the hell... (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 7 years ago | (#19115521)

I would never wish for people to die, but at least if the shuttle was destroyed it would put an end to NASA wasting billions of taxpayer $ on this useless program and the even more useless ISS.

Re:What the hell... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096643)

The foam will not come apart as easy if it was painted. They figured that out during the testing. the paint film reduces turbulance and also provides a bit of surface adhesion that can make up for errors on surface adhesion.

Re:What the hell... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#19099121)

The foam will not come apart as easy if it was painted. They figured that out during the testing. the paint film reduces turbulance and also provides a bit of surface adhesion that can make up for errors on surface adhesion.

Do you have a cite for that? Because I've been following the Shuttle programs for thirty odd years - and I've never heard of that. In fact, I've discussed the issue with NASA employees (in the Shuttle program) and they categorically deny that the paint adds any strength to the foam.

Re:What if the paint served a function... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19103825)

"Paint adds weight and takes away from the mission payload"

But would it have provided a way to secure foam to the craft? What if the paint kept the foam from breaking off... would it be worth it then?

Orange! (4, Funny)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096121)

Instead of being a uniform orange, it has a patchwork of white spots where technicians sprayed, scraped and filled fresh foam into the more than 4200 areas that were damaged during a freak hailstorm in February.

Oh no! Stop the engines, damn it, and don't even think of thinking of going anywhere with that non-uniform orange fuel tank! We don't want to be embarassed in front of the perfectly uniform green aliens we know absolutely nothing about and forget what I just said.

-- NASA guy in a black suit

The phrase (4, Funny)

Professr3 (670356) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096127)

"overfilled twinkie" comes to mind...

Re:The phrase (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19096357)

That's a big Twinkie.

Re:The phrase (1)

Professr3 (670356) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096775)

How is this off topic? The big main fuel tank is orange, and the little white patches look like cream coming out. Is this so hard to figure out?? Maybe I should try writing for a third-grade reading level like regular newspapers. *insert frustrated smiley here*

Oblig. Animal House context (1)

HiggsBison (678319) | more than 7 years ago | (#19101479)

"overfilled twinkie" comes to mind...

I was thinking more like:
Uh, Houston, why do you keep calling us "Pinto"?

Scary (4, Insightful)

lightversusdark (922292) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096221)

"There's not at all a problem with this," Chapman said. "We have total confidence in the integrity of the repairs but I'm telling you right now that your mind will have a hard time convincing your eyes."
That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.
There has been a new fuel tank built for the shuttle. Last weekend NASA were still deciding whether to use the new tank on this mission or go with the patched-up one. [sciencedaily.com]
They have opted to instead keep the new tank for the Endeavour mission in August (STS-118).

The mission overview is here. [nasa.gov]

Re:Scary (4, Insightful)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096331)

That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.
"It's a very sobering feeling to be up in space and realize that one's safety factor was determined by the lowest bidder on a government contract."
--Alan Shepard

Modded funny, but it's killed explorers before (1)

Solandri (704621) | more than 7 years ago | (#19097983)

The Franklin Expedition [victorianweb.org] was attempting to find and establish a trade route between Europe and East Asia across the Arctic ice cap. All crew members perished within 2 years despite being stocked with enough food and supplies for 5 years. The prevailing theory of their demise is that food canned by the lowest bidder [nih.gov] was improperly tinned and cooked [mysteriesofcanada.com] , leading to lead and botulism poisoning.

Re:Scary (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 7 years ago | (#19097319)

ET-124 (the external tank currently attached to Atlantis) is going to fly - period, as there aren't any spare tanks in the pipeline. With a limited number of flights left on the manifest, and a hard end-of-life deadline for the Orbiters, the contracts for the ET and it's components are already being allowed to expire. (Not to mention the need to start converting the Michoud facility from producing the ET over to producing the Porklauncher V [wikipedia.org] .)
 
Thus, the question isn't which tank will be used to fly STS-117, but rather where ET-124 can be inserted into the sequence with the least impact on schedule, budget, and safety. (I know that many folks think the last should be the absolute overriding priority - but NASA has to live in the real world, not a fantasy one.)
 
The only real option is to repair ET-124, as shipping it back to Michoud for a complete replacement of its foam on the forward ogive isn't in the cards due to expense and schedule impact. Unstacking Atlantis and swapping ET-124 for a different tank doesn't make the repairs any easier, and increases the risk of damaging the various parts of the stack during handling. (The last is an important consideration, and one not often realized by the armchair astronaut. Every time you break (or make) a connection, or hoist something into the air, you risk damaging it.) It also potentially effects the schedule for two flights, STS-117 and whichever flight 'donates' the tank.
 
Thus it breaks down as follows; Rework is not in the cards due to the vast expense and schedule impact. Since there is no option to not fly ET-124, where is the best place to repair it? Repairing it at the Cape seems the best option - as you avoid the risks and expense of transporting to and from Michoud. (The repairs will be done by the same people in any instance.) If the repair is done at the Cape - it doesn't make any sense to destack the Orbiter, as doing so will not make the repair easier and increases the risk of damage to system components during handling. Equally, since -117 can be rescheduled as a unit, and other flights moved as a unit, it makes sense to retain the stack and avoid the nasty complexity of swapping hardware between flights.

Bondo (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#19100343)

That must not be very reassuring for the astronauts.

When you drive an old car, you quickly realize that the best part of the body is the parts that have been Bondo'ed - they never rust. Oh, and the pretty pink spots (like I'm spending money on paint for *that* car!).

God bless 'em (1)

AntiPasto (168263) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096489)

I don't see any reason for us to speculate that hail was an insurmountable problem for the peeps at NASA. I just wish them the best with their underfunding. Perhaps the shuttle needs to be retired to just solely for Space Station work, and lets get money into outsourced small launches. Why couldn't NASA simply administrate and regulate universities, private individuals, and non-profits to start doing X-Prize like movement forward?!

Re:God bless 'em (1)

MissionControl_Dude (1101267) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096869)

The problem with outsourcing to X-prize people is that they are going for a straight up- straight down approach. It's like throwing a rock up as high as you can get it (in this case above the 350,000 foot mark). That's a long ways away from launching usable payloads into low, mid, and high earth orbits like the shuttle does. Oh, and by the way, ensuring that you can take a crew of highly qualified people, enough food for three meals a day plus two snacks for each astronaut, enough hypergolic fuels to maneuver around with, oh, and let's not forget the highly volatile oxygen and hydrogen tanks used to make electricity and water.... Yeah, show me an X-prize contestant that can do all that, and I'll show you NASA...

Re:God bless 'em (1)

AntiPasto (168263) | more than 7 years ago | (#19098149)

thank you for the great response!

Re:God bless 'em (1)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 7 years ago | (#19101043)

You mean like NASA's COTS program [wikipedia.org] or its Centennial Challenges [wikipedia.org] ? Seriously,... how can you not know about these? These have been covered extensively here.

orbiter simulator? (2, Interesting)

oni (41625) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096637)

Did anyone else notice that the picture in the story appears to be a screenshot from Orbiter Spaceflight Simulator [orbitersim.com] ? (it's free by the way, and very cool)

Re:orbiter simulator? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096771)

Sorry folks! Windows only.

Re:orbiter simulator? (1)

Howitzer86 (964585) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096785)

Yes, I think its funny that they are using a screen shot from a game instead of an actual photo. Do they think we're so stupid that we won't notice?

Re:orbiter simulator? (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 7 years ago | (#19098583)

"Do they think we're so stupid that we won't notice?"

They don't think you are. They know it.

Nasa needs to... (4, Funny)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 7 years ago | (#19096673)

Have someone paint giant band-aid images all over the tank.

Just to scare the crap out of the know nothings out there in the country that would be freaked out about the foam repairs.

Maybe add a dixie flag to the top of the shuttle and paint 01 on the sides, that would make it complete.

failzoFrS (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19097119)

DOG THAT IT IS. IT prima donnas, and were nullified by posts. ThereforE website Third, you rivalry, and we''l states that there Smith only serve the official GAY

Tank paint scheme (1)

aeropreneur (1101339) | more than 7 years ago | (#19099219)

It's true that they cut the white paint to save weight, but I always liked the white appearance better. Actually, I recall seeing on a Gantt chart at JSC, back in 1981, a task to add a racing stripe to the ET as well, but I guess that got cut to save time. The ET is taken to something like 98% of orbital velocity, so I guess nearly the entire 600 pounds (or whatever the paint weighed) is saved for the payload.
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