Skip to comments.NASA Ponders Shuttle Flight Without Two Key Changes
Posted on 06/19/2004 7:49:01 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) - NASA (news - web sites) is considering whether it can return its space shuttles to flight without making two safety improvements that have so far proved to be high hurdles for agency engineers, top officials said on Friday.
After the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas last year and killed the seven astronauts aboard, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board drafted a lengthy list of ambitious reforms.
Among other proposals, the board recommended NASA come up with a way to repair damage to the leading edge of a shuttle's wing, such as the kind that doomed Columbia in 2003.
It also said NASA should develop a way to inspect the underside of the shuttles for damage during the second day of flight. Columbia flew for 16 days without the crew or ground controllers knowing of the fatal hole that was out of sight from crew-compartment windows.
NASA engineers are working on a repair kit that could fix a large hole in a shuttle wing's leading edge. They are also trying to build a boom to inspect the orbiter's underside.
The tasks have proved challenging, so the space agency is considering whether it can launch the shuttles without those two upgrades.
Deputy Associate Administrator Michael Kostelnik stressed no decisions have been made.
In any case, NASA is committed to a plan that would supply the International Space Station (news - web sites) with enough food, water and oxygen that a stranded shuttle crew could live there until a rescue shuttle reached them 85 to 90 days later.
The shuttle Discovery is scheduled for launch between March 6 and April 18, 2005, on a mission that will test many improvements made since the loss of the Columbia.
"We will have changed more things on these vehicles than we've changed on any flight since STS-1," the first shuttle flight in 1981, Kostelnik said.
NASA is removing the orange foam from the area of the external tank that broke off 81 seconds after liftoff and damaged Columbia's wing, so officials said they were hopeful they would never have to deal with such a large hole again.
The foam, designed to keep ice from forming on the outside of the tank, will be replaced by heaters.
There would also be repair kits available to fix smaller cracks or holes up to 4 inches (10 cm) across.
As for the inspection, NASA would rely on a visual examination made by astronauts with cameras aboard the space station. That requires the shuttle to slowly spin around in space as cameras whir aboard the station before docking.
"Of all the things we have on the table, this rotation pitch maneuver is probably the best understood, and we've got the highest confidence in it," deputy shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said.
The final decision on safety measures will not be left to the shuttle program managers. An independent panel headed by retired astronauts Tom Stafford and Richard Covey will have to decide whether NASA is in full compliance with the investigation board's recommendations.
doughtyone ponders a world without NASA
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - When space shuttle flights resume, the astronauts will have putty and other filler to repair cracks and small gashes in the wings, but they will not be able to patch a hole as big as the one that doomed Columbia, NASA (news - web sites) said.
Michael Kostelnik, deputy associate administrator, said Friday it is taking longer than expected to come up with a technique for wrapping a crater as big as the one gouged in Columbia's wing by a chunk of foam last year.
Engineers also are behind in designing a boom for inspecting the belly of orbiting shuttles and the undersides of the wings, Kostelnik said. NASA hopes to have the boom ready for the first post-Columbia flight, still on track for next March. Kostelnik said NASA has yet to decide what it will do if the boom is not ready by then.
Discovery is scheduled to fly to the international space station and drop off badly needed supplies and replacement parts. The latest crew an American and a Russian has been aboard the space station since April.
The inspection boom would provide a 50-foot extension to the shuttle's 50-foot robot arm, and hold a set of sensors and lasers for finding holes. It could reach most if not all of the thermal protective layer on the ship's underside and possibly even support a spacewalking astronaut.
Discovery will be equipped with a puttylike material for filling any cracks in the wings, as well as plugs for holes up to 4 inches in size. But its crew will not be able to fix anything bigger than that in the leading edges of the wings, NASA said.
Columbia was brought down by a hole 6 to 10 inches in size in the leading edge of the left wing. The searing gases of re-entry entered the gash and melted the wing from the inside out, leading to the breakup of the shuttle over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, and the deaths of all seven astronauts.
The task force overseeing NASA's flight preparations has yet to approve the decision by top space agency managers to skip the wrap repair for now.
Shuttle program director Bill Parsons stressed that NASA is not giving up on the wrap concept and that engineers will press ahead in coming up with a solution for holes over 4 inches.
But Kostelnik and Parsons said the main emphasis is on reducing the possibility of foam insulation coming off the external fuel tank during launch. NASA already has removed the foam from the area of the tank that shed a big piece during Columbia's launch.
Kostelnik said NASA will not resume shuttle flights "unless we can assure ourselves that we will not shed a piece of debris that can damage the orbiter."
The backup plan, at least for the first two flights, is to have a second shuttle ready to blast off for an emergency rescue. The crew of the damaged ship could wait at the space station for up to three months.
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More of NASA's can't do attitude. If Rutan is successful on Monday noone will notice anyway.
(Yes, I am bitter.)
If inspection boom is difficult (takes space and weighs too much), maybe a short inspection spacewalk can be done cheaper? Can be even combined with repairs on the same walk.
Almost ten years ago NASA developed and tested a microsatellite in space that can do the job. It probably isn't expensive enough. This is what happens when failure is rewarded with more money. SOP for the federal government.
Good luck to the SpaceShipOne folks.
Prolly a huge scramble with gubmint lawyers poring over regulations at the EPA FDA OSHA BATF FBI NOAA to find something to tie him up. Mebbe forensic accountants will find some questionable non-reported possible income from 1966 and indict him...or they'll discover kiddy porn on his 'puter .
I do also (at least a non-manned one).
nasa, what a bunch of chickens.
Unfortunately, Rutan is only reproducing what the X-15 did many years ago. It will be a long time before we see SSTO IMHO.
Not true. All the NASA folks I know are cheering for him.
I would give up my own seat (if I had one) if this fellow could do it.
Including the top honchos, or just the grunts?
There's a big difference. He's doing it as a private citizen and with much fewer resources.
Why not just go back to the old foam, which didn't flake off? Oh, yeah, it's manufacture supposedly harmed the ozone layer... supposedly.
Maybe they should hire a bunch of 15 year old nerd types and make it a contest. They'd have their boom and their repair kit before you know it.
Neither Space Ship One nor the X-15 were single stage. But then neither is the shuttle. In the former two cases though, everything is reusable, unlike the Shuttle, which throws away the external tank, and the rocket boosters require considerable refurbishing, if they are even doing that anymore, after the first shuttle disaster, which involved failure of an SRB.
X-15 and SS1 both were/are carried aloft by a mother ship, which then turns around and lands, readably for the next shot. They are also alike in that neither was designed to go into orbit, but were rather technology test beds for later systems that did/will go into orbit. The Shuttle was supposed to use a fly-back booster as well, but Congress and Nixon/Ford/Carter would not pay the up front money for design, which would have saved much more money later.
Well, since I am just a grunt, that is all I talk to.
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