Skip to comments.NASA: No Flights Until Foam Issue Fixed
Posted on 07/27/2005 6:09:10 PM PDT by anymouse
The shuttle Discovery, like Columbia, shed a large chunk of foam debris during liftoff that could have threatened the return of the seven astronauts, NASA said Wednesday.
While there are no signs the piece of insulation damaged the spacecraft, NASA is grounding future shuttle flights until the hazard can be fixed.
"Call it luck or whatever, it didn't harm the orbiter," said shuttle program manager Bill Parsons. If the foam had broken away earlier in flight, when the atmosphere is thicker increasing the likelihood of impact, it could have caused catastrophic damage to Discovery.
"We think that would have been really bad, so it's not acceptable," said Parsons' deputy, Wayne Hale. But he said early signs are Discovery is safe for its return home.
A large chunk of foam flew off Discovery's redesigned external fuel tank just two minutes after what initially looked like a picture-perfect liftoff Tuesday morning. But in less than an hour NASA had spotted images of a mysterious object whirling away from the tank.
Mission managers did not realize what the object was or how much havoc it would cause to the shuttle program until Wednesday after reviewing video and images taken by just a few of the 100-plus cameras in place to watch for such dangers.
Officials do not believe the foam hit the shuttle, posing a threat to the seven astronauts when they return to Earth on Aug. 7. But they plan a closer inspection of the spacecraft in the next few days to be sure.
"You have to admit when you're wrong. We were wrong," Parsons said. "We need to do some work here, and so we're telling you right now that the ... foam should not have come off. It came off. We've got to go do something about that."
The loss of a chunk of debris, a vexing problem NASA thought had been fixed, represents a tremendous setback to a space program that has spent 2 1/2 years and over $1 billion trying to make the 20-year-old shuttles safe to fly.
"We won't be able to fly again," until the hazard is removed, Parsons told reporters in a briefing Wednesday evening.
Engineers believe the foam was 24 to 33 inches long, 10 to 14 inches wide, and anywhere between 2 and 8 inches thick, only somewhat smaller than the chunk that smashed into Columbia's left wing during liftoff in 2003. Its weight was not immediately known.
It broke away from a different part of the tank than the piece that mortally wounded Columbia. After the accident, the tank was redesigned to reduce the risk of foam insulation falling off.
Discovery's astronauts were told of the foam loss before going to sleep Wednesday.
Parsons stressed that Discovery's 12-day mission was a test flight designed to check the safety of future shuttle missions. He refused to give up on the spacecraft that was designed in the 1970s.
"We think we can make this vehicle safe for the next flight," he said, declining to judge the long-term impact on the manned space program. "We will determine if it's safe to fly."
Atlantis was supposed to lift off in September, but that mission is now on indefinite hold. Parsons refused to speculate when a shuttle might fly again, but did not rule out the possibility that Discovery's current mission may be the only one for 2005.
He said it was unlikely that Atlantis would be needed for a rescue mission, in the event Discovery could not return safely to Earth and its astronauts had to move into the international space station. Discovery, fortunately, appears to be in good shape for re-entry, he said.
In addition to the big chunk of foam, several smaller pieces broke off, including at least one from an area of the fuel tank that had been modified in the wake of the Columbia disaster.
Thermal tile was also damaged on Discovery's belly; one tile lost a 1 1/2-inch piece right next to the set of doors for the nose landing gear, a particularly vulnerable area.
Hale said none of the tile damage looked particularly serious, and likely would not require repairs in orbit.
Imagery experts and engineers expect to know by Thursday afternoon whether the gouge left by the missing piece of tile needs a second look. The astronauts have a 100-foot, laser-tipped crane on board that could determine precisely how deep the gouge is.
The tile fragment broke off less than two minutes after liftoff Tuesday and was spotted by a camera mounted on the external fuel tank.
If NASA decides to use its new inspection tool to get a 3-D view of the tile damage, the astronauts will examine the spot on Friday, a day after docking with the international space station.
On Wednesday, Discovery's astronauts spent nearly six hours using the boom to inspect Discovery's wings and nose cap for launch damage. The wings and nose are protected by reinforced carbon panels capable of taking the brunt of the searing re-entry heat.
Hale said the laser inspection turned up nothing alarming, but the analysis is ongoing.
What I want to know is if Bush didn't have the balls to tell the greenies to take a hike on this one. If the Montreal Protocol is the reason the Shuttle has been grounded, heads should roll.
The foam during the Columbia disaster was replacement over "environmental" issues. The original foam had not exhibited a tendency to break off. Have they reverted to the original foam, or are they still risking people's lives over Global Warming?
OK, what the heck has NASA been doing for the past two years? It is completely insane that the exact same problem that killed 7 on Columbia happened again. I thought they spent the past two years and millions this very issue. For it to happen again is beyond belief...what kind of shop are they running down there?
If I was the current crew, I would be furious that they allowed this to happen again. I realize that space travel is a very dangerous business and you can never be sure that nothing will go wrong...but at least fix known problems...just plain crazy.
I just want to hear NASA confirm it followed the same procedures it always has to ensure that the tiles in this area were affixed properly. If that's true, either the glue maker or the tile maker is doing something different and wrong. If that's NOT true, NASA is doing something wrong.
Either way, someone needs to be bouncing on asphalt for this cockup.
Thankfully it didn't harm the orbiter. I'll reserve any furthur judgement until the mission is over. While I am confident the crew will return safely, it does no good to second guess anybody while we have a crew in space.
The external tank is not available for inspection...this will not happen again.
NASA is an agency of the federal government - what do you think they are doing? /sarcasm
All they did was not pack as much foam between the ET bi-pod strut mounts. They also put some kind of mesh embedded in the foam.
It is still a crappy solution, hamstrung by blind obedience to pseudoscience that claims CFCs like Freon are significantly affecting the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.
Never mind that the "ozone hole" is nearly closed up again due to global cyclic changes having nothing to do with CFCs or human intervention at all.
Every mission brings experience. Every mission brings data there is no other way to get but by flying.
You dont think the next vehicle is not going to benefit from all those shuttle missions?
We learn by doing. There IS more then capable talent at NASA.
Bringing nothing? my god. Opening the door to the next frontier. Keeping America ahead and in the lead. Inspiring explorers to come.
It brings everything.
I know this because those brave souls that came before us are the only reason any of us are here. They explored with ships that they knew sometimes didnt come home. The flew on imperfect wings. And we owe the next generation what was given to us.
NASA has a new mission now. Return to the moon, then to mars. President Bush has put something in motion now that is unstoppable. Thank god.
Since the engineers who can actually build working spacecraft seem to have retired, how about a new NASA mission to sabotage the Chinese manned space program by selling them shuttle technology (ala the Clinton Administration and Loral)? ;)
WTF has been going on down at NASA the last TWO YEARS anyhow? What do you mean "until foam issue fixed"!!!!The foam issue crashed the LAST shuttle-and TWO YEARS later we've just kicked another crew up there "to see what happpens"!!!...but we'll fix the "foam issue" later. Sheeesh..what kind of astronauts we got that will put up with this @#ap!!
Just what is the Montreal Protocol?
If you think about it, with the EPA around, human space travel is no longer safe for the US. I guess we'll have to give over the exploration of space to a country that does not have to answer to the EPA.
Looks like Bush hire Griffen to test the Shuttle team...they have flunked the test...
I still love my '86 4Runner, but I'm not planning to take it into Earth orbit. Why are we still using old space craft in 2005? Did budget cuts have anything to do with a technology standstill? We went to the Moon and back (with a few really close calls) several times starting in 1969. That was 36 years ago.
I'd like to strap some environmentally friendly foam to Big Al and send him into orbit.
"OK, what the heck has NASA been doing for the past two years?"
"Spending over $1 billion."
Exploring Mars, exploring Saturn, Exploring Titan, exporing comets.
Improving the shuttle in many other ways.
Its a test flight. TEST being the operative word here.
They are all test flights really.
We learn by doing.
NASA fixed several areas, and now another has come to attention because of all the new cameras and photography now.
Astounding, isn't it. Never underestimate the inertia of a decrepit old incompetent federal bureuacracy. Never.
"It is not the same problem, the area of the foam dislodging is not the same area as before and in fact this problem is due to (part of the) changes made to eliminate the original problem.
As in some problem solving, when you change the landscape to eliminate the gofer from digging a hole in your front yard, he may just instead dig one in the backyard."
Thats true, I got about a whole family of those little buggers in my yard, I drive em out of one hole and they dig another one, lousy rodents....not unlike liberals is some ways....
Prayers for their safe return.
"NASA is worthless without a real challenge. They need a mission that is difficult enough to clear out the current layer of inept management while attracting new and capable talent."
Nope. The whole NASA concept needs put out to pasture. Space and research in general need to go back to private hands. If government wants pure research done, it should explicitly describe the functions that research is for from which government could really benefit, name a price it's willing to pay toward such a goal or item, and award it to the first person to come up with a practical method or invention.
Even that is unlikely to be a Constitutional use of tax dollars. If the private market doesn't want to do it, it usually ain't worth doing.
And don't get me started on all that Texas and Florida real estate sitting there going to little productive use.
"OK, what the heck has NASA been doing for the past two years?"
Spending over $1 billion.
Looks like they've spent that $1 billion on a bunch of new cameras to take higher resolution pictures of the foam insulation falling off to prove that the new foam sucks.
Funny thing is is that they already knew it fell off upon inspection of a shuttle after its return.
The foam is just insulation to keep the fuel cold before lift-off.
A new design for the insulation factor is needed since it is clear that this flimsy-any-kind-of-other-foam-as-well design is too dangerous to the shuttle now (same problem was there for the first 100 flights though.)
Solid rocket booster instead, thicker tank, up-to-the-minute fueling, new vehicle are the only options really.
Will be a long time and lots of testing before she goes up again.
Here is a quick solution: go back to the OLD foam that didn't fall off and tell the envirowhackos to go kill a truck load of puppies.
Griffen is going to have to get out the big axe if NASA is to be credible.
"The private market has never invested in raw research, or in massive new projects."
Oh, PUH-LEEZE. Wilbur and Orville Wright. Thomas Edison. Leonardo DaVinci. Robert Goddard. See also Space Ship One, Paul Allen.
"NASA provides a vehicle to fund private research while shielding it from the legal risk of loss. How would you like to be the company footing the bill for the Columbia Disaster? Private can exploit technology and develop applications, but your overly idealistic if you think that it can tackle stuff like this."
If your argument is that lawyers suck, well, you're right. If your argument is that nobody innovates because lawyers suck, I refer you to the U.S. patent office. You're overly attached to NASA and government research money if you think private industry CAN'T tackle stuff like this.
Treaty signed by Reagan essentially banning freon whose patents had ended thereby giving Dupont a blank check to charge exorbitant prices for inferior chemicals while throwing a bone to enviro wacko's and placing a secret tax on all of us. What is known as a political win/win.
We are obligated to give to the next generation the same step up as we inherited from those before. We do not have the right to NOT explore. It is inevitable anyways. It is our very nature to do these things. The horizon will always call us. And it is the reason why we are 6 billion strong today. Exploration is part of something so much bigger. It is at the core of humanity itself. We are compelled deep within to do so. People must go and see and touch for themselves. They must be there. Robotic exploration is part of the equation. Not the goal. The goal is far larger.
I could point to dozens of web pages about the benefits of
human space exploration, technologies developed and of lives saved because
of it, but you can easily find them yourself on google.
Im going to tell you what I think instead, and some comments from others that speak a little more to the heart that I find ring true.
One of my most convincing arguments for space exploration is the analogy that Earth itself is a spacecraft. Everything we learn about how to function and live in space applies directly to our spacehip Earth. How to recycle air, water, how to generate and use power efficiently, how to grow food in closed ecosystems. All of it is important. We learn by doing. There is no other way. All of this can benefit mankind in a world with a fast growing population. Understanding other worlds is how we understand OUR world better, to understand how it formed and where it is going. Its our only home for now.
"We must not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began, and to know it for the first time."
Astronaut Story Musgrave thoughts on the matter.....................
"Why Space, Why Explore?
We have no choice, Sir. It is the Nature of Humanity, it is the Nature
The Globe was created and Life Evolved, and you look at every single
cubic millimeter on this Earth, You can go 30,000 feet down below the
Earth surface, You can go 40,000 feet up in the air and Life is There.
When you look at the globe down there, you see Teeming Life Everywhere
It is the Power of Life, And maybe I am not just a Human up here, you
know. Now Life is Leaping off the Planet. It is heading to other parts
of the Solar System, other parts of the Universe
There are those kinds of Pressures. It isn't simply politics, it is
not simply technology, it is really not just the essence of humanity,
but it is sort of also, you could look at it as maybe the Essence of
Life. I think Teilhard de Chardin, in Phenomenon of Man, I believe he
put that incredibly well. So those kind of Forces are at Work. It is
the nature of humans to be exploratory and to Push On
Yes, it costs resources and it does cost a lot, and there is a risk,
there is a penalty, there is a down side, but Exploration and
Pioneering, I think those are the critical things, it is the Essence
of what Human Beings are, and that is to try to understand their
Universe and to try to participate in the entire Universe and not just
their little Neighborhood" -Story Musgrave
President Bush at the Columbia memorial at JSC................
"The cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose, It
is a desire written in the human heart."
And at the announcement of new American space policy...........
"Mankind is drawn to the heavens for the same reason we were once
drawn into unknown lands and across the open sea. We choose to explore
space because doing so improves our lives, and lifts our national
It isn't about just science or exploration, it's about figuring out a path towards settlement.
They did not redeisgn the ET, just made some changes - added heaters, sheilding, camera, sensors, and cutaway some foam they thought they could do with out.
One way to look at it: our shuttle astronauts are safer in space in a damaged vehicle, than riding a London subway here on earth.
I don't think so. We didn't have the problem until the enviros made NASA get rid of the original insulation - which never failed. Since the change, there have been failures on every mission.
You could look it up.
Griffin wants to junk the Space Shuttle and get to work on the CEV. Now.
The Goddard and the Wright brothers were working on a military contracts. Edison worked on developing applications for existing science, and Da Vinci was employed by his Prince. Big raw reseach requires massive public investment, without Isabella,Colombus would never have crossed the ocean.
The shuttle safety record is about 1 death per 12 flights.
Question? Is it in NASA's best interest to let the shuttle fail?
There is so much left do do on the moon. Practice for Mars. Radio astronomy on the far side. Learning how to live in space colonies. Extracting water and air from the soil. Learning to build shelters. Exploring our closest neighbor that we have scarcely trod on at all.
Watch "From the Earth to the Moon" Episode about Apollo 15 and Professor Lee Silver.