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?
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