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.
Whose dime are planning to spend on your dream anyway?
"A major political decision will now have to be made because surely the fix will require additional funding that would be taken away from other NASA programs and the shuttle follow-on program."
"IMO, "no insulation events" was the bottom line for this flight."
We dont know yet. It may be as simple as not putting foam in that area. There will never be a pristine tank after that kind of violence.
Lets let the experts process the data. Im sure that ideas are brewing in the melons of these guys even as we speak.
"Whose dime are planning to spend on your dream anyway?"
Its an American dream payed for buy American Taxpayers.
Supported by the majority of American citizens and voted on by their representives bi-partisanly.
So its not my Dream. Its the American majoritys dream and we are committed. You are along for the ride unwillingly.
You people have absolutely no clue. This is what happens when we lose true manufacturing expertise. The problem is not with NASA per se. It is with contractors, sub contractors, and sub-sub contractors that are all doing this piecemeal work with outsourced, third-world labor. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if the actual technicians mixing the ingredients for the foam and pasting the tiles on the shuttle can't read the spec manuals or hold a 30-second conversation with you in English.
I suggest that you do a little research before you pop off and make a fool of yourself.
Robert Goddard did his original rocket research on a private grant. Orville and Wilbur Wright built and flew their Wright flyer on their profits from their bicycle manufacturing business.
Of course when they seceded in flying their vehicles, then they cashed in with some modest government contracts, in addition to much larger private deals.
Rarely does government lead innovation. Usually they find struggling entrepreneurs and turn them into government contractors, incapable of putting together a PowerPoint slide show for less than $1M. /sarcasm
Life is hard. It is harder if you are stupid. :)
How do you know that some of us FReepers (that have been here a lot longer than you) are not engineers much more familiar with the shuttle and its problems than you are?
Sure there is some piling on going on. But blindly following the stuff that comes out of NASA PAO is merely spreading the ignorance around.
A lot of good people worked long and hard on making this and every other shuttle flight as safe as possible. Unfortunately the Political Correctness of environmental friendliness at the expense of safety and common sense is forced on those people by government bureaucrats, that know that their job continues regardless of whether shuttle fly - safely or otherwise.
Stick around a while, you'll be amazed at what you will learn on FR.
Whether the Shuttle continues is also a question of funding, politics, perceptions and careers. Mike Griffen has a hard decision to make. If he told the shuttle program "no more insulation events", they know what is coming next.
To sum it all up Space Flight is extremely hard to do (reliably) now matter how easy or routine NASA or RSA makes it look !!!!!
"I think I know more than you than your burp of a comment !"
which comment? Im confused.
Let me summerize.
Im saying there is always risk. that NASA should not be beat up over this flight and that a better solution will come from this. That it is considered a test flight. And this is what test flights are for. Sometimes things dont work as expected. It was serious. We are seeing things for the first time that were happening all along simply because nobody was looking for it. And that the possible solutions could be rather simple, as simple as not applying foam in this new problem ramp area.
This is about a different Chicken Little theory -- ozone depletion. CFCs used in the foam decompose into chlorine monoxide which reacts with the ozone. Trouble with the theory is that the oceans also produce about ten thousand times as much chlorine monoxide as the CFCs do.
Also stopped the use of Volitile Organic Compounds. Most companies did not contest the protocol since it was thought that substitutes could be found for most products. But MEK was dropped as a cleaner, and the replacement did not clean as well. Verathane went to a water based, has it worked as well as the old thinner based paint? What made the foam stick may have been the cleaning agent or the compounds or the process, but the new process did not work as well and NASA did not worry about it til the Challenger disaster.
I don't think the Wright brothers got any money from the military until long after they got their flyer to work. Their was, however, another inventor who did get a research contract. He spent a lot of money but failed miserably. The success of the Wrights was such an embarrassment to the government that the Smithsonian Museum refused to give them credit for the first flight.
This is not the first time that has happened. The cause of the 1986 Challenger explosion is officially established as hot gases burning through an O-ring joint in one of the solid-rocket boosters. NASA was roundly criticized for its decision to launch in cold weather over the objection of some engineers, but there was a deeper cause that was not as widely reported.
In 1985 NASA had switched to a new putty to seal the O-ring joints. The new putty became brittle at cold temperatures, thus allowing Dr. Richard Feynman to teach NASA a famous lesson. At the congressional hearing investigating the accident, he simply placed some of the O-ring putty in a glass of ice water and crumbled it in his fingers.
NASA had changed the sealant because its original supplier for O-ring putty stopped producing it for fear of anti-asbestos lawsuits.
About a hundred years ago, most research was done by private individuals who were financed by wealthy backers. Henry Bessemer was one. It is the way things should be. If we didn't have to pay about 40% of our income in taxes, there would be a lot more private investment.
At one time NASA was run and staffed by some very sharp people. Today it has become just another politically correct money pit.
I think you are thinking about Langley. They named a NACA/NASA center after him. One can accurately say that they are continuing his legacy of spending a lot of money and failing miserably. :)
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