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.
"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."
Exactly what I was thinking! That was the purpose for grounding them for 2 and a half years! This is our tax money folks. I support the program but whoever is running NASA has many questions to answer.
There is a small legal matter to attend to and then private industry will take care of developing outer space. As it stands now, however, private industry will not take care of developing outer space. Private industry is effectively excluded from outer space.
"Space flight is hazardous and not for weenies !!!"
And apparently some of the critics here think they are smarter then the engineers and brave astronauts combined on this challenging problem. What part of "test' flight is not understood? She wont fly again until this new data is processed and acted upon. thats the way it works.
As "Q" said on Star Trek....
"If you can't take a little bloody nose, maybe you'd better just go home and crawl under your bed. It's not safe out here. It's wonderous, filled with wonders to satiate desires both suttle and gross, but it's not for the timid."
For new land to be claimed it must be occupied. Robots are not going to make the grade in that repect, not until we can declare robots to be legal persons..
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.
They need a mission that is difficult enough to clear out the current layer of inept management while attracting new and capable talent.
and recieving the proper funding to pay for it.
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. :)
If they are keeping America ahead, then why are we paying Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station and why is China launching satellites for US companies?
"Russia conducted the majority of space launches last year, according to Russian officials, carrying out 42.6 percent of launches compared to 29.6 percent by the United States, 14.8 by China and just 5.6 percent by the ESA itself, ahead of India's 1.9 percent share."
"If they are keeping America ahead, then why are we paying Russia to ferry astronauts to the space station and why is China launching satellites for US companies?"
Because it is the "international" space station and our shuttle fleet just had a major failure to recover from.
To be fair to the manned space program I think humans can be useful in monitoring robots and tele-operated exploration vehicles by being in orbit around the planet or moon being investigated. It would be a terrific advantage to not have to deal with the signal delays of minutes or hours.
Oh no. We can't do that. Didn't the UN declare all the celestial bodies off limits to permanent human habitation?
Too pristine and all that.
Public research requires a massive waste of taxpayer funds. Queen Isabella didn't have to deal with a greedy bureaucracy, political correctness, pork-barrel politicians and environmental correctness. She just did it.
Why did they send a schoolteacher on a "test flight"? The shuttle has become an expensive political showboat.
Maybe millions. When DDT production was banned, Malaria made a comeback and the death rate skyrocketed.
"Why did they send a schoolteacher on a "test flight"? The shuttle has become an expensive political showboat."
This flight is considered a test flight. They all will be now for the most part from a safety stand point.
Yes shuttle did not deliver what was promised in the early seventies. Lets keep beating up NASA shall we for a decision made thirty years ago yes?
Expensive political show boat? uh huh. yeah thats it. Nixon started it, Ford and Carter continued it. Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton too and now Bush 43.
Seeing a pattern here? Americans want to explore space. WE ARE EXPLORERS. Shuttle will be replaced. She still has a job to finish. And we learn something new every time she flies. WE learn by doing. She is the only girl in town right now.
One would think that after about twenty years in flight they would get the shuttle right. But as a result of NASA's fiddling we have lost our edge in space.
Time to privatize.
One would think that after about twenty years in flight they would get the shuttle right. But as a result of NASA's fiddling we have lost our edge in space.
Time to privatize.
I do too. I want space colonized. That's why I don't want the government to do it.
Our government is not what it used to be. In the 60's we went from nothing to landing men on the moon in less than ten years. But after 30 years the government has been wasting money on the space shuttle and they are still making "test flights".
Lets keep beating up NASA shall we for a decision made thirty years ago yes?
No, I want to beat them up for what they are doing today; wasting money and defending a failed, pork barrel project.
If we were explorers, we wouldn't need to be taxed to explore. I think we are video gamers, skateboarders, snowboarders and sports fans who waste a thousand times as much money on frivolous crap as we do on exploration.
Together, Russia and China launch twice as many satellites as we do. I'm not too proud of that.
"If we were explorers, we wouldn't need to be taxed to explore."
oh for Petes sake,
Building a machines like a Saturn V moon rocket or the shuttle is not something that gets done without taxes nor by a single individual.
Just as building a nuclear aircraft carrier or B2 Bomber.
And the many European explorers that came to America hundreds of years ago were funded by their leaders/kings/queens.
Oh, so THAT is what that KLUNK was??? G'nite, zzzzzzz.....
We could put passels more up if we did it all unmanned. We keep going for the prestige. Well that's nice but prestige doesn't haul satellites up there in bulk.
That's the guy.
Government contacts to private companies are not necessarily inherently wasteful. If they can somehow avoid all the bureaucracy, they can get the job done efficiently. A lot of the unmanned space exploration, such as JPL which is managed by Caltech, a private university, is doing an excellent job overall.
But on the shuttle, NASA is the dog that wags the tail.
I think you are making assumptions. You don't give the private sector enough credit.
The reason that this sort of thing is not financed by private industry, (even though private industry actually does the work), is that most companies big enough to afford this sort of thing are not allowed to exist.
If a corporation gets that big it is very quickly suffocated and subjugated by our paranoid and overweening federal government. Bill Gates learned that a few years ago. He is however allowed to invest his money in non-threatening pursuits. For example, the Gates foundation donated about 5 billion on malaria vaccine research. Kind of a waste really, since DDT is the best malaria vaccine.
But if he had that money on space exploration...