Skip to comments.NASA Grounds Shuttle Fleet While Probing Columbia Disaster
Posted on 02/01/2003 8:02:03 PM PST by Destro
NASA Grounds Shuttle Fleet While Probing Columbia Disaster
02 Feb 2003, 01:22 UTC
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The U.S. space agency, NASA, is suspending future shuttle flights until it knows what caused the loss of the shuttle Columbia and its seven- member crew. Columbia broke up over Texas Saturday minutes before it was to land in Florida after a 16-day research mission in Earth orbit.
Seven astronauts, including the first from Israel, went down to their deaths in a hail of shuttle debris over Texas. Dramatic videotapes from a Dallas television station show it streaking to Earth in several smoking pieces.
Shuttle officials say the first sign of a problem was the loss of readings from sensors that measure tire pressure and temperature and structural heat on the orbiter's left side as it at headed toward landing at 18 times the speed of sound. Chief flight director Milt Heflin says controllers lost all contact with the shuttle minutes later.
"We lost the data and that's when we clearly began to know that we had a bad day," he said.
News reports tell of shuttle remains strewn across a wide area of east Texas. NASA is sending technicians to Texas to collect it with help from national, state, and local emergency agencies. NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe has established both an internal and independent external review board to investigate the cause of the disaster.
"This is indeed a tragic day for the NASA family, for the families of the astronauts, and likewise tragic for the nation," said Mr. O'Keefe.
The head of the shuttle program, Ron Dittemore, says debris analysis is key to understanding what happened to Columbia. He pledged a non-stop effort to assess it and all related flight data.
"It's going to take us some time to work through the evidence and the analysis to clearly understand what the cause was," he explained. "We will be poring over that data 24 hours a day for the foreseeable future."
Pending the answer, NASA is suspending all space shuttle flights. It has stopped preparing orbiters for flight at the Kennedy Space Center launch site, including the one that was scheduled to exchange crews at the International Space Station in early March.
A Russian supply rocket, set for launch Sunday, is bringing supplies that NASA says will support the station crew through late June.
Seventeen years ago, the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch, but the Columbia disaster is the first time a shuttle has been lost returning from orbit since the program began 113 missions ago in 1981.
At the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, space expert Joan Johnston-Freese notes that takeoff and landings are the most dangerous times for space shuttles.
"That's when the maximum pressure and velocity occur," she said. "The shuttle lands as a large glider and control is always a challenge, but under those conditions of pressure and velocity, the shuttle is so super-heated at that point that it's a very volatile situation under the best of conditions."
As part of NASA's probe, technicians will look for any signs that an unusual launch incident may have damaged critical insulating tiles on the shuttle's left wing, the side of the shuttle where the sensor readings went dead. Insulation from the rocket that helped boost Columbia to orbit flew off and hit the wing during liftoff.
Shuttle manager Dittemore says that after exhaustive analysis early in the mission, flight engineers determined that it probably would have no affect on the flight. But given Columbia's loss, he did not dismiss the potential impact to the wing.
"We're going to go back and see if there is a connection. Is that the smoking gun? It is not. We don't know enough about it. A lot more analysis and evidence needs to come to the table," he emphasized. "It's not fair to represent the tile damage as the source. It's just something we need to go look at."
When the Columbia disaster occurred, NASA administrator O'Keefe was at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida awaiting the shuttle's return with the families and friends of the astronauts. What was to be a happy reunion turned into grief-stricken moments of consolation. Mr. O'Keefe paid tribute to the astronauts, whom he said dedicated their lives to facing scientific challenges for all of us on Earth.
"The loss of this valued crew is something we will never be able to get over and certainly the families of all of them," he said. "We have assured them we will do everything, everything, we can possibly do to guarantee that they work their way through this horrific tragedy."
Security had been tighter than usual at the landing site because the presence of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon prompted government fears that he might be the target of a terrorist attack. However, NASA says there is no indication that terrorism is involved in the shuttle loss.
The concept of the Shuttle--a reusable orbiting payload vehicle sounds like a good idea but it has never worked out with with our current technological and budget limits.
Simply put NASA has placed all its eggs in the Space Shuttle program and because of that our rocket technology and space exploration program has suffered. The Russians are still a generation ahead of us on rockets because they still produce them and rely on them.
Disposable rockets are 10 times cheaper and 100 times more structurally sound than a reusable space shuttle.
In addition the cargo bay of the space shuttle limits the payload capacity of the shuttle while on disposable rockets the payload is theoretically unlimited.
PS: A story I heard about the approach of the Russian and NASA space programs is very illuminating. The story goes like this, when a Russian space agency official was told by a proud NASA official about the expense and effort of its engineers that goes into desgining even the so called astronaut or space pen that allows it to be used in zero gravity the Russian replied "we use pencils."
It is time to start using disposable-reliable space vehicles and open up space to private industry.
For starters I would ask congress to authorize a bounty that it would reimburse any private organization that would send a manned mission to Mars and return its crew to Earth safely that would cover all expenses plus 15%.
Competition to Mars would capture and ignite the world's imagination.
Open space to private industry yes .... yes disposables, absolutely NOT.
We should have an SSTO spaceplane to replace the shuttle. And nuclear rockets for ultra heavy payloads to go into orbit.
"Recent inspections of Space Shuttle Atlantis and Space Shuttle Discovery found cracks, measuring one-tenth to three-tenths of an inch, in one flow liner on each of those vehicles. Some of the cracks were not identifiable using standard visual inspections and were only discovered using more intensive inspection techniques. "These cracks may pose a safety concern and we have teams at work investigating all aspects of the situation," said Space Shuttle Program Manager Ron Dittemore. "This is a very complex issue and it is early in the analysis. Right now there are more questions than answers. Our immediate interests are to inspect the hardware to identify cracks that exist, understand what has caused them and quantify the risk. I am confident the team will fully resolve this issue, but it may take some time. Until we have a better understanding, we will not move forward with the launch of STS-107." The impact of the investigation on other upcoming space shuttle launches has not been determined." - - June 24, 2002
Here's what I would do, and I have said this repeatedly, even just yesterday: Launch cargo on BDBs [Big, Dumb Boosters.] Launch crew on separate man-rated vehicles, which means the crew can escape under any circumstances, and for crew re-entry, use something much smaller and easier to make robust. Forget the wings.
Get to work on this right now and assume the Space Shuttle is headed for mothballs as of today. If any more building is to happen on the ISS, use BDBs to launch the hardware.
It's time to rethink NASA's mission. Moonbase and Marsbase should be the goal. NOW.
The real advantage of unmanned flight is that you don't have to factor human safety into major decisions.
That is silly. Things break, shiite happens. Airliners have catastrophic failures, nobody (except the French) panics and gives up. One hundred years from now, with technology we can't imagine, people are going to die traveling to and from space.
Sure, the shuttle is a failure in many ways, but if you think space can be made affordable by throwing away millions of dollars worth of hardware with each flight, forget it.
Right now, you really can't draw conclusions and take them seriously.
I cannot imagine any private company that would attempt this for a mere 15% return on investment.
The shuttle is a much more capable and complicated system, plus the Russians pay their engineers in magic beans.
While what you say about the safety record is true, the sample size is too small to draw any statistical conclusions.
In fact the French-using big dumb boosters undersell NASA in putting up satellites as do the Chinese.
I know the Space Shuttle looks good on a poster but it is not a good program.
Would you like to get on-board for this great business opportunity I'm working on? We're developing a disposable car; you *throw it away* after one trip. Imagine all the savings ... no oil changes, no expensive repairs, typically you don't even need to visit a gas station (we sell it with a full tank of gas). And it only costs 40% of what a reusable car costs! Amazing! We think we'll revolutionize the automotive industry. What do you think?
The only way space travel is going to become routine or efficient is through the development of reusable vehicles. The shuttle is a first-generation reusable vehicle flying 30-year-old technology that cut some questionable corners (for budgetary reasons) when it went up the first time. Like most first-generation techologies, it has quite a few problems. The solution is to develop the second-generation technology, not retreat back to a technology that is ultimately a dead end.
The Russian Soyuz vehicle is 40+ year-old technology for the most part, by the way, not at all "a generation ahead" of anything.
After all look at there last interesting aircraft.
Of course if auroa is ready to be unvieled that technology could easily be transfered to a space vehicle.
Space exploration is only possible with disposable vehicles.
I love Star Trek too, but we ain't there yet.
any other public paid for conveyance with that miserable of a safety record.
If Bush wanted a spaceplane, all we have to do is offer a 1 billion dolar bonus plus an order for 20 spaceplanes @ 300 million each.
Boeing and McDonnel-Douglas would be all over that in a heartbeat.
It's beats funding AIDS to the tune of 15 billion dollars that's for sure.
Yes. And? Claiming economy in comparison with the shuttle is like claiming compassion in comparison to Stalin.
I know the Space Shuttle looks good on a poster but it is not a good program.
Actually, it is not a good launch system. It is a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none.
I cannot imagine any private company that would attempt this for a mere 15% return on investment.
I could .... can you imagine how much other large companies would pay to have their corporate logos and flags planted on Mars??? Then think of advertising and other marketable factors of the landing / voyage et cetera.
You could also put all the spare seats up for bid .... Microsoft Computer specialist ... err .. Sun MicroSystems Computer Specialist. Exxon geologist, Proctor and Gamble biologist ... ad nauseum.
The return from the feds should be cost + 50% and NO corporate income taxes for 10 years for the companym (and employees) that does it. THAT would get results.
From autos to trains to planes, they all have one thing in common: practicality. These things were dreamed up and built by individuals to be useful.
Spacecraft are developed by government and practicality and economics are never considerations. The overall shuttle design is not a product of engineering or necessity, but politics. Once the bureaucrats were finished, they handed the engineers a list of requirements that looked like they were strung together by sugared up third graders after watching cartoons all day.
There are ways of making spaceflight safer and more economical, and that should be the goal.
"Having overcome a major engineering hurdle, local space engineers have begun designing a low-cost rocket that will launch satellites into low-Earth orbits after having been dropped from a transport plane.
Blueprints for the rocket will be completed this year and the new two-stage Polyot rocket is to be manufactured and launched into space as soon as mid-2003, said Anatoly Karpov, president of the Moscow-based Air Launch Corp.
Karpov said the corporation will charge as little as $5,000 for each kilogram of payload, just 40 percent of what Western launch companies charge.
Robert Ivanov, Air Launch`s deputy general designer, said Tuesday that designers had solved a key problem on how to drop the 100-metric-ton rocket from a transport plane.
Initially, the corporation`s engineers had planned to build an 80-ton rocket and drag it out from the hold of an An-124-100 Ruslan cargo plane using a set of special parachutes, he said at a news conference.
However, it turned out that the largest parachutes available could pull only 20 tons out of an airborne plane, the designer said. Also, the corporation decided last year to increase the lift-off weight of the rocket from 80 tons to 100 tons to boost its cost-efficiency, Ivanov said.
``We were in a dilemma of whether to use five parachutes and face the risk of them getting caughtup in each other or to find a safer way of dropping the rocket,``Ivanov said.
Rather than struggle with parachutes, the corporation chose to develop a new technology to push the rocket out of the plane, he said.
This boils down to having air pressure push the rocket out of the plane, Ivanov said. He said the rocket will be put in a special container that will be integrated into the plane.
Ivanov said air pressure will be swiftly raised inside the container to literally push the rocket out into the sky at the appropriate time. Simultaneously, the plane will reach the top of a swift upward maneuver, when gravity is minimal, to ease the dropping of the rocket, he said.
The rocket will be able to deliver a payload of up to 3 tons to polar orbits of about 200 kilometers and up to 4 tons to equatorial orbits also of about 200 kilometers. Ultimately, the rocket will also be able to launch up to 400 kilograms to geostationary orbits, Ivanov said.
Air Launch vice president Sergei Mashurov said in a recent interview that his corporation needs some $120 million to complete the Air Launch project. He said his company is negotiating with U.S., European and South Asian investors to have them shoulder the costs, but would not provide any names.
Mashurov said each Polyot launch will be priced at around $20 million with a potential demand for up to 11 launches every year. Mashurov said the costs of the project will be recovered in as little as four years if 11 launches are sold annually.
The corporation, which was set up in May 1999 by Polyot airlines and the Design Bureau of Chemical Automatics, which are both based in Voronezh, central Russia, has just sent out technical requirements to its contractors and the latter are already at work on the project, Ivanov said.
Among these contractors is rocket space corporation Energia of Korolyov, outside Moscow, which is to design and assemble the entire rocket and the launch container, Ivanov said. Energia is also to provide a low-temperature engine for the launcher's second stage, he said. The first-stage engine will be provided by the Kuznetsov Scientific Technical Complex of Samara, central Russia, Ivanov said in a telephone interview.
The Antonov design bureau of Kiev, which designed the Ruslan plane, is responsible for converting two of these cargo planes to accommodate Polyot launch containers, Ivanov said.
Also the Pilyugin Scientific Production Bureau of Automated Engineering of Moscow is designing and will manufacture control systems for the rocket, he said. TsSKB-Progress of Samara will integrate spacecraft into the rocket, Ivanov said.
Mashurov said he expects the would-be Air Launch system to win a decent share of the market for light-weight spacecraft launches. He said some 1,800 of such craft are expected to be launched between 2000 and 2015 for a total of anywhere between $10 billion to $15 billion."
(source: Moscow Times, May 24, 2000)
The only thing that comes quickly to mind are the Navy dirigibles Akron and Macon. The Akron crashed 4 April 1933 on her 74th flight. The Macon's final flight also ended in a crash on 12 February 1935, on her 54th flight.
The Macon's flight ended the Navy's rigid airship program, though they continued to fly nonrigid blimps until 31 August 1962 with a much better safety record.
That isn't in the cards; a fresh, new program to explore and develop outer space with renewed American determination is. International cooperation will be welcomed. Foreign astronauts will be encouraged to participate.
Israel was very proud of their astronaut and happy to participate with the American space program. They will be more than pleased to continue, especially considering the sacrifices made by all parties. The bond is stronger than ever.
You can make 15% selling toothpaste. Further, a billion dollars won't even get you started. The R & D alone would cost many times that.
Imagine yourself sitting in front of the board of directors proposing to put all of the assets of the company on the line for a 15% profit if you succeed. Now imagine convincing a bunch of bankers to finance this project.
Boeing is having some dificulties getting financing for its next generation passenger jumbo jet because of the huge costs. There is simply no company which can or would take this kind of risk.