Skip to comments.Inexperience hurt shuttle analysis, engineers say
Posted on 02/22/2003 9:52:18 PM PST by NormsRevengeEdited on 04/13/2004 3:30:26 AM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. - Veteran Boeing engineers say their company falsely led NASA to conclude that the space shuttle Columbia was safe to land because top managers assigned the task of assessing damage to employees who had never done that type of analysis for NASA before.
(Excerpt) Read more at bayarea.com ...
There is no reason to bring a huge empty payload bay back from space, which must all be protected from reentry heat. The vulnerable heat shield side of the shuttle is launched in tandem with the 02 tank and its vast area of insulation, setting up the shuttle heat shielding for the type event which destroyed Colombia. There is no workaround for this flaw.
Much better to build cheap one-shot "Big Dumb Boosters" where the astronauts return to earth in a purpose built reentry vehicle similar to the Apollo/Skylab capsules. Leave the payload bay in space or let it fall into the ocean, but bring the astronauts home safely in a purpose built reentry capsule which is protected on lift off.
In the mean-time, what do we do? Keep rolling the dice? Ground the shuttle fleet?
A lose-lose situation, No?
From everything I've heard and read, "creativity" wasn't going to be at all helpful in solving the problem. There was no contigency plan in place for damaged tiles. They were doomed the instant the tiles were damaged.
A designed-in fatal flaw.
I think we will see more of this from Boeing, and not just on the Space Shuttle. Boeing is not the same company that it was prior to the reverse-takeover by McDonnell-Douglas. The company has been put through gut-wrenching cultural changes since that merger, mostly by McDonnell-Douglas people who don't "get" the Boeing culture. The result has been just this sort of mass exodus by good people, leading to loss of valuable institutional memory.
This will not be the last disaster caused by shuffling people around as if they are interchangeable parts. This same phenomenon will start showing up in their airplanes... mistakes caused by having too much institutional memory loss in a given area of endeavor... with that in turn caused by finance-oriented corporate bureaucrats pretending that they can move real people around the same way they shuffle boxes on an org chart.
One of the truly great American companies is being wrecked, and there is really no good reason for any of it.
There is a high cost involved in companies staying on their own, but that is not an option in the merger-mad age we live in where the bottom line is the most important thing.
The loss of cohesiveness and cooperation is too high a cost to pay, IMO, especially when it affects our abilities to execute space-based initiatives.
That's what Dittemore said in one of his first press conferences, and it came off bad IMO. It sounded like, it doesn't matter if we screwed up, they were doomed anyway.
Of the possible rescue scenarios, I think the shuttle Atlantis could have been readied in time with a volunteer crew of commander and pilot.
I thought this article was about the inadequacies of those that performed the analysis of the suspected damage to the shuttle and it's capacity to safely land given what they knew..
OK, they were wrong in their findings, but, assume that a more experienced team concluded that a reentry would result in a catostrophic loss of the vehicle.......what was NASA going to do with than info?.....be "creative" as the professor suggested?
It wasn't the "shuffling of people" that caused this......it was a gross error in the design.
This finger pointing doesn't make any of them less fatal. The shuttle has flown fine on re-entry for well over 100 flights. This is the first time the TPS has totally failed to protect it and caused a loss.
The capsule type system has many drawbacks as well. It too has a heat shield.
It is less desirable because of the difficulty in egress and entry for walks.(I wonder where they would suit up for Hubble repair? How would they snatch a satellite out of orbit. How would they do so many things that are possible now, with the shuttle.
The shuttle was/is a major advance beyond the capsule days. We cannot go back to the horse and buggy. Let's get the loose foam fixed and fly the remaining birds while a better replacement for the shuttle is created.
There were some concrete suggestions mentioned: pre-cooling the bad wing by turning it away from the Sun, and coming in at a different angle so as to concentrate the heat on the good wing. We don't know that that would have worked either, but it wasn't even tried because the damage analysis was too optimistic.
I agree that the basic design had its flaws (what design doesn't?), but I think the bigger factor here was the "failure expectations creep" that occurred when they first saw that the insulation was breaking off the tank during launch and hitting the shuttle. That had happened on many previous missions, and instead of saying, "We have to stop that," they accepted some amount of failure there as a normal thing. Sure enough, they finally had a big enough occurrence of it that it proved catastrophic. What the Hell were people thinking when they saw this stuff breaking off the tank and hitting the wings on multiple missions, and they said, "Well, that's not so bad, we can tolerate some amount of debris flying around loose hitting things." That was just Russian Roulette, and they finally lost.
Other than Hubble repair the Shuttle doesn't have a legitimate mission other than busy work. And the next generation space telescope will be positioned millions of miles beyond the shuttle, as are space telescopes like Chandra already in orbit. The shuttle served its purpose as a military vehicle parading as a civilian vehicle almost 20 years ago. It should have been scuttled once the Soviet Union failed.
I am envsioning a BIG reuseable capsule/crew compartment, big enough certainly to suit up in.
How many satellites, exactly, has the shuttle brought back to earth for repair? What was their value, compared to the amortized total shuttle operating costs?
It's just STUPID imho to have a system where a huge EMPTY payload bay must be brought back for a horizontal landing, where its vast expanse of heat shielding gets beat up or damaged on every lift off. And if it gets beat up enough, the astronauts are DOOMED.
They at least deserve a guaranteed ride home if they make it to space, don't you agree?
One shot BDBs with one shot payload stages would be so much cheaper than operating the shuttles that the finances work better alone, never mind the safety issues. BDBs can be built in shipyard level settings for millions of dollars, not only in "clean rooms" for billions like the shuttles.
The shuttle has too many fatal flaws, there are much better, safer and cheaper ways to go.
But glamour and prestige dictated a reuseable vehicle that landed from space like a plane, bringing back a big empty payload bay, all of which required shielding, all of which gets the crap beat out of it on the way up.
There was not enough glamour or prestige in building huge, cheap, safe boosters, with robust, protected on liftoff, guaranteed to get you down safely crew compartment capsules.
However, many managers do very stupid things. Some think that any semi-technical office drafter or designer can do demanding engineering work with just a few weeks training and a slick software program. I got read the riot act for disagreeing with my manager that our drafter should be trained on FEA analysis. I was simply non-cooperative and a trouble maker for suggesting that if someone can't at least get a ball park estimation with hand calcs for a given stress or strain condition they have no business making pretty pictures on FEA software...much less using the results in a design.
I find it interesting that non-engineers on this forum who aren't familiar with engineering trade-offs and analysis of the complexity of the systems under discussion can argue that the 'flawed from the beginning' design of the shuttle makes the shuttle a death trap and a garbage design. Based on a few ideas and little or no quantitative data people are throwing around opinions on engineering subject matter like it is gospel. Pretty silly and ignorant.
Aw, come on Travis! With that attitude we'd never have gone past catapaults to get to cannons. Risk )8-0 comes with advancing technology. Advancing technology comes with complexity. Complexity is reduced as technology is proven, worked with and and experience level achieved. I would wager that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of things the engineers and designers would have done differently on the shuttle given the current level of experience and hindsight. That will be applied to the next generations of reusable space craft.
Those are words though, Travis. Anybody can type "robust" or "guaranteed to get you down," but actually building the damned things is still hard, and there will still be failures. Hell, we have airplanes fall out of the sky all the time because of mechanical failures. Humans do not know how to do anything perfectly, and we never will. Shooting people into space and bringing them back is still at the 'miracle' stage. A hundred years from now, people will laugh at the idea of riding a tower of explosives into the sky. It's Wright Brothers stuff. It's a wonder we've lost as few people as we have.
Having worked in aerospace for the last 35+ years on the government side, (NASA)I've seen suffering morale of many a contractor employee due to acquisitions or mergers. These men have lost seniority, been treated as inferior by the takeover company, lost stock options, benefits, pay status, all while doing the same identical job, but with a different company name. Many times they didn't even move desks.
I wouldn't doubt if Boeing wanting to move those expert analysis guys to Houston under USA, so they wouldn't be subjected to the corporate overhead in Huntington Beach. But then, who is crazy enough to want to move from beautiful, climatic friendly HB to Houston's humidity. I did but it was hell getting used to the weather. However, Houston aerospace people are some of the finest.
You're so right Nick. I've been all over the Shuttles at KSC. They are very PRIMITIVE space ships. ... and we're still in the primitive stages of learning how to leave the earths atmosphere, without huge cryogenic vessels and/or Solids full of ammonium perchlorate ...
Always easy to judge in hindsight. How much aerospace experience do you have??? How would you have designed it?
Rather than disparage them, prove them wrong.
My understanding is that the EPA mandated FREON FREE insulation on the ET's (and many other essential areas) which resulted in the insulation lacking the cohesion obtained w/FREON mixture. EPA sucks... (but then, I heard on FR that NASA engineers wanted a waiver from EPA and our Administrator Dan Goldin, didn't request the waiver.... so we spent many hundreds of millions of dollars changing systems that worked and were proof tested.. for this new unproven material.... on the ET and other areas.
What the Hell were people thinking when they saw this stuff breaking off the tank and hitting the wings on multiple missions,
Also, I caution everyone to be very skeptical of stories like this. As it did in the Challenger disaster, NASA will use every means at its disposal to shift the blame away from itself. The contractors are always an easy target.
I didn't know that. Thanks for the insight.
This will not be the last disaster caused by shuffling people around as if they are interchangeable parts...
One of the truly great American companies is being wrecked, and there is really no good reason for any of it.
But the situation is much worse and much wider than just Boeing. Your words apply to Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, the Frankenstein's Monster called "United Space Alliance", and the entire US aerospace industry. Moreover, they apply to the entire defense industry. And when you get down to it, they apply to what was formerly known as American Industry itself.
On other recent threads I noted that it was not "accidental" that poorly-designed buildings were collapsing and others were burning down. There is no demand for people who know how to design sound buildings or to retrofit older buildings to make them fire safe. In the case of the collapsed rooves, some fuzzy-chinned MBA no doubt told his boss, "Hey, we could save millions by using the same design for all our stores.". But I digress...
Obviously, America has officially decided that it doesn't need any brains any more.
Well, they could have tryed the tile cooling procedure that was mentioned in the article. That's not creative, that's common sense.
IMHO: I wouldn't be surprised if they could have lived with less flights involving astronauts and instead have sent up a bunch of payloads via unmanned rocket.
I think NASA (& alot of non-pragmatic sci-fi lover/star-trek fan types) have been bent on sending humans up because of this stupid "we're inherently discovers... it's in our DNA!" mindset.
I not only don't need to see humans get to Mars anytime soon, but I would much prefer that our dollars be used wisely and we can get SO MUCH MORE BANG FOR THE BUCK when we use unmanned rockets to the max and only send up folks when we need to.
Good comments, all; as far as it goes. I work in the computer industry, and have clients throughout the US in all fields. The 'Out-sourcing' model is, IMHO, the biggest reason that a good portion of the intelligence, expertise, craftsmanship and their creativity and innovation have taken a back seat to profits and budgetary constraints within the organizations affected.
When the company realized that employees were not going to move from California to Houston, they set up a "Knowledge Capture Program" to prevent a brain drain.I saw one Fortune 50 concern outsource their data center, and shut it's world-wide operations center down and turn it over to another company. Of the 230 very qualified folks who worked there, the new company came in and over a one year period did that type of 'Knowledge Capture'; and they also selected the in-house personnel they wanted to keep and move to their new location 800+ miles away. Out of the 230, 48 were given offers; they were given 1 year 'contracts' , and told to report for work two weeks later at their new location. No provision included for their families, homes, transit costs; if they didn't show up, they were to be considered resigned. Most of the rest of the 180+ were terminated with little regard to their worth and knowledge.
None of the outsourced companies I know of have made money on those deals; they've all lost big, and lost market position in their fields.
How much aerospace experience do you have???
More than enough. I recently did a FOD (impacting debris) probability study for fighter aircraft for the US military.
How would you have designed it?
Reread my post.
This is not a feasible option. First, comparing Shuttle to Apollo is apples and oranges -- the Apollo command module sat at the tip of the Saturn stack, so it was not under threat of debris falling off the booster, as Shuttle is from debris from the ET. The "protective cover" was actually a shell to which the Launch Escape System (LES) was fastened, a way to abort a Saturn launch, and its protective role to the Apollo CM was incidental and secondary.
Second, installing the covers you suggest would add significant weight, change the aerodynamic characteristics of the launch stack, and require downscaling of the payload capacity due to added weight. In addition, creating a pyrotechnic system to jettison the protective covers after the Shuttle reaches orbit adds risk, as the firing of such devices could in themselves damage the tiles and airframe.
You suggest an interesting concept, but it's unworkable, I think.
Reminds me of the movie "Wall Street".