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Why Don't We Learn? This Fossil Needs To Be Buried!

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Bloviating Zeppelin: Why Don't We Learn? This Fossil Needs To Be Buried!

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why Don't We Learn? This Fossil Needs To Be Buried!


I do not believe, knowing what I do about the history of our shuttle system, that I would set foot in any of our current shuttles -- not only as these airframes are old and tired, but because of the continuing culture of not only NASA but its numerous contractors, as illustrated by the deaths of fourteen of our finest astronauts -- most recently the STS 107 mission on February 1st of 2003 wherein chunks of material insulation sloughing off the main propellant tank holed the shuttle Challenger and caused it to burn up in the atmosphere. All seven astronauts perished in, I can only assume, the horrible fires of Hell.

Now, Tuesday's launch of Discovery occurred in fair skies:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - The U.S. space shuttle Discovery roared off its Florida launch pad on Tuesday on a voyage to the International Space Station, a mission whose failure would likely ground the shuttle fleet permanently.


Discovery, carrying seven astronauts, lifted off from the seaside launch site at 2:38 p.m. EDT (1838 GMT) and soared into sunny skies, jettisoning its booster rockets about 2 and a half minutes into the flight. It reached orbit safely about 9 minutes after launch.

Not a bad beginning but, of course, there is more:

Up to six pieces of debris that could be foam insulation fell off Discovery's troublesome external fuel tank minutes after liftoff Tuesday, a top NASA official said. Officials cautioned, however, that it was too soon to know whether the debris struck Discovery and that the pieces came off later than would normally endanger the shuttle.

Columbia's demise in February 2003 was caused by foam insulation that peeled off 70 seconds after liftoff and struck its heat shield.


"About two minutes and 47 seconds give or take (after the Discovery launch), we saw three perhaps four pieces come off (the fuel tank)," said shuttle program manager Wayne Hale, adding that it was unclear whether it was foam or "something else."


"We also saw another piece or two come off at about four minutes 50 seconds," he told reporters at the Kennedy Space Center.


He cautioned, however, that it was "very raw, preliminary data" and would have another report later Tuesday.


But Hale said the debris came off the fuel tank later than officials fear it could damage the shuttle's heat shield.

This certainly appears to me, at first blush, a most similar and sinister replay of the STS 107 Columbia disaster of February 1st, 2003. All seven astronauts perished.

As you no doubt recall, the shuttle Challenger exploded back on January 28th, 1986, the result of an O-ring failure when the craft powered up only 73 seconds into its flight. Engineers at Morton Thiokol (manufacturer of the solid rocket boosters) knew that the colder temperatures at launch were outside of the design range of the O-rings. They strongly objected to the launch, but were overruled by senior Thiokol management. NASA, of course, "went along" with the decision of MT.

T+68.000 seconds:
CAPCOM: "Challenger, go at throttle up."
Scobee: "Roger, go at throttle up."

A massive investigation occurred via the Rogers Commission, wherein Richard Feynman famously demonstrated, during a televised hearing, how the O-rings became less resilient and subject to seal failures at ice-cold temperatures by immersing a sample of the material in a glass of ice water.

He was so critical of flaws in NASA's "safety culture" that he threatened to not sign off on the report unless it included his assessment, which appeared as Appendix F. He pointed to the discrepancy between management claiming a 1 in 100,000 chance of serious failure and the engineers claiming 1 in only 100, a risk one thousand times greater. The commission worked for several months and published a report of their findings.

Feynman was clearly the hero on this commission.

If this is the best we can do as a nation, then we either need to completely redesign and rethink our expensive space transportation systems or abandon our space program altogether. There are clearly more pressing issues back on the planet.

Simply: let's do it right, or not at all.

I fear for our astronauts on the shuttle Discovery. There is much riding on this mission. And there are only three remaining shuttles available for use: Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavor.

Discovery has already made 32 flights since the program's first flight in 1981.

Don't you think that is sufficient?

BZ

13 Comments:

Blogger A Jacksonian said...

Take the last 30 years of space flight development under NASA.

Compare that to *any* 30 years of aviation development.

Both deal with high speeds, harsh environments, deadly elevations, nasty fuels, cantankerous engines and can put human life at risk in a millisecond of failure.

NASA had the entire Cold War to fuel it, which is about what aviation got with two World Wars. So if you want to be fair, limit it to, say, 1950 or '53. Maybe, say 1915-45 for similarity of expenditures. I would be happy with 1903-33 or 1953-83 or, indeed, any 30 years of aviation history compared to the last 30 years of NASA.

That is why I see hooking up investment in energy infrastructure to private space flight development and encouraging same with prizes as was done for aviation.

I did not notice many canvas covered biplanes taking part in World War II in 1945, nor many propeller driven airliners in 1983. So why are we still pushing for Big Government to waste money on useless projects instead of *investing* money into a new and viable space infrastructure that will be safe, secure, low cost and trustworthy?

Kill the program and put out a series of rewards for set goals and contracts to meet regular space access needs to start *building* a new infrastructure. Join with private prize organizations that have their own goals, like the X-Prize folks or the President of Best Western Hotels. I hear Hyatt and Hilton are looking into similar.

Get that cost to orbit down, the turnaround time up and the efficiency rate higher... by paying prizes out that are not 'first past the post' but 'first THREE past the post' so that a competetive infrastructure is built. Use the old space giants on contract until then, but not one dime of prize money to THEM as they have FAILED to make such things and have prefered to suck on the Federal Teat. They have made billions of dollars off of that, and not done a damned thing to advance the state of the art unless 'asked' to with lots of money behind it. Let the Union *reward* innovation and new companies that seek to give All of Us a better way of doing things.

And when they can *THEY* get the contracts and the old space giants can go slumber off... or realize they are now in a competetative environment and need to look to their own funds to compete.

Get NASA out of its monopoly position.

Put down hard and fast prizes and achievement goals.

And build a new and self-sustaining industry in that doing.

Wed Jul 05, 06:51:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

AJ: In quick summation, I am certainly with you on this one. Fourteen astronauts sacrificed first to a callous safety culture, then later to an elder airframe and system, are too many. Certainly they are pioneering heroes and died "doing what they wanted and loved" but they are still dead and their families affected for years to come.

The shuttle has done its job. It's time to move on to another system and, yes, why not place some private investment into the mix as well?

BZ

Wed Jul 05, 07:10:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bushwack said...

I agree it could use some modernization and the private sector is not gettting enough play so to speak.
I would like this program to continue for the remainder of our existance, the leaps made from the technology aspect alone are worth the price. alot of the things that are common place in our society now got their start in the NASA org. and the quest for space travel.
You both make excellent points, and should be considered. When will you two be running for office, and where? I'll be moving there.

Wed Jul 05, 10:05:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Bushwack said...

I agree it could use some modernization and the private sector is not gettting enough play so to speak.
I would like this program to continue for the remainder of our existance, the leaps made from the technology aspect alone are worth the price. alot of the things that are common place in our society now got their start in the NASA org. and the quest for space travel.
You both make excellent points, and should be considered. When will you two be running for office, and where? I'll be moving there.

Wed Jul 05, 10:05:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

07 05 06

BZ you are right. NASA has fallen behind in so many ways, and the trend is showing itself in academia as well. Aside from some choice institutions that are moving with the future, a lot of politicking has adversely affected research and new innovation over the past few years. And with all the technology, we will see some new schools emerge as leading institutions. One of the biggest issues I have is that the private sector is outstripping much of academia now, NOT due to cost but due to Shortsighted bullshit politicking. I will go into this more, suffice it to say the issue is quite relevant in the broader scheme of things. Great post, glad you are blogging again. I might have to stop alltogether, but will still continue to read you on the regular:)

AJ thanks for your comment, I always learn from you!

Wed Jul 05, 12:50:00 PM PDT  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

bushwack - My political party of One can often get out of its chair and walk down the stairs for a meal... and even slowly amble about shopping, if I schedule two days of rest after that. Running is far past me save for a few short steps in dire emergency...

Mahndisa - The problem with corporations moving into research is that it is *targeted* research to a given end. The problem with academic research is that it fosters a *publish or perish* environment in which long term work is often shelved over something that can be published *now*, not in two-five years. Some long-term science can only be done with deep pockets, and needs be put forth as something worthwhile to do in and of its own sake for the betterment of the Nation. Good, long-term basic science needs funding and longer schedules so that it is not forced into short term marketing needs by its academics.

On the whole, however, the problem with space access is no longer *rocket science* but *rocket engineering*. The Linear Aerospike Engine was the last real advance by aerospace science, moving from theory to engineering in the 1980's. After that you are in the materials sciences and basic Newtonian mechanics. Newer materials that can withstand higher temperatures and changing orbits to give some means to shed velocity are now the two main areas for design engineering. Basic science is done on probes and those can, and should, be lofted by commercially contracted vehicles. And as with them so should humans. That requires an *industrial sector* which the US no longer has that pushes the envelope of applied materials science.

Having worked in R&D I do know the difference between Basic and Applied, and for rocketry there is precious little Basic to be done, quite a bit of Applied and Commercialized to be explored and pushed. That is why I push on the Paid Goals and Guaranteed Contracts: it pushed aviation from rickety wooden and canvas biplanes to metal skin monowings in less than 30 years. The STS is, for all practical purposes, a 1960's era design with some 1970's materials and first theorized in the 1930's with the Antipodal Bomber. Keeping NASA in charge of the space monopoly has demonstrably and negatively impacted advances in low cost to orbit vehicles. The STS proved a 1930's concept can work!

How nice... and after that? A space telescope and a few probes and a space station to do *science* that has not done much for same as far as anyone can see. The basics were done in the 1960's with a few flourishes in the 1970's and since then... a sinkhole of money in and not much out. I believe that bureaucrats now outnumber engineers on the 3:1 ratio or higher, with JPL and one or two other smaller groups actually doing *real* science. They hypersonic work needs application *now*, but the NASA pace guarantees three decades of stagnation for it.

Cut off the vehicle and manned areas, fire the bureauracrats and keep the few good space centers for *real* science as the remains and hand them to the NSF or similar. The precious billion or so they get *still* makes real science. Engineers and scientists are very good at Applied science under commercial needs, and it is time to make this a commercial market with US companies getting high preference and rewards for making set goals. Not some global multinational that only knows to suck Federal dollars, but a US company that will dedicate itself to real innovation. Three past the post to get competition. The US never guaranteed airmail to a single carrier and thus it should be with space flight.

Wed Jul 05, 01:40:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Revka said...

Blo,
Just a question, really to you and A.J.

I have heard it said that the reason they are having such a rough time with the foam insulation is because of the 'environmental friendly' type of foam it is. From what I understand, they had to comply with environmental 'rules' forcing them to forgo a higher quality material. Am I right?

If that is true, that should make Americans steaming mad at these wacko's and any congress or president that kisses up to them.

Wed Jul 05, 02:22:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Revka said...

Blo,
Just a question, really to you and A.J.

I have heard it said that the reason they are having such a rough time with the foam insulation is because of the 'environmental friendly' type of foam it is. From what I understand, they had to comply with environmental 'rules' forcing them to forgo a higher quality material. Am I right?

If that is true, that should make Americans steaming mad at these wacko's and any congress or president that kisses up to them.

Wed Jul 05, 02:22:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Gayle said...

You brought back some horrible memories with this one. I watched the Challenger lift off, and I watched it explode, not on TV but in real life and it was so far beyond horrible I can't describe it.

I watched the lift off of Discovery with baited breath and was so happy they made it, but you're right; they still have to complete their missions and land safely and you would't believe how worried I am for them! If what Revka said about the foam is true that's an abomination! I heard on Fox News that the new Shuttles aren't due unill 2012 or 2013.

Wed Jul 05, 03:07:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

I don't have anything against our space programs per se, but I do wonder why we cannot somehow manage to update our technology to the point where it isn't a crap shoot and where pieces parts don't fall off our machines.

The private sector would be a big plus but NASA, unless forced, will never, ever relinquish any amount of the power it holds -- not to mention its budget.

Bushwack: I'll be running for office when AJ does -- hell, I'd vote for him WAY before I'd vote for ME.

Mahndisa: I'm not sure I understand what you mean when you write that the private sector is already outstripping academia. Do you mean that the universities cannot produce sufficient numbers of well educated persons to meet current demands?

Rebecca: I had not hear of the foam issue; I will see what might be unearthed about this. If this is even remotely true -- well. . .

Gayle: and with that platform not arriving until 2010 or so -- would YOU get into any of our three remaining shuttles? After having watched pieces fall off the two prior missions?

Also, there is something "up" with this mission -- I'm suspecting there is an even greater criticality with the space station that we're not being told -- something very dangerous or time-critical; the station occupants are running out of food, out of oxygen, something of that nature.

BZ

Why can't we do better than this

Wed Jul 05, 04:44:00 PM PDT  
Blogger A Jacksonian said...

Rebecca - The new foam insulation to be non-Freon based has been a problem, but STS icing issue predates the foam issue, along with the other engineering design flaws of the system itself.

The overall main problem is that NASA was unwilling to pay for a unibody Single Stage To Orbit program and, instead, hastily cobbled together the Shuttle out of 1930's based ideas. Instead of pushing heavily for more research on the Linear Aerospike and SSTO concept, which would take about a decade for the bureaucracy to churn over, the politically expedient Shuttle that could have work divided over hundreds of Congressional Districts was chosen.

Politics trumps engineering.

The basic answer is that the foam is only *part* of the problem, and even the older foam came off when saturated and iced, as multiple videos have demonstrated. Each launch with foam on the exterior tank and any rain or cold weather or BOTH is a cause for concern.

Today a unibody SSTO design is preferable and Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen and Dick Rutan are all trying to get there via different starting methods. This needs to be the basis of a NEW space flight industry, and backed heavily by performance awards to stimulate even *more* competition.

The deaths of those on both disasters is to be laid at the feet of NASA *and* Congress.

Thu Jul 06, 05:00:00 AM PDT  
Blogger Revka said...

Thanks A.J. I Knew I heard it somewhere.

On another note, I don't think people realize how much damage the Clintons did to our country. The reason is because the MSM won't ever disclose it. It is left to the pundits and bloggers. The far left libs are carbon copies of the Clintons and worse.

After the news today of a plot to bomb the subway in N.Y. and all the appeasment the left desires to do with NK, and what is going on with Iran and Isreal, WE CAN'T afford to have a spineless whimpy republican, or a far-left wacked out lib in office in 2008, and we can't turn over congress to the libs. Our freedom is hanging in the balance and I don't think we even see it.

We need a conservative who is even more conservative than Bush to be quite frank. Does anyone know who could be in the running?

Honestly, Guilliani is wrong socially, but as far as keeping our freedoms, I would vote for him in a heartbeat. He would be a great leader in this time of war. He would protect us, and I hope he would not give into the whimps in this country.

Fri Jul 07, 12:25:00 PM PDT  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Rebecca: Administratively-speaking, Giuliani is one excellent manager. I also believe he would be strong for the country. I am uncertain if he would be prepared for the backlash he'd invariably receive because he wants to proceed in one fashion: his way. Not saying his way is wrong; simply saying the politicos would do everything in their powers to grind him. His marital infidelities would only be the starting point.

BZ

Sat Jul 08, 07:49:00 AM PDT  

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