Adam Ash

Your daily entertainment scout. Whatever is happening out there, you'll find the best writing about it in here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

What the FUCK is it with NASA that the same tiles fall off AGAIN? Fuck me with a 1,000 shuttle designer SHITHEADS.

Jeez. Like we don't have enough to worry about here on earth, now we gotta worry about the shuttle astronauts up there in space. If this shuttle can't come back, have they got another shuttle ready to go and get them? Like one with foam tiles that DON'T fall off? The NY Times shares what must be a nation-wide irk:

When a piece of insulating foam more than half the weight of the one that doomed the Columbia broke off from the shuttle Discovery's external fuel tank during ascent this week, it not only raised questions about the safety of future shuttle flights, but also called into question the competence and engineering judgment of NASA, its contractors and its oversight boards. This was the very problem that NASA had spent two years and hundreds of millions of dollars trying to correct.

The agency took the only reasonable step by announcing that it would ground the shuttle fleet indefinitely while it tried to identify and fix the foam-shedding problem. It should use that time to re-examine whether the shuttle program and the international space station that it serves are worth the risk and enormous cost to keep them at the core of the space program. The shuttle is looking increasingly like a jalopy that has gotten too expensive to keep repairing and may be ready for a trade-in.

Fortunately, that piece of foam seems to have missed the shuttle, but this may have been a very close call. The foam broke off at a point in the ascent when it drifted harmlessly away. Had it broken off 40 seconds earlier, as the foam that doomed the Columbia did, it could have hit the orbiter and poked a hole in the shuttle's fragile protective skin.

If that had happened, the astronauts would have been in grave peril. They would have been unable to fly back through Earth's atmosphere, lest superheated gases penetrate the hole and destroy the shuttle, as happened to Columbia. They would have been able to try to repair the damage with the tools and materials they are scheduled to test on this flight, but nobody considers those repair kits ready for real use, and a clumsy repair might fail or make things worse. Alternatively, the astronauts could have taken refuge on the space station and waited to be rescued by another shuttle, which would itself face a risk of foam damage.

This incident says nothing good about the supposedly meticulous process by which the shuttle was repaired, upgraded and determined to be ready for flight. In the wake of the Columbia disaster, the external fuel tank was redesigned to reduce the risk of foam debris. NASA pronounced the tank the safest and most reliable ever built. As it turned out, NASA had identified the area on the tank that shed the foam as a potential risk, but as one that could wait to be corrected. Either NASA's process for reaching engineering judgments is still flawed, or the aging shuttles, with their millions of parts, are just too complex to be fully understood.

As NASA struggles to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, Congress and the Bush administration need to reassess whether the costly shuttle program is worth the effort. The shuttles are scheduled to be retired in five years, and the main purpose of the remaining flights is to finish building the international space station. Leaving the station half-finished would diminish its scientific value and anger some partner nations. But if the next phase of shuttle repairs looked daunting, a half-finished station might look pretty good.


At 7/29/2005 10:53 PM, Blogger FemaleCSGradStudent said... this is what my research is about. Read this old post to try to gain an understanding about how hard it is to design a shuttle. I can see why you are angry, but this is a very difficult problem to solve.

At 7/30/2005 6:43 AM, Blogger Adam said...

They had one big problem to fix, and they didn't. It boggles my mind, no matter how tough it may be to design a shuttle. Quelle incompetence! And this is a problem that killed people.

At 7/30/2005 9:12 AM, Blogger FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Like I said, I understand your anger. But I also understand all of the details that go into designing this things, and I honestly am impressed that more incidents like this don't happen. While the invention of the computer may have fixed some problems, along with it was the invention of a whole host of new ones. Software engineering has become more of a voodoo magic than actual science.

A lot of other things kill people, too. We don't generally hear about that because our taxes don't pay for it. Recently, there was a recall for VW because the child safety seat override mechanism didn't get propogated to BOTH airbag controllers in the vehicle. Seems like a simple problem. Why didn't some asshole just make sure the mechanism reached both controllers? That's because it's not just one asshole. Things like cars and shuttles are put together with lego-like pieces manufactured by a whole bunch of different companies. Other people, like those at VW and NASA put the pieces together without knowing everything about them.

This is the same thing that happened with the damn inches/cm error on Mars. One company in Colorado was using inches while another company across the United States was using metric. The poor bastard who had to reuse the code written in inches converted it to metric unknowingly. I've seen the code. It's not at all clear, and the conversion in buried in lines and lines of physics calculations. It's not like somewhere there's a line in the code that says, "INCHES = YES." In fact, it doesn't say anything about INCHES or METRIC. It's just a bunch of random numbers that are pretty impossible to interpret.

I'm not making excuses. I'm just trying to point out how ahead of ourselves we've gotten with technology. It's really out of control, and I'd feel a whole lot safer if the world did more than just ground some shuttles.


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