NASA: Discovery Escaped Serious Damage

Am I the only one who is more than irritated about this.

SPACE CENTER, Houston – Discovery seems to have been spared serious damage from the foam shrapnel that flew off the fuel tank during liftoff in an eerie repeat of the problem that doomed Columbia and appears in good shape for a safe return in just over a week, NASA said Thursday.

“Some good news is, it looks like all of the foam loss that we had from the tank did not hit the orbiter,” flight operations manager John Shannon said a day after future shuttle flights were grounded because of the problem.

Shannon noted that all initial reports indicate “it looks extremely good and we don’t have anything to worry about on Discovery.” But he cautioned that it will be another three days before the space agency can conclusively give the shuttle a clean bill of health.

Earlier in the morning, NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said the space agency may never be able to prevent threatening chunks of insulation foam from breaking off the shuttle’s fuel tank during launch.

“We are trying to get it down to the level that cannot damage the orbiter,” Griffin told NBC’s “Today.” “We will never be able to get the amount of debris shed by the tank down to zero,” he said.”

This is ridiculous. How would you like to be stuck in a tin can with the knowledge that the crew before you were made into human smores because of an accident and that you are at risk for the same problem.

“The loss of such a large chunk of debris — nearly a pound — was a vexing problem NASA thought had been fixed and shattered the euphoria from Tuesday’s shuttle launch, the first in 2 1/2 years. The redesign of the fuel tank was the focal point of the space agency’s $1 billion-plus effort to make the 20-year-old space shuttles safer to fly following the 2003 Columbia tragedy.”

This is wrong. I am a huge supporter of the space program but there is no reason that we cannot improve upon the past. Yet here we are again.

“The piece of foam flew off Discovery’s redesigned tank just two minutes after what initially looked like a perfect liftoff, right after the booster rockets peeled away. 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 — until Wednesday after reviewing video and images taken by just a few of the 100-plus cameras in place to watch for such dangers.

Shuttle program manager Bill Parsons offered no excuses, saying, “You have to admit when you’re wrong. We were wrong.”

Engineers believe the irregularly sized piece of foam that came off was 24 to 33 inches long, 10 to 14 inches wide, and between 2 and 8 inches thick. It weighed an estimated 0.9 pounds, about half the mass of the 1.67-pound chunk that smashed into Columbia’s left wing during liftoff. The plate-sized hole let in superheated gases that caused the shuttle to break up on its return to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003.”

Can you see me shaking my head.

“On Discovery, the foam broke away from a different part of the tank than the piece that mortally wounded Columbia.

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 after Columbia. Thermal tile was also damaged on Discovery’s belly soon after liftoff; one tile lost a 1 1/2-inch piece right next to the set of doors for the nose landing gear, a particularly vulnerable spot.

Deputy shuttle manager Wayne Hale said none of the tile damage looked 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 — or anything else — needs another look. The astronauts’ inspection boom could determine precisely how deep the damage is, and they will probably pull it back out Friday.”

I am still shaking it. There is something very very wrong here and we need to do better.

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  1. Stacey July 29, 2005 at 1:56 pm

    I worked for the fed. govt. for 6 years and what I saw was quite scary.

    I don’t think privatizing it will ever happen, but it is doomed the way it is going now. It is in need of a dire shake-up, to say the least.

    You overestimate the safety factor, too. I wish I could agree with you on that.

  2. Bill July 29, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    Privatize your Space program?

    Here are just a few reasons that this is a less than brilliant idea.

    1. The cost outweighs the benefits for business. Sure in the long run there are advantages but not ones you can sell and make a profit – that’s why Government is the best place for this.

    2. The government over analyses everything because they have to answer to everybody not just shareholders(this is a good thing when millions of dollars and lives are at stake)

    3. Generally safety is the primary concern with government, as they make the safety regs (What NASA is up to I don’t know – Smokin too much weed I think)

    4. I’m not sure government would let anyone but themselves throw that much chemical pollutant into the atmosphere every time they start their vehicle.

    5. And the most important reason of all “You want insurance for what?” Who in their right mind would insure a business that regularly straps five guys into a airtight can, attached to the biggest can of flammable gas on the planet, and lights a match?

    I don’t doubt if business had the desire and the funds it might do a better job, but from a business point of view, fiscally I wouldn’t touch the space program with a ten-foot pole.

    As an investment this fails. Most of the space programs benefits are tertiary and felt by other industries not NASA. For example Velcro, which has made little or no money for NASA but has been on every kids shoes since the eighties.

    Privatize if you want, but be prepared to watch your space program grind slowly to a halt, as all the other government sponsored space programs around the world keep plodding forward.

  3. Stacey July 28, 2005 at 11:00 pm

    I have been jittery about this for weeks now. I was so happy to hear that the launch 2 weeks ago was scrapped.

    The space program needs to be privatized. The fed. govt. is a joke (I can say that since I worked for it for 6 years). They should stick to running the country, not the space program.

    I just want the astronauts back safe and sound.

  4. dorothy rothschild July 28, 2005 at 9:03 pm

    Ground control to mf’n Major Tom. I had been yelling about this back when they had to scrap the first launch. Actually after the last disaster. It is outmoded technology and why, why do they continue to press ahead when the same problems happen over and over. There seems to be an inherent design flaw. But oh, to admit that they are wrong. Can’t do that. What is going to happen to the crew now? I keep thinking about them being up there and wondering how much they know. Yes, they know the risks. But the deck was stacked against them before they even lifted off. This nauseates me.

  5. Jack's Shack July 28, 2005 at 6:18 pm

    I like #4.

  6. Bill July 28, 2005 at 6:06 pm

    I agree, much as I support the space program, sorry but my project management skills are offended.

    NASA uses a great Project management system, and I have quoted from some of their articles.

    But how can they let this happen again…

    This is the usual way of dealing with risks in projects.

    1. Identify the risk before it becomes an issue, and create a mitigation strategy to prevent it becoming an issue (Issue = Risk realized).

    2.If it becomes an issue, try to identify a solution.

    3. Create a record of the lesson learned.

    4. (my own paraphrase) DON’T FREAKIN DO IT AGAIN.

    Some one wasn’t listening to their own rhetoric.

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