Endeavour Damaged

The damage is benign enough for Endeavour to fly safely home; it's more a matter of avoiding extensive post-flight repairs to any possible structural damage, said John Shannon, chairman of the mission management team. ... The gouge is relatively small -- 3 1/2 inches by 2 inches -- but part of it penetrates through the protective thermal tiles, leaving just a thin layer of coated felt over the space shuttle's aluminum frame to keep out the more than 2,000-degree heat of re-entry.

NASA. Hello? Can you hear me up there? Don't blow this one. You see that hole in your shuttle's wing? Do you remember what happened to Columbia back in 2003 when you said damn near the same thing about the damage then? Yeah. I sort of thought so. Seven people died because of arrogance like this. "Oh, it's a minor thing, no big deal". Well it was a big deal to the families of those 7 people you murdered.

As much as I support manned space flight, there comes a point in time when one simply has to realize it's no longer worth it. Well, that time is here, now. If NASA lets this bird come down without even attempting to repair the damage then there's a pretty big chance that 7 more needless deaths will be on their hands again. That would bring the total killed in the shuttle program up to 21. The hole may not look very big, but neither did the one on Columbia.

It would be a shame to destroy the program for no good reason. Not when we're making huge strides in the unmanned exploration of Mars. Not when we're making progress toward another manned mission to the moon. Not when there's a real possibility of a manned mission to Mars in our lifetimes. That would all come to an abrupt end if they can't even land a space shuttle from Earth orbit. The public forgave NASA when Challenger exploded. Most of us even forgave them after Columbia broke up, despite not having been told the truth about their needless deaths. I'm not so sure the public will forgive a third disaster.

I doubt anyone who really matters in all this will see this - but I plead with you anyway. Don't kill these fine people.
.........................
"It is pointless to resist, my son." -- Darth Vader
"Resistance is futile." -- The Borg
"Mother's coming for me in the dragon ships. I don't like these itchy clothes, but I have to wear them or it frightens the fish." -- Thurindil

Well. I guess that's that then.

       
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Posted on Aug 13, 2007 8:43 pm by Samson in: | 21 comment(s) [Closed]
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NASA knows that the shuttle vehicles are out of date. IIRC, they've been working on a replacement and plan to retire the entire fleet within a semi-reasonable amount of time. Will it come to fruition? Who knows? Look at all the other manned vehicles they've thrown money at and they're still using the aging shuttle fleet. Although the problem doesn't really ever seem to be the orbiter itself but the junk they strap to it to get it into orbit.

I think your cry of murder is a little outside the box, but then you do have a habit of seeing conspiracy in everything. ;)

What really needs to happen is for global space agencies to shit or get off the pot. Our level of technology for this stuff seems to be decades behind where it should be. We can make microchips so small that they can cram four cores onto it, but we can't make a spacesuit that doesn't weigh more than the person in it? (I think someone said someone had developed a new skin-tight one or something though). But seriously, for being something that needs to be state of the art, it just doesn't seem like it's anywhere near it.

       
I don't think calling it murder is entirely outside the box. They knew Columbia had been fatally wounded. There were even early news reports at the time that confirmed this. Instead of doing something about it, which they had the ability to do, they told them to go ahead and land. We all know what happened. When you deliberately cause the death of another person, it's murder.

The sooner they can retire this decrepit fleet the better. NASA doesn't seem to be taking this very seriously at all. They're still wasting time on the ISS which has been nothing more than another Skylab. Honestly I'm not sure why the Russians still waste time with it either. If this is the kind of crap we're going back to the moon with then there's going to be quite a body trail left behind.

       
Why would anyone have expected this crew to survive to landing? They took another teacher with them and we all know how NASA loves teachers...

       
NASA decided Thursday that no repairs are needed for a deep gouge in Endeavour's belly and the space shuttle is safe to fly home.

Well. It looks like they're planning to try and kill another 7. I certainly hope they can land safely but NASA hasn't got a very good track record in claiming this type of damage isn't a problem for re-entry. The belly of the ship is going to be coming down hot and fast. They essentially fall into thicker air where eventually the shuttle assumes its glide position for the rest of the trip home. But if you have a big hole in the heat shield, that makes it pretty ineffective. Do they still teach physics and thermodynamics to NASA employees? Because right now to me it doesn't seem that way.

       
It's really sad, and maybe they'll get lucky, but they seem to lose a space shuttle and the whole crew everytime they try to send a teacher up there. :(

       
Well perhaps it's still possible miracles happen. Shuttle Endeavour landed safely today in Florida. I hope NASA sticks to its word now and halts all future shuttle flights until they get that bracket problem fixed so we don't have any more gaping holes punched in the bellies of our ships.

       
It wasn't a miracle, it was science. Guess NASA's knowledge of physics and thermodynamics wins this time. :)

       
Oh please, NASA wouldn't know knowledge if it bit them, they got lucky this time.

       
I agree with Conner.

Lets think about this for 2 seconds. A hole in the wing. Any air inside got sucked out once they got into space. That's an awful lot of negative pressure inside that wing. They re-enter. Now, I don't know what kind of pressure physics you've dealt with before, but that's going to pull air in as it descends. Searing burning hot air at 2000+ degrees.

NASA's knowledge didn't have anything to do with it. They either got extremely lucky, or they were the recipients of a miracle. Either way, the crew is home safe which is all that matters.

       
Man, I used to think I was cynical. You guys bring it to a whole new level. XD

       
I don't think it's cynical to examine the situation and assess it based on available physical laws. I can tell you first hand what it means to be in a partial vacuum. My AC causes a negative pressure affect on my room for some reason and just that alone is enough to cause it to pull on the door and the windows and required me to stop up several leaky spots with cloth and foam and such.

Now imagine the shuttle wing completely devoid of air. Means nothing in outer space. But in the atmosphere, it means everything. The force of the air being sucked out during liftoff alone would have been unreal. The inrush of air into the airframe during re-entry would be tremendous and combine with the searing heat is enough to melt it. So you'll forgive me if I stick to my belief that NASA either got lucky or received a miracle.

       
I'm sure that it was a very carefully calculated risk, Whir, but all that their vast store of knowledge really told them about it was that they had decent odds this time, they still knew fully well that there was a perfectly good chance they were telling that crew to initiate another shuttle destruction upon reentry, they simply decided to risk it and they got lucky. Let's be honest, even beyond what Samson's saying here: all the mathematics in the world and the very best scientists in the world simply cannot control the factors once they've calculated and guessed at them. No, it wasn't their knowledge or science that saved that crew this time, it was luck. And that's not a matter of cynicism, it's a matter of plain basic fact.

       
There wasn't a hole in the shuttle itself. Your own blog post says that it didn't go through the shuttle's frame, and thus there is no reason to speak of partial vacuum or any such stuff. Even that minor detail aside, which pretty much throws out the window all this talk of pressure and physics, you guys must think that NASA is *completely stupid* to knowingly risk the *absolute disaster* of losing this shuttle what with their past history. :-)

Conner, the way you say it, it sounds like every single scientific success (including the fact that your car turns on when you want it do) is sheer luck. Well of *course* there is always an element of chance, but I think you're being a little too dramatic when you completely dismiss all the work that went into this decision. These folks are a *lot* more qualified than you or I or anybody here to know and understand the risks involved in this kind of work.

Incidentally, Samson, you said that had these people died, NASA would be guilty of murder because they sent them into a situation knowing about the risks. I wonder what you think about generals and soldiers -- not to mention the police. :-) (Better watch for those murderer police chiefs!)

       
No, it's not every scientific success, but many do indeed involve an element of sheer luck. The fact that this time the folks at NASA (who aren't nearly as "qualified" as you've been lead to believe) managed to get the shuttle down safely this time certainly involved luck. As I said, I'm sure it was a very carefully calculated risk, but it was still a significant risk that they did have the option of avoiding. They took a chance, and they got lucky, which part of that is so terribly difficult to imagine given their track record? ...and, no, I don't think they're completely stupid, but I do think they spend millions of dollars specifically to deceive the general populace into thinking that they're far brighter and more qualified about the work they do than they really are. Let's face facts here, much of what they do is completely uncharted territory, how expert could they possibly be? Even setting that aside, the truth is that "rocket science" really is far from the "cutting edge" that it once was, and so are the scientists involved. Their public conception backfired years ago. Folks all believe that rocket science is so tough that there aren't nearly as many kids taking it up in colleges as their once was so now the field has limited options.

       
First off, Welcome to my world David :)

penetrates through the protective thermal tiles, leaving just a thin layer of coated felt over the space shuttle's aluminum frame


Requoted for clarity - that reads to me as a hole that punched all the way through to the airframe. The last time I checked a piece of felt has no ability to hold back an outrush of air or to protect against searing heat. And frankly I do think NASA is completely stupid after killing the Columbia crew when they could have reached the ISS and held out for rescue. They gambled and lost that time. This time they gambled and won.

Have you ever seen Apollo 13? In that movie is a scene where one of the flight controllers calls Gene and says something like "They're still shallowing up, should we tell them?" and he replies "Is there anything we can do about it now?" the controller says no, and Gene says "Then they don't need to know, do they." That line has been verified as historically accurate and is indicative of the way NASA operates. If they knew Endeavour was going to disintegrate, they would not have told the crew anyway, and they certainly wouldn't admit it to us on the ground.

I think you know that Conner isn't saying starting a car or flying a plane is pure luck under normal conditions. Neither is landing a space shuttle - under normal conditions. These weren't normal conditions. It's a lot like the Titanic disaster. The ship has a gaping hole in the hull but the captain says she won't sink. He, his crew, and the owner of the ship were so certain of this that they didn't bother to send for help until the bow started to go under and they knew it was too late. Now that sea captain was a lot more qualified than you or I, but there were plenty of passengers on the ship who knew for sure it was sinking, long before the captain would acknowledge it.

And no. I said NASA would be guilty of murder if the ship exploded on re-entry knowing they had a hole in the heat shield. That's negligent behavior and can be prosecuted as such. One might even be able to stretch that to reckless disregard for human life and charge someone with 2nd degree homicide. It's a far cry from launching, orbiting, and then landing the ship not knowing there was a hole. That's why there's a legal difference between an accident and criminal negligence. If the captain had survived the Titanic he surely would have been charged.

The same would apply if a police chief knowingly sent his officers into an armed conflict without body armor or weapons to defend themselves with. It's not the same as responding them to a bank robbery with armed suspects and knowing ahead of time you have the manpower and equipment to deal with it but someone gets shot and killed anyway. And comparing this to generals giving orders in war is ludicrous.

       
Actually, even generals in wartime have been charged with crimes in the past because they made bad decisions, and so have police chiefs, why should NASA be exempt? Kind of like Bush being exempt from facing trial due to national secrecy regarding his order to illegally use wiretapping. Why shouldn't the rest of us have more exemption from legal prosecution than the man we employ as our president who's supposed to be directly answerable to the public?

So, while I think Samson's cry of "murder" might be a little harsh, it's not really incorrect in this case.

And, yes, there are situations that most of us have experienced (or will if you're still young enough) when even starting your car may very well be a matter of sheer luck, but as Samson pointed out, under normal circumstances luck doesn't really enter into it. In this case, for the shuttle crew, luck was on their side and they won the gamble that folks on the ground at NASA decided to make for them.

       
As I said, I'm sure it was a very carefully calculated risk,

Give me numbers Conner; probabilities, anything, just something to work with. :) You say things that I'm not understanding: they had decent odds, it was very carefully calculated, but then there were quite good chances of failure... it's sounding like you think there was a >50% chance of both events to me. :)

First off, Welcome to my world David :)

Howdy :-)

Requoted for clarity - that reads to me as a hole that punched all the way through to the airframe. The last time I checked a piece of felt has no ability to hold back an outrush of air or to protect against searing heat.

Well, right: the gouge went to the frame but did not penetrate the frame. I don't think frame in this case means skeleton, it really means the chassis. News articles confirm that the gouge did not actually punch a hole in the craft. And while I agree that felt doesn't sound like the strongest of protection, they do say it was coated; perhaps the coating has to do with heat resistance.

Now that sea captain was a lot more qualified than you or I, but there were plenty of passengers on the ship who knew for sure it was sinking, long before the captain would acknowledge it.

Sure, you are quite right, but he also didn't have teams of highly trained engineers helping him make the decision, nor did he have all the tech/equipment available that we have today.

And comparing this to generals giving orders in war is ludicrous.

No, it's not, unless you apply different standards to civilian and military operations. Now that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to do, but it would be important to at least say that that's the case.

Back to Conner:
So, while I think Samson's cry of "murder" might be a little harsh, it's not really incorrect in this case.

It sets considerable precedence. It means that if you send people into an operation that you know has a non-negligible chance of failure, and they die, you are guilty of murdering them. That would drastically affect a whole lot of our society and how we approach jobs with inherent risk. Don't forget that astronauts aren't desk workers -- the job has risk in it, more than very many others.

Now you can argue about who decides what precautions are reasonable. NASA clearly thought they had taken appropriate precautions. As proof, I hold up our agreement that they're not so completely stupid as to knowingly do something that would completely ruin their reputation (a 3rd disaster would be, well, absolutely disastrous). So who decides that what they did wasn't enough? Three dudes on a blog? :-)

       
Perhaps you are missing my point. Or I'm not explaining it well enough. ( BTW, hope you don't mind, fixed your italic tags - comments don't parse HTML )

So lets try this.

A riot breaks out downtown. The media reports the rioters are armed, dangerous, and willing to kill. They've been demonstrated to have done so already. The police chief, having just seen the news report, issues an order to deploy his officers immediately - and tells them to leave their body armor, guns, riot gear, and cars behind. They are to confront the mob on foot, with only their intimidating uniforms as protection. Hundreds of officers are killed in the ensuing melee and the National Guard has to come clean up the mess. I propose that in this case, the police chief is guilty of 2nd degree murder. He knowingly sent his men into a situation where he knew they'd be killed, and he didn't care.

War breaks out between the US and Mexico. Mexican troops are pouring over the border in overwhelming numbers ( yes, unlikely, but play along ok? ) and will soon take over several key southern cities. President Bush orders a full scale retaliatory strike to repel the invasion by any means necessary - short of using tactical nuclear weapons. He does this despite knowing several hundred, perhaps several thousand, will be killed in the process. I don't think anyone here could possibly argue that Bush murdered those soldiers unless they're left-wing peacenik lunatics or something.

NASA puts three men into a space capsule preparing for launch. It's going to be our first test of a new craft. As they've done with all previous missions, 100% oxygen is pumped into the capsule while it's on the pad. A fire breaks out. The occupants are killed in the fire before they can be rescued. Murder? No. Stupidity, lack of experience with space flight, and a misunderstanding of how oxygen behaves at those levels.

Change the parameters a bit. NASA launches a space shuttle with 7 people on board. 58 seconds into liftoff, a piece of foam breaks away from the brackets and before falling away, strikes the underside of the ship. It leaves a hole in the bottom of the wing which is sealed only with "coated cloth". NASA knows this situation could easily result in the deaths of the astronauts, having lost another shuttle with 7 people on board a mere 4 years ago in the same scenario.

Now, if the shuttle did in fact attempt to land and blow itself to pieces because of this, who could possibly stand there and just say "oops, how did that happen?" with a straight face? NASA of course, because they've done it before. Now not only do you have a cover up to deal with, you have 7 more people dead and you KNEW it could happen and ordered them to land anyway. That certainly seems to fit the definition of negligent homicide to me.

Granted, the flight commander aboard the shuttle could have told NASA to go take a hike and remained at the ISS until such time as the repairs were completed. But he didn't, and so technically the flight commander could also be held responsible even though he's dead too.

NASA sends shuttles up all the time knowing they could be struck by meteors. Hit by solar radiation bursts. Crash into space debris. Have a random explosion for no known reason. Suffer mechanical failure that's beyond their control to correct. Drift off into deep space never to be seen again. These are all normal risks associated with routine space flight. It wouldn't be reasonable to accuse NASA of murder in cases like this. There's a massive difference between being unfortunate, and knowing you're taking an unnecessarily high risk.

We may be three dudes on a blog, but that doesn't make our opinions any less valuable when it comes to human life.

       
Give me numbers Conner; probabilities, anything, just something to work with. :) You say things that I'm not understanding: they had decent odds, it was very carefully calculated, but then there were quite good chances of failure... it's sounding like you think there was a >50% chance of both events to me. :)


Well aside from the obvious fact that none of us has the actual hard figures available because NASA's not about to release them, if I did have the numbers to present to you, would you understand them? As for the odds I figure they had, I am guestimating that they went ahead with this because they felt the crew had a better than 30% chance of success, but given NASA's history, it's just as likely they could've had far less favorable odds than even that.

Sure, you are quite right, but he also didn't have teams of highly trained engineers helping him make the decision, nor did he have all the tech/equipment available that we have today.


Actually, my understanding of that fateful voyage was that the engineer who designed the ship was actually on-hand at the time helping the captain make the decision that he made.

It sets considerable precedence. It means that if you send people into an operation that you know has a non-negligible chance of failure, and they die, you are guilty of murdering them. That would drastically affect a whole lot of our society and how we approach jobs with inherent risk. Don't forget that astronauts aren't desk workers -- the job has risk in it, more than very many others.

Now you can argue about who decides what precautions are reasonable. NASA clearly thought they had taken appropriate precautions. As proof, I hold up our agreement that they're not so completely stupid as to knowingly do something that would completely ruin their reputation (a 3rd disaster would be, well, absolutely disastrous). So who decides that what they did wasn't enough? Three dudes on a blog? :-)


I think your last sentence really sums up this one nicely, this isn't a trial and were not judges, so we're not exactly setting precedent for anything here. But, in the past, we have had leaders sentenced as criminals for sending folks in to do a job that they died performing because after the fact it was decided that there was a better way for the situation to have been handled.

       
Samson:
(Thanks for the italics; and sure. I don't mind. :) Should I be using square bracket tags like on the forum?)

A lot of those cases are different because the risks are very different. It's like speeding into a brick wall. What I am arguing is your assertion that the risk is as high as you make it out to be: I do not really think the situation could have "easily" resulted in failure, but what I believe is beside the point: none of us have enough information to decide either way. Therefore it is a little preposterous for any of us to start telling NASA what to do or play armchair-ground-control here.

I wasn't trying to say that our opinions don't count for human life. I was trying to say that nobody here is expert enough to judge anything about what is or isn't enough precaution when it comes to shuttle missions like this.

Conner:
I wasn't asking for numbers regarding the shuttle -- how could any of us have such information? :) I was asking for guesstimates of probabilities because what you were saying wasn't really adding up for me. I wasn't sure what "decent odds" or "pretty good chance" meant.

Regarding Titanic: right, ok, one engineer: that is not teams of engineers with all the tech and so forth that we have today.

Regarding precedence: that's not really what I meant; if we figure that since we're not judges, we're not setting precedence, then in a sense nothing we say at all really matters. I was saying that if we adopt such a standard, it sets precedence for how we view the rest of our world in a way that doesn't really make sense.

And about the leaders: it's not just that a *better* way existed. It's a lot more complicated than that. You have to establish that the leader(s) knew about the better way and chose to ignore it, or that they did not deliberate to a reasonable extent; you have to establish that they could have known about the better way; you have to establish that the "better way" really is better and not just safer (safer for one worker, but costs $100 million more: who says this is better?). You'd have to establish negligence, depending on the case ... basically, it's a lot more complicated than just looking back in hindsight and saying "oh, gee, we could've done that instead".

       
I suppose I should've used italics too rather than quote tags.. live and learn.

At the time, that one engineer was considered fully sufficient.

I don't know, I think we generally set those sort of precedences for ourselves years before any of us came here. ;)

Well, that's certainly how it's supposed to go, though our justice system's not always exactly perfect either.

       
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