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Boeing Throws Space Station Parts Away 160

Bob Plankers writes: "Boeing staff were seen combing a landfill looking for $750,000 worth of space station parts that were inadvertently discarded. You can get the full details on CNN. " Luckily, there were spare parts still around -- but it's a pretty funny story nonetheless.
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Boeing Throws Space Station Parts Away

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  • by OpenGLFan ( 56206 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:18PM (#1221120) Homepage
    I'm an engineer in Huntsville (not with Boeing, thank goodness!), so we got the details first-hand. Apparently, (or "allegedly", if you prefer), Boeing actually sent workers into the landfill to attempt to recover the parts! They found bits and pieces, but nothing big enough to haul back.

    I'm guessing there's a tank with a light coating of peanut butter and banana peels sitting up on blocks in a redneck's yard by now . . .
  • by boarder ( 41071 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:19PM (#1221121) Homepage
    I'm sorry, but $750,000 of our money, I think they can look a little bit harder.

    I don't know the exact size of those puppies, but the ones that I have seen and worked with on other sections of the station (I work for Boeing) were big enough not to be easily "mis- placed." (roughly the size of a standard propane tank on a gas grill)

    A good rule of thumb:
    If you have a $750,000 piece of equipment in a nondescript crate sitting outside a building;
    a) make it descript and label it profusely as NOT trash.
    b) have someone watch it so it doesn't get stolen or sent to the trash.

    But I guess (or hope) they won't make that mistake again.

  • "Hey, Curly and Larry []! Look, those boxes have SPACE painted on them. They must need space and want us to take them to the dump! Let's help them out, fellas!"
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Boeing needs to watch where they dump all their crap before they start inflicting serious damage. Imagine if some fuel tank gets buried underground and ends up forgotten about until some innocent, helpless child lights a match over it and gets blown to pieces. For all I know, there could be one right under my house. Do you really want to live in that fear day in and day out? Any day could be your family's last, all because some irresponsible construction workers chucked some plutonium under the foundations of your house.

    These kind of incidents are why we need better policing of dumps. For example, each company should be audited once a week to make sure that aren't disposing of any environmentally harmful material such as gasoline or CFCs. And where the hell are the electric cars? If the government wasn't so busy trying to gouge prices on gasoline, we'd all be driving in flying, solar-powered cars. Anyone who's ever seen The Jetsons knows that an invention like this is not far out of our reach.

    Write your Congressmen and Congresswomen. Demand change.

  • "Say, Kid, you haven't seen a couple of solid-fuel rocket motors lying around these parts, have you?"

    "What do you mean, your dad's bolting them to the back of his pickup..?"
  • That was a dangerous situation for Boeing and possibly the US Government to be in. If a foreign organization found the spare parts then they could possibly steal Boeing's ideas and possibly start a space station.

    On the other hand the parts may have been damaged, and if they were to be installed into a running and operational space station they may pose a danger to the crew on board.

    This just shows how sensitive technology is these days.
  • "Mistakingly Discarded"?? I'm sorry, but $750,000 in space station parts just don't wander off into a landfill by themselfs.

    And if they can't find them, who did? I think it's pretty funny that there might be someone out there playing with a peice of the international spacestation.

    Of course this all might be an exuse to buy more time for the station project to begin with...

    "Out of all the things I lost in life, I miss my mind the most." --Ozzy Osborne

  • There have already been enough problems with the space station. This is the last thing we need. I hope Boeing is going to have to suffer the loss on this one since it was due to their stupidity.

  • Perhaps it'll show up on eBay.
  • by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:29PM (#1221131)
    I've seen this kind of idiocy firsthand. For a year I worked for the Dept of Defense in Bahrain. One of my jobs was dealing with Recycling scrap. One piece of scrap was this bis spool of 4" thick wire. We sent out memos looking for someone to claim it for three months. Then I hand walked a copy of the memo around the base to be signed by each department head. The week after we sold it for $2000 to a local scrapyard someone came looking for it. Turns out it was a central piece of equipment for setting up a new satellite communications station. Oops! Good thing the scrap dude knew it was worth more than $50K or he would have melted it for the metal.

    I also met a guy when I was in the Navy who was making a bundle buying nuclear grade parts by the pound at military auctions, doing a little research back to the manufacturer and either selling it back to the Navy or the manufacturer. Said he one made $40K off one valve alone.

    And you wonder why the government spends so much money. (P/S. I work for a Navy Shipbuilder now, imagine losing a set of screws for an aircraft carrier).

  • "Houston we're, uh, having a little trouble breathing up here...getting a little.... light... headed...."
    "Ahhh jeez"
    "KNEW we forgot something... Sorry guys, theres no oxygen tanks on the station, pretty soon you guys are gonna be breathing pure CO2."

  • How possibly a gas tank (of whatever kind -- it definitely isn't larger than the space station itself, and it is supposed to contain such a simple thing as liquified oxygen or nitrogen) can be this expensive? Doesn't it look like Boeing is being paid much more than what its products can possibly be worth?

    (and if I am wrong, I would like to hear the explanation)

  • Bet if it was useful to anyone it got salvaged,
    people are always finding treasure at the dump.

    Like any labyrinthine corporate bueaucracy,no-one
    could find their ass with both hands and a map,big
    surprise there.
  • "Uh, sir... We were on our way to the Bingo Parlor... and Uh..." I wonder if they have an opening in the janitorial dept? "Son there is a difference between dumb people and stupid people. Dumb people don't have a clue that they are idiotic things, while stupid people know that they are doing idiotic things and do them anyways." -- Dad
  • Foreign organizations learned long ago the best way to get advanced US technology is not by dumpster diving, but by making an illegal campaign donation to the Clinton/Gore '92 re-election.

    Not only do they get secrets up front, they also get protection from stealing them the old-fashioned way as well!

  • Hey I dunno for sure, but it seems that I left 4 gold bars in the trash to weight it down to keep the animals out ... could anyone find those and return them to me.

    Ohh yeah ... and 2 new cars ... stupid me I left them too close to the curb ... the garbage people must of just picked them up by accident.

  • by Claudius ( 32768 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:41PM (#1221145)
    Unless Boeing comes public with a pledge that they'll absorb the cost, the perceived effect on the taxpaying community will be that the taxpayer gets to absorb the overrun resulting from Boeing's egregious mistake, and that Boeing suffer's a mere moment's bad PR. Perhaps the rest of /. finds this to be high comedy, but I'm of the mind that the space station and the space program in general suffer enough from public image woes as it is.

    I'm looking forward to the day that the public looks upon our ailing space program (and, by extension, nationally funded R&D) as something more than an enormous public works project. No amount of positive spin can undo the damage caused by a handful of silly mistakes such as this.
  • Okay, 750 Grand would be more then enough to keep me more then happy for life. But in Aerospace Industrial terms, that is about the equivalent of me throwing away a box of Lil' Debbies that still had a bar in it.

    This could be just about fixture, space shuttle pain, gallons of tang. Who knows?

  • by Shaheen ( 313 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:44PM (#1221147) Homepage

    CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - A tragic day for the Earth as two astronauts have perished in space due to the idiocy of Boeing engineers. Two air tanks which would have provided air to the astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavor were mistakenly left upon the ground, and in fact, in a land fill.

    Amazingly, our under cover agents have been able to obtain a top secret audio recording of the communications just before the untimely death of America's newest heroes. Unfortunately, names are not yet known of the deceased:

    [Astronaut #1] Mission Command, we have a problem. Our instruments show we're losing air up here. Please confirm.

    [Mission Control] Uhh, Affirmative Endeavor. We show a slight drop in breathable air. Give us a minute, we'll get back to you on that.

    [Astronaut #2] Tell them to hurry the fuck up! This dial isn't going anywhere but southward!

    [Astronaut #1] Just.. give.. them.. some.. time. I'm.. sure.. they'll.. have.. an answer.

    [MC] Endeavor, this is Mission Control. We recommend you use your suicide capsules within the next few minutes

    [Astronaut #2] WHAT!? You're telling me..... there's no air.... aboard this fucking ship!?

    [Astronaut #1] Stop yelling fool! You're wastin all the air!!

    [MC] Well, guys, have a good one. Everyone down here is hailing your mission as a victory for all mankind... Make us proud gentlemen!

    [Astronaut #1] Well, fuck... what do we do now?

    As you can see, a shameless show of disregard for the lives of these brave astronauts. And all because Boeing couldn't keep track of a couple of fucking air canisters.

  • One of the related stories from the same site a couple of weeks ago was titled "NASA auditors slam Boeing for space station overruns." And THAT was when they were only figuratively throwing money away.


  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 06, 2000 @07:48PM (#1221149)
    Not that this isn't amusing; but it _did_ happen just a few days after ~18,000 engineers walked out on the company.

    I'd like to think that the largest tech-worker strike in history counts as "news for nerds" (After all, _I_ work there...). Propaganda at []. Also photos of about 25 undelivered planes sitting out on the line. Good news collection at Yahoo [].

    -a Boeing Employee

  • Moe: Hey Larry, remember those nitrogen and oxygen tanks I gave you last month? Do you remember what happened to them?

    Larry: Sure Moe, I gave them to NASA. They said they needed them to decorate the 'Mars Polar Lamp' or something...

    Curley: Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk!
  • Your warning is very good, and might help quite a bit.

    However, you probably ought to put it at the top next time. :)
  • I had a clean up department at a hospital trash $10k in parts, but leave empty boxes next to the parts. If they could be used on anything but what I was using them for, I'd expect to see the parts show up on ebay. blah.
  • Okay, 750 Grand would be more then enough to keep me more then happy for life.

    Then you don't live in SF Bay Area -- here it's merely enough to not be homeless (but possibly still hungry) for life :-(

  • by Steve G Swine ( 49788 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @08:00PM (#1221160) Journal
    Hmm, I can see this...

    Dilbert: We've been walking around this landfill for eight, nine minutes now looking for these tanks the PHB threw away.

    Wally: [picks up gum wrapper] Looks like a piece of the tank - obviously shredded to uselessness. Are we done?

    Dilbert: I feel done.
  • Ok, bad joke but how do you expect contractors to make a profit when the lowest bid wins the government contracts? They have to built their profit into the prices of itemized expenses. Ergo, a $6 hammer gets billed at $550, or some other number beneath the threshhold of prior approval required.
    :-only kona in my cup-:

    :-robert taylor-:
  • If it had been Seattle instead of Huntsville, they probably would have ended up in Boeing's Surplus store for $0.10/lb or so. I've seen everything from machine tools and empty VCR cases to office equipment (yes, even PC's) to 737 landing gear parts and aluminum beams sold by the pound. No doubt someone simply hauled them away from the landfill for nothing, so Boeing didn't even get the ten cents per pound they could have in Seattle.
  • Why... do... your... astronauts... talk... like... William... Shatner... ?

  • by Markar ( 154019 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @08:09PM (#1221165)
    Landfil worker to supervisor, "Think we should look around again for them tanks?"

    Supervisor, "Nah, don't waste your time lookin', it ain't been found by now, ain't gonna be. Go on and take a break."

    Worker with cigarette to supervisor, "Got a light?"

    TV News Anchor, "Just minutes ago an explosion ocurred here at the landfil, killing two, others have been injured. Cause as yet is undetermined but there is concern that the lost Oxygen tank may have caused or enhanced the explosion."
  • by _Sprocket_ ( 42527 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @08:17PM (#1221168)
    This one is simple to solve.

    They didn't "loose" the tanks. The tanks were placed in an extreemly low geosyncronous orbit in advance of final component assembly.

  • by tesserae ( 156984 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @08:20PM (#1221169)
    There are at least four partial answers, matter of fact.

    First, the hardware is being designed for human use in space, so there are an incredible number of specifications it must meet -- and each specification carries with it at least one test, and probably more. The final hardware must be certified as having been tested to each of these specs, and having passed. So a very large part of what's being paid for is the cost of meeting the required specs, and then maintaining the paperwork trail. (It's a common saying in the aerospace industry that you can't fly something until the paperwork weighs more than the vehicle; this is way too conservative for space stuff, though.)

    Second, because it's space hardware, NASA is paying for it to be light weight; with each pound orbited by the Shuttle costing between $5K and $10K (depending on how you do the accounting, but I won't go there), time-consuming design work and lightweight-but-expensive construction is cheaper than orbiting a quickly-designed (and overdesigned), heavy version. Added to this is the complication that it is for space use, and there are design considerations you don't face here on earth (things like the zero-gee environment -- you have to stir liquid gasses, because there's no convection -- safety requirements for both on-orbit use and for transport in the Shuttle's cargo bay, and so on). All these add to the cost, too.

    Third, the production run on these parts can be counted on the fingers of one hand, probably -- one set for the station, one or two sets of spares, and two or three more sets for testing here on earth. So there's no cost savings from amortizing the upfront engineering costs over a large production; it's all on the handful that are produced. And note that the cost of the ones used in testing is absorbed into the station set and the spares, too -- so they cost something like double what you might expect just from that alone.

    Having said all that in defense of the cost, I do have to confess that it probably doesn't cover the entire price quoted in the article. There is no doubt a pretty fair chunk of the cost that exists solely because it's an aerospace contract for NASA; some of this is because they can get away with it, and some is because they have to put up with NASA being a pain in the ass... (I've worked on a number of contracts for NASA; it's hard to charge enough for PITA, because they are pros at it!). If the parts were spec'd, designed and built in-house, for a Boeing-funded project, I suspect they would cost a fraction of the quoted value -- even for the identical application.

    And now that you know, I'm going to bet that it doesn't really make you feel all that much better, does it?


  • Demand change.

    Some of us would rather carry around large bills than dollar bills and coins. What about us? Shall you to oppress us?

  • Normally I am a big supporter of NASA. Unfortunately, the ISS is simply a pork barrel project to keep the major defense contractors in business. A few years ago, one justification of the ISS was scientific research. This really ticked off a lot of scientists. What research? How much is going to cost?

    In the early days of planning for the ISS, NASA officials were not gaga about the project. However, do you want to piss off Congress?

    For those of you who would be inclined to critize NASA for this, I would like to say the following. Don't totally blame NASA. NASA does not really want the ISS. NASA wants cheaper, faster, woops...where did it go? (Sorry, I couldn't resist:-))

  • Nah man,
    LISA was much smarter than the people responsible for this
  • These were high pressure oxygen and nitrogen tanks. Granted not rocket science in and of themselves, but not a "gas tank" either.

    As to liquid oxygen storage: have you ever tried to store LOX? It is a seriously difficult substance to deal with, particularly in microgravity and for long durations. In particular, it's fond of a) freezing things, b) oxidizing the tank wall, and c) vaporizing and causing an over-pressurization of your tank. Over-pressurized tanks generally explode.
  • It's not a lot in Government areospace terms. It's a hell of a lot of money to throw away in private aerospace terms. Think of what Kristler, Beal, or Rotary Rocket could do with an extra $750,000?
  • Not NASA, Boeing. NASA certainly has it's problems, but this isn't one of them.

    Now, if they go ahead and pay Boeing to replace the tanks, then it will become NASA's problem.
  • by richj ( 85270 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @08:54PM (#1221187)
    For god's sake, it's only 3/4 of a million dollars worth of parts.

    When I was in the Marine Corps. somone lost a pair of Night Vision Goggles in the field. These were old Army hand-me-downs that were probably only worth a few thousand bucks brand new.

    Once they realized they were lost they made the entire company (~250 men) go back out on the weekend and cover about 15 miles of terrain looking for them.

    We eventually found them in a muddy-mire by having us all get in a line and going through it on our hands searching.

    If these Boeing and NASA Engineers (I'm an engineer now too, BTW) want to piss away my tax money, they should have a seargeant there putting his jungle boot up their ass to find it.

    Just my .02 ;)
  • They didnt "loose" the tanks. The tanks were placed in an extreemly low geosyncronous orbit in advance of final component assembly.

    Either that, or they were undergoing performance tests in the field to demonstrate the rigorous construction of the tanks.
  • Wow...something gets screwed up involving astronauts and space! i'm surprised Lockheed Martin didn't have a hand in this! hehehe

    Your Ad Here!
  • I can imagine the results of the engineers now:
    "Yup,if you put 'em in the compactor, it squashes 'em"
    "Now let's see what happens when we put them in a smelter."
  • Why... do... your... astronauts... talk... like... William... Shatner... ?

    Because they're low on oxygen, and are probably trying to catch their breath between each word.


  • Sheesh, those tanks cost a lot!
    What the hell is so special. Are they made out of platinum?
  • Damn.. and they cut 40% off my salary to waste on
    "space program" and alike.. here is how it spent.
    90% gets lost or stolen here on earth and the
    rest is used to make space station they cant find.

    I hate that..:( I work hard and this is what i get..
  • by tesserae ( 156984 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @09:57PM (#1221205)
    It occurred to me that I should expand that third point: remember that all this high-tech stuff is basically being hand-built, because there's no assembly-line volume required -- but there is still an enormous tooling cost associated with it. In other words, they have to make several identical parts (and I mean identical! ), so they build dies and jigs and other miscellaneous tooling, pretty much as though they were going to do more production... and then all that tooling is worthless (but still charged to the project) after the half-dozen parts are built.

    Think how much it would cost you to have a custom, high-tech titanium gas tank built for your Harley... and then consider that the tanks in the story are literally rocket science, rather than scooter parts.


  • That you might not have all the details on this? I've seen a lot of posts castigating Boeing for this. Did you stop to think it might be NASA's fault? Or maybe the Redstone Arsenal trash contractor's? This happened at Marshall Space Flight Center, didn't it? So what if it was a part Boeing made. Who put the part outside the building in the first place? We have very few facts, and there are numerous possible explanations for how this could have happened. And no, I do not work for Boeing. I don't even work in Huntsville.

  • At the very least, Boeing didn't double-charge the government.

    They could have, y'know? They could have charged the gov't for things that are "needed", no matter if those things were thrown away in the first place or not.

  • Boeing is the government! It is a design department of the DOD. much like Mikoyan-Gurevich was in the Soviet Union.
  • Of course they didn't find the tanks. I got 'em first, and sold them to Fidel Castro. Suck on that, Bill Clinton. hehehehe :)
    #define X(x,y) x##y
  • by marcsiry ( 38594 ) on Monday March 06, 2000 @11:00PM (#1221213) Homepage
    About ten years ago I was working for a government "think tank" here in Los Angeles. One afternoon a frantic supervisor yanked me out of my office and, along with a few other fellas, drove us about 1/2 mile down the street to an intersection covered with THOUSANDS of sheets of paper... all SECRET documents!

    Seems the messenger between facilities had taken off with a box left on TOP of the van; a few blocks down the road the box fell off and burst into a rain of classified schematics! (I think that particular project had something to do with hypervelocity missiles).

    We spent the next half hour frantically snatching up documents-literally ripping them out of curious onlooker's hands. Around the time we finished cleaning up the last of the visible strays, a dark blue sedan pulled up with two Men In Dark Blue- Pentagon security auditors. They ended up pulling the clearance of the van driver (a serious career limiting move) and we suffered from increased ultra-paranoid security in our facility for the next few months.

    In the end, 17 individual sheets were unaccounted for, although we received reports of individual sheets washing up on the beach (they had been carried down to the ocean in storm sewers) for the next few months. The more cycnical employees "pshawed" the whole thing... saying "you couldn't find a Russian to buy it off you, they had all that shit six months ago."

    Note for non-guvmint types: "Secret" was one of the three levels of classified documents we worked with; "Confidential," "Secret," and "Top Secret." Each individual is cleared to one level, which allows access to documents at that level and below. My classification was "Secret."
  • Another reason it was not real: There were no typo's or spelling errors, yet it was signed with the mark of the 'Taco. Hmmmm, something strange about that, I must say. :)
    #define X(x,y) x##y
  • I'm sure they can find them on ebay. Some redneck has probably dug them up and auctioned them off already. Why not? Everything else is up there.

  • Speaking of people who don't know WTF they're talking about: They're not worried about the *reactor* on that there probe, they're worried that there may be Terran life left on it that would contaminate Europa - which, by the way, we don't think Europa has life on it. We *don't know*. It might have life on it. It might not. We don't know. Not knowing and not wanting to obfuscate the issue for later is very different from "we now think..." Furthermore, Galileo's pretty damaged as it is: they're not wasting it, they're just trying to get the most useful (or interesting) data out of it before it dies completely. Jupiter orbit isn't the safest possible place to put a space probe - it's damn unhealthy for electronics. And what this has to do with Boeing accidentally sending parts for the ISS to the landfill, I haven't a clue. Why not try to grind your ill-informed axe somewhere more appropriate?
  • Do you work for a local TV station or something?

    Medicines That Kill When Taken In Extremely Large Doses! Is your family in danger???
    Details after this crap about the local fire department...
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @01:16AM (#1221220) Homepage
    Unless Boeing comes public with a pledge that they'll absorb the cost, the perceived effect on the taxpaying community will be that the taxpayer gets to absorb the overrun resulting from Boeing's egregious mistake, and that Boeing suffer's a mere moment's bad PR.

    I wouldn't assume that the loss is Boeing's fault. From personal experience, I have seen how property accountability and other functions can get screwed up on government contracts. This can happen during reorganizations when the contractor is changed, departments are eliminated, functions are moved to a different contractor or budgets are cut.

    One day there is a group of people responsible for X, the next day the bureaucratic equivalent of a neutron bomb is dropped and the people have disappeared, even if X is still needed. It can take months or years for the resulting problems to get fixed.

    I have seen equipment rot in place or fall out of calibration because the slots for the technicians were eliminated or because of problems transitioning to a new contractor.

    Systems can't be maintained because the development hardware is broken and nobody is willing to fund the retention of the hardware and software engineers who know the system.

    Configuration control, quality assurance, testing and documentation get screwed up because they are the favorite targets of managers when budgets get cut.

    The Congress and agency heads demand that we do more with less. This often results in massive reorganizations, budget cuts and managers having to decide who and what is expendable.

  • Don't forget that the Apollo 13 command module explosion was due to an electrical fault in the stirrer inside an oxygen tank. I think I'd pay a bit more to have it tested...
  • Landfills are something I have great personal experience with as a former designer/inpector (no I'm not kidding).

    People invariable come to the landfill looking for something they threw away (wallets, rings..), usually they never find it. If they get there befor the truck they can get the truck dumped out to the side and look.

    My favorite was a consered looking woman who showed up at 7 am and wanted to know if any of us had seen a silver box she threw out a week before. No we told her, although she was welcome to look for it.. What was in the box? "An awfull lot of money...." She never found it, and we didn't either.

    If the crates of space stuff were noticed, they are probably in some landfill workers back yark or were sold for scrap.
  • Hey, maybe its time for Nasa to work with someone more professionnal, that doesn't put into the trash pricey parts or send informations in non-metric units... someone like Airbus ;)
  • I meant screws as in propellers. You can imagine how huge they are on a carrier. It took two months to rediscover the propellers in a Navy warehouse where they had been hibernating for over 20 years. The warehouse didn't even know what the propellers were for.

    As far as pilferage, as long as it isn't controlled material they seldom get caught. In fact I had one guy try to sell me a spent plutonium source calibartor for an AN-PDR27. The moron had it in his front pocket right next to his nuts. I know its just an Alpha emitter but still...

  • by Vic ( 6867 )
    CNN needs to start using the "foot" icon for some of their own stories. Or maybe a foot icon as the new Boeing logo?
  • Something smells fishy with this story; no pun intended.
    I wonder how extensive the landfill search was, and how long ago the tanks were "discarded"?
    Maybe it's possible that a sanation worker or boeing insider decided to appropriate these tanks! =)
    Of course, I haven't a clue what they would be any good for... hmm... what would one do with such a tank... put it in the living room? Y2K bunker maybe? I wonder how big the tanks are?
  • From the current NASA Watch [] page:

    4 March 2000: Boeing's missing tanks not explosive [], Huntsville Times

    "Huntsville workers for Boeing accidentally threw away the two $375,000 tanks last month and later found a piece of their protective covering in the Huntsville landfill.

    Boeing has said that if the tanks must be replaced, then NASA, not Boeing, must pay for them, due to terms of a contract between the organizations."


    By coincidence, this month is "Property Awareness Month" at NASA MSFC ...

  • It made the Monday morning addition in the paper I read. So it was being sent out by AP on Sunday. Guess more than /. is "behind" on this one.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    No the explosion was due to an electric switch that got stuck. You see, during the project the design team decided to change the voltage used in the electric cicuit. So they had to adapt all components involved to this new voltage. They did adapt the components except one switch that turned the heating on (oxygen is heated before it is pumped into the module so it soesn't feel cold when you breath). During extensive testing this switch melted a little bit. By the time it was used it turned on and got stuck. So the tank got hotter and hotter and the heating couldn't be turned off because the switch got stuck. Pressure kept building up until the tank exploded. You see, the funny thing is that if the unit had not been tested that much as it was it wouldn't have melted too much and caused a problem during the mission
    Pretty funny that something so big can depend on something so small
  • So the engineers took them?!? This is getting better and better...

  • >Pretty funny that something so big can depend on something so small

    Sorry to take up the obvious line here, but:

    For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
    For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
    For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
    For want of a rider, the message was lost.
    For want of a message, the battle was lost.
    For want of a battle, the war was lost.
    And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

    Put simply, the devil has always been in the detail.

  • >If these Boeing and NASA Engineers (I'm an
    >engineer now too, BTW) want to piss away my tax
    >money, they should have a seargeant there
    >putting his jungle boot up their ass to find it.

    How exactly do you piss huge LOX canisters up your own butt-hole? And what hope has any sergeant alive got of extracting them with a jungle boot? Sorry, I know you might not find this funny, but I just love the sick images your statement conjured up.

  • About two or three months ago, an agent with Canada's Intelligence service (yes, they actually have one) somehow managed to get clearance to take home a bunch of classified documents to study while on vacation. She took them with her in her van while she attended a hockey game in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. While she was inside, vandals looking for cash broke into the van and walked off with the box of documents. Upon finding out the box only contained papers, they threw them out in a dumpster. When the agent returned to her van, rather than reporting the theft immediately, she waited a week before informing her supervisor, at which point the vandals, while being caught, couldn't remember where they had dumped documents. For more info, follow this link. []

    Earlier to that, a disk containing a list of informants was left in a phone booth. Someone found it and took it home to discover that, not only was this disk left somewhere, the files on it were not encrypted. Luckily the person who found the disk was honest enough to return it, and it was believed that the identity of the informants was not released to anyone else.

  • Heh, good one. Boeing happens to be the prime contractor for the *International* Space Station.

    The rumour going around here regarding the Mars polar lander is that it got to within 1 foot of the ground just fine. There was supposed to be a cutoff switch built into each of the 3 legs that automatically killed the retro rockets upon contact with the ground, but during the software design phase someone accidentally disabled the cutoff switch. The rockets kept firing . . . the lander kept trying to `fly' while sitting on the ground . . . it kicked up a huge cloud of dirt (thus incapacitating itself with dust), or maybe skidded along the ground until it flipped over.

    Nothing on the space station is very new, technologically. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt . . . now let's stop pissing around in low earth orbit and do something useful in space.

    What would be useful? How about

    • a spaceplane
    • better rockets
    • a moon base
    • robotic mars missions that succeed
  • So, The conspiracy is unravelled! The real reason for the missing parts is those sneaky "NINJAS for te abolition of moderation".

    Well mister ninja, you may have temporarily set back Boeing's plans, but did you know that those missing tanks were actually MAPLE SYRUP tanks, destined for use in the Maple syrup Pancake Logistics Module (MPLM)?

    The MPLM is a sophisticated pressurised pancake container built by the Alenia Company in Italy. It's true! They are building three of them and naming them Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello. (I dunno what happened to Michaelangelo).

    Silly Italians think they're named after famous artists, but we PANCAKE engineers know that they're really NINJA TURTLES! Can you dig it?!

  • Moron!
    Do you seriously think that the referenced Oxy tanks would actually have compressed oxygen in them? I'm registered by NASDS as an open water diver and there are strict regulations for the oxygen canisters we use. You have to have your tanks regularly inspected for corrosion and any other number of problems. I can't even begin to imagine what type of regs there are for oxygen canisters in outer space when the ones for inner space are so stringent.

    Now, do you actually think that they would leave maxed out canisters laying around. I think not...

    They probably had a minimum amount of pressure (probably 1+ atm) which amounts to a minimum amount of danger.

    Next time go harp about world hunger and keep your little tabloid posts to yourself.
  • Boeing junks two pieces of perfectly good equipment, and NASA (and by extension you and I (assuming you're a US citizen, like me (sorry to nest parentheses))) has to foot the bill!? So Boeing can MAKE MONEY off of tossing stuff out?

    I can see it now "Uh... hi, remember that space shuttle, I think it was called Atlantis? Well, funny thing, it got hauled away as garbage and we can't find it... so, will you be paying for a new one by check, or just expensing it?"

    Damn, why can I ever get involved in contracts where the other guy pays for our stupidity. Oh wait, that's what for-pay tech support is for...
  • Considering the policies of some landfills, they probably had to pay by the pound to get rid of them.
  • Like I said, I don't know exactly what these tanks are so they are probably not just propane tanks.

    That said, there ARE other reasons for these to be so expensive. When something is in space, it is subject to a harsh environment completely different than what a gas grill tank is. There is radiation, pressure (or lack thereof), temperature extremes, and major reliability needs.

    There are other costs that are coupled into the $750,000. R&D is a major section of this. This involves the 20 engineers designing it and the 400 managers who sat in meetings for a year to come up with the acronym ;)

    Another cost is in the manufacturing: tooling, machining, building, etc. After a few are built (prototypes, test subjects, etc) they have to be certified for space and this costs A LOT.
    "Space Certification" for a CPU is on the order of $1 million. This is a reason why almost all of the CPUs on the Space Station are 386's instead of PIII 800's.

  • like Airbus That's the spirit -- someone with enough class to bribe saudi defense officials.

    "Yeah, and we would have got away with it too -- if it wasn't for the NSA and their stupid dog!"

  • I agree with your comment that this is not necessarily entirely Boeing's fault, due to the ever-changing funding environment in which they are forced to operate, however I would counter that they are at least partially to blame for the error since the part in question was their responsibility. I'm not saying that the line workers are necessarily to blame, but the corporation, at some echelon, must accept a measure of the responsibility.

    Sadly, shrinking budgets and forced reorganization seem to be endemic to large R&D projects. The vision that initiates a project seldom carries through to its fruition, and so the environment changes. In a perfect world if an organization is unable to fulfill a function within budgetary constraints, then management needs to have the spine to address their clients and inform them that they can't deliver a quality product under said constraints. This never happens in real life, unfortunately, and so to keep the cash cow alive corners get cut, errors get made, and projects which already suffer from adverse public opinion (which led to the shrinking budgets in the first place) experience failures to compound the problem. Just look at the failed Mars probes and the NIF facility at Lawrence Livermore National Labratory as cases in point.

    [Note to moderators: Detritus's followup to my original post is more informative than my post, so if anyone has two points to spare, if you could moderate mine down a point and move Detritus's up a point, I'd be greatly appreciative. Thanks.]
  • From Nasawatch []:
    Editor's note: word is spreading fast at NASA MSFC that Boeing may have actually sold the two ISS tanks at a surplus property sale for $50. The tanks cost NASA $750,000.

    Stay tuned.

  • by DanielRavenNest ( 107550 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2000 @08:51AM (#1221250)
    Some information about these tanks from a guy who works in the building they were lost from.

    First of all, what were these tanks? The space station uses an oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere that approximates sea level composition, without the 1% argon and trace elements. As the crew breathes and uses up oxygen, the Carbon Dioxide Removal Assembly scavenges the CO2 and dumps it overboard. The oxygen tank provide the replacement O2 to make up what is lost. The space station modules have many cables and pipes that go through the walls of the modules, and the modules are bolted to each other. There is a certain amount of leakage at these points (on the order of a pound a day). Since the station atmosphere is 80% nitrogen, you need to replace that too.

    You need to play with the composition of the atmosphere in the airlock to prepare for a spacewalk (reduce dissolved nitrogen in the blood to prevent the bends), and also to refill the spacesuit tanks afterwards. For this reason these tanks are mounted on the outside of the Airlock module, which is still under construction here in Huntsville.

    There are up to three tanksets that can be mounted on the airlock at any one time, each tankset consisting of two pressure tanks, the 'doghouse'
    that covers them and provides insulation and protection from space debris, and the structural mountings, plumbing, valves, and wiring. It's not clear to me what exactly was lost, but from the size of the box it was likely one tankset, which is about 3x3x4 feet in size. There are something like 8-10 total tanksets in existence, since full ones would be brought up to replace the ones on orbit that were empty, plus spares for 10 years of operation.

    Why do they cost $750,000? Boeing and it's subcontractors spend about $45,000 a pound to design airplanes or space stations. Pound for pound they cost the same to develop, because it's the same guys following the same design standards, using the same type of CAD workstations, etc. And the airplanes sell for $600 a pound. So assume the tankset weighs 300 pounds (I haven't looked up the weight, that's an educated guess based on the size). So the total design cost would have been $13.5 million spread over 10 units, or $1.35 million per unit, plus a manufacturing cost of $180,000 per unit. The quoted cost of $750,000 is less than this because the tankset is simpler than average for the station or an airplance as a whole , being mostly structure rather than a mix of structure and active components like computers and life support systems.

    How did they get thrown out? Most likely (I have no official information to go on) sloppy inventory tracking and labeling. I'm pretty sure someone didn't walk out with them, since the storage yard outside the building is behind two barbed wire fences, and with crate you are talking about a 500 pound item. Most of the US portion of the Space Station is being assembled in this building, and crates of components are arriving all the time. A trash contractor periodically picks up dumpsters full of packing materials and the empty crates, and I suspect the screwup was something like parking a full crate over by the empty crate pile, and no one bothered to check to see if it was really empty. The overall impact to the program isn't so bad, since you effectively have lost one of your spare units (you have 9 now instead of 10), and they will simply produce a replacement.

  • Hell, any idiot can get a "secret" clearance. I got one a couple years ago to do a software install at an AFB. ...of course I'm not going to tell you which one... Nyah nyah! #;-p
  • I think all money transactions should be in dimes. They're really cool looking, and the sheer logistics of earning & spending large amounts of them will reduce class differences (and make it less cost-effective for robbers & embezzlers).
  • They'll definitely never find the missing pieces. Just a few more parts, a couple thousand gallons of LOX, and BANG- I'm off this rock! Sure ended up being a lot cheaper than I planned. All I've gotta do then is find those moon maidens, or space amazons...
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~
    Artificial intelligence or natural stupidity?
  • Ooooh now of course Boeing has never given a bribe to anybody... clean your own backyard first ! everybody knows that all big market (planes / weapons / big construction projects) requires bribes. Even your own governement has a fair amount of people living of those kind of contracts !
  • ..and we've all seen the videos where an F-14 fails to take off from a carrier, crashing into the ocean beyond the runway. $40 million a pop makes $750,000 fluke look pretty insignificant.

    Judging from the media attention this has garnered, I don't think NASA has a habit of throwing away million-dollar toys. Except for the Mars Lander...

  • Latest news from Nasa Watch []

    • 7 March 2000: Latest news in the Boeing lost tank saga Editor's note: word is spreading fast at NASA MSFC that Boeing may have actually sold the two ISS tanks at a surplus property sale for $50. The tanks cost NASA $750,000. Stay tuned.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I meant screws as in propellers. You can imagine how huge they are on a carrier. It took two months to rediscover the propellers in a Navy warehouse where they had been hibernating for over 20 years. The warehouse didn't even know what the propellers were for.

    A friend of mine is an army brat. He told me that once, while he was living on a base in Colorado where his father was stationed, someone got a single digit of a single item number on a single form wrong - and as a result, a 40,000 lb ship's propeller got sent to the base. In Colorado.

  • Mayby they searched every square centimeter of the junkyard - rather than every square inch.
  • Yeah I had Secret too for my last job. I was annoyed that I didn't get Top Secret though - it would have looked better on the resume.
  • They ended up pulling the clearance of the van driver (a serious career limiting move)

    Why does this guy need clearance to drive a van?

    Will Dominoes not hire this delivery boy cause he lost his TopSecret(tm) clearance? Does this mean he won't make truck driver?
  • These were bound for the International Space Station. I doubt you'd find much classified technology there. Besides, no matter how fancy a valve may be, these are basically just glorifiedd bottles.
  • I can't believe you moderated to 0, Troll just for puns. I mean, its just a pun, it deserves a groan and to be beaten about the head with a wet noodle, but not that sort of blunt-force moderation. Flamebait at worst.
  • Unfortunately, most of the engineers in the field agree that rockets won't get much better. The technology has pretty much reached its peak, there's only so much you can do with oversized fireworks. The spaceplane, on the other hand, is an entirely different story... damn JFK, him and his "let's get to the moooooooon, whee!" ideas. Killed the spaceplane projects and everyone set to work on rockets. Consider the SR-71, if that was produced back when, what would we have now if spaceplane research had continued uninterupted? Oh well, more what ifs. What we need a friggin space elevator, lets start mass producing buckminsterfurene.
  • Juts a thought: time isn't free.

    I wonder how much it cost Boeing to look for the tanks?

  • everybody knows that all big market (planes / weapons / big construction projects) requires bribes.

    Well, that's very interesting. I never knew that. Which is kind of funny, because I work for one of those big plane and weapon making companies.

    In reality, the U.S. *severely* regulates its contractors (in both their work with the government AND their other work with govs. of other countries). If you disagree with this, you obviously have never worked for one.

    Furthermore, the Airbus incident leads me to believe that other countries perhaps do not keep as short a leash on their companies.

    My company got caught doing something questionable a couple of years back and was made to pay an immense fine. Furthermore, all the employees (there are six digits worth) were made to undergo special training over the course of three or six years as part of the agreement with the government. If we mess up again we could be barred from doing government contracts, which would be bad seeing as how that's probably 75% of our revenue.

    Finally, it's kind of stupid to say that I shouldn't say anything bad about a foreign company because of imperfections in a domestic company.

  • Oops. I can henestly see how stuff like this happens though. Aerospace, the Military and Shipbuilding share somthing in common besodes public funding though. Another reason for a lot of the goofy stuff happening is the sheer size of the projects. There aren't really any comperable projects like building a space station or Aircraft Carrier in the civilian world. This level of complexity will inevitably lead to some funny mishaps. Add to that the low rate of retention in government related work and you have a recipe for disaster.
  • Well, that's very interesting. I never knew that.

    It is never too late to learn...

    In reality, the U.S. *severely* regulates its contractors

    On the surface maybe - just like any country supposedly do. In reality, all, and by this I mean ALL really large foreign contracts involve some palm greasing at one point. There is no such thing as a multibillion $ weapon sale without some bribering. If a US company can't do it officially, they'll give some "commissions" to a guy in a Bahamas bank, who in turn will give part of it to someone, who will give its share to some important guy or its political party.

    Heck, if some pentagon guys get their share of the money, I don't really see how an underpaid official in a third wirld country couldn't get his share of the contract.

    As for civil airplanes sales, large ones have also their share of "unofficial" deals. When bribery is not enough the US sends Albright to do a little visit in the name of "a long time friendship" between the US and Nowhereland and take care of finishing the deal (in exchange of whatever favor she can't give away). I'm not saying it is worse than in Europe, it is just the same thing.

    Finally, it's kind of stupid to say that I shouldn't say anything bad about a foreign company because of imperfections in a domestic company.

    Well, if you say something bad about a foreign country just to make yours look better, when in fact it is as bad (if not worse), then I belive this is not fair. Europeans have their share of imperfections, but to point your finger at Airbus as more corrupt than Boeing is just plain hypocrisis (or if you truly believe that, then welcome to the real world - one where everybody is not as nice and honest as they pretend)
  • by airos4 ( 82561 )
    Friend, Boeing is a private company that picks up government contracts occasionally. So is Whistler, the company that makes radar detectors but on the side supplied some components for the F-4. Amtrak is a government company. Get it straight.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.