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Fewer Heat Shield Dings on Shuttle Discovery 118

According to NASA, the amount of damage to thermal tiles noted on Discovery was significantly lower after the latest mission. According to the report, there was a 33% reduction in the number of dings on the belly of the orbiter and an almost 50% reduction in the number of hits greater than one inch. This would seem to indicate that the new foam is working better. "The vehicle looked very good," Thomas Ford, a member of NASA's ice-debris inspection team at Kennedy Space Center, said Wednesday. "It's definitely gratifying."
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Fewer Heat Shield Dings on Shuttle Discovery

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  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:16PM (#15795947) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't that be great. I really like this new administrator.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Wouldn't that be great. I really like this new administrator.


      Currently only Russians are able to do that. Shuttles' turn-around time is way too long and even though there's less damage it still takes one person a week per tile to repair.

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Currently only Russians are able to do that. Shuttles' turn-around time is way too long and even though there's less damage it still takes one person a week per tile to repair. It's a good thing that NASA has more than one shuttle, and a good thing also that NASA has more than one employee! :-)
      • I've been thinking they should attach the tiles to a panel that latches into sockets that can be manually disengaged from inside. It seems to me that any new project should consider such a system. That why if a panel is damaged they can simply eject it and replace it. Have a stockpile (yea expensive) of the tiles most likely to be damaged on the space station. Then just pop one out and put the new one in. Just use a mechanical lath system to lock them in place or even an electric failsafe locking system. As
    • What would be great is if we grounded all the shuttles and canceled all the shoddy projects and put all of Nasa's money into making a shuttle that doesn't cost so much to launch.
    • The US is already teetering past the edge of bankruptcy. Launching a shuttle every 6 weeks would seal the deal in a few months, and send the country the rest of the way down the tube into the world 'third world debttor countries'.
  • by darkrowan ( 976992 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:20PM (#15795955) Homepage
    ... the bleeps, the creeps, and the sweeps?
  • According to the report, there was a 33% reduction in the number of dings on the belly of the orbiter and an almost 50% reduction in the number of hits greater than one inch.

    Clearly they didn't let the female astronaut make the return trip. I'm guessing they also didn't find any rubbermaid garbage cans crushed under the rear wheels, right?
  • by malchus842 ( 741252 ) <stephen@adamsemail.net> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:38PM (#15796003) Homepage

    But, we can hope! If they can make the launch every 2 months or so, that's going to be amazing - they have fewer orbiters than before, so it's pretty agressive. The question is, what comes next?

    It looks to me that the Asian countries are going to take over real space exploration. That's both good and bad. China isn't exactly known for sharing information, but at least they are doing it.

    • by EmbeddedJanitor ( 597831 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:46PM (#15796037)
      "amazing"? NASA was promising this level of launches over 20 years ago.
    • Yeah right. China recently announced they would not only be exploring the Moon, they'd also be exploring Mars. They might as well claim they're going to explore Jupiter or the Kepler belt or Alpha Proxima. Private individuals have paid for trips that went further and stayed longer in space than any Taikonaut.
    • Space (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 )
      I think maybe what we're going to see is a rather serious shift in how we think about space travel. I'll bet China is going to come up with some very innovative ideas as they develop their space program. There's the vast amounts of existing expertise available in NASA, the ESA, and what's left of the Russian space program. The ESA and NASA are still pumping out cool new ideas. And now we have the private sector trying to get its foot in the door. With all of this knowlege, skill, imagination, and toil,
      • I'll bet China is going to come up with some very innovative ideas as they develop their space program.

        I bet they'll use dragons.
    • It looks to me that the Asian countries are going to take over real space exploration. That's both good and bad. China isn't exactly known for sharing information, but at least they are doing it.

      No, China is known for sharing information with allies.

      Companies from the United States are not well known for sharing [theregister.co.uk] their technology [theregister.co.uk]. .

      In fact, the United States is known to be susceptible [slashdot.org] to private interests affecting their "foreign policy".

      No offense, but every Country in the world deserves to be on

      • No offense, but every Country in the world deserves to be on equal footing.

        I disagree. I think that individual human beings have certain rights, but deserve no more than the consequences of the actions they choose, and whatever good or bad luck comes their way. If a bunch of individuals want to band together, form a nation-state with borders and a foreign policy and whatnot, more power to them. I don't think they deserve to be on an equal footing with any other nation-state or other entity, though.

        I thin

    • It looks to me that the Asian countries are going to take over real space exploration. That's both good and bad. China isn't exactly known for sharing information, but at least they are doing it.

      How do you figure? China has launched 2 missions in 4 years, for a total of 7 days in space. They are flying a rocket/spacecraft that is a virtual clone of a Soyuz which they purchased. They haven't developed anything fron scratch. . They have no heavy lift capability. They have never launched an unmanned explorat

      • Yeah, pretty much they've been buying their way into technological advancement. How do you think they've been modernizing their military? Heavy use of espionage and buying up hardware on the black market to reverse engineer it.
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:41PM (#15796011) Homepage
    Better foam, less ding! Coming to you at your local Starbucks!
  • no liner? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MoFoQ ( 584566 )
    I still don't see why they can't put like a protective liner or coating on top of the fragile graphite/ceramic tiles to protect it.....of course, the coating will harmlessly burn away on re-entry (I was thinking LineX...as they advertise it as being really strong and I think it was Dateline or 60minutes where they showed a concrete cinder block that was coated that survived a 2 story drop)....maybe even make a coating that when it does burn, it leaves a thin carbon film for added heat protection (and fills
    • If you have liner burning away, you are now exposing the tiles to flaming debris. Nothing burns perfectly away, so there will be large chunks.

      Also, you've got to fasten the liner somehow, which would mean holes in the tiles.
      • Also, you've got to fasten the liner somehow, which would mean holes in the tiles.

        You missed the parents point.

        Google for "LineX" or "Rhino Lining".

        You are most likely correct, though, about the lining burning away and possibly causing more damage, though.
    • If you use colored dope, rather than clear, on your model airplane, guess what happens?

      It doesn't fly as far.

      KFG
    • Re:no liner? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jboost ( 960475 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @09:14PM (#15796134)
      The heat shields are shaped so the hot regions of the gas are kept away from the shield.

      The problem isn't the heat, but the pressure (that causes this heat as a side effect).
      During re-entry, the shuttle travels supersonic thereby preventing the air to get out of the way fast enough.
      • Yet another slew of reasons to develop a force field already.

          Jeez, according to sci-fi magazines dating back to the 50's, we should have had them for decades. The future is really disappointing isn't it?
    • It would probably more effective to spray the orbiter in mineral oil. The oil would cause the chunks of foam to roll on impact and slip away instead of grinding into the tiles with their hard edges. I don't think the oil would protect against brick-sized chunks, but neither would any liner. The upside of oil - no debris shedding in orbit and on the way back. Possible downside - more heat penetrating the shield through the oil-soaked gap fillers.
    • Re:no liner? (Score:3, Informative)

      by evanbd ( 210358 )
      That would be called an ablative heat shield [wikipedia.org]. It's been done quite successfully -- Apollo, Soyuz, and almost every reentry vehicle except the shuttle.

      That said, ablatives aren't easy, especially if you want aerodynamic control as you come in -- it's exceedingly difficult to get them to ablate evenly, which results in weird and unpredictable forces on the lifting and control surfaces.

      If the shuttle had been a capsule reentry system, ablatives would have been fairly obvious. With wings, it's much less c

      • cheaper? so the lives of astronauts has a dollar value?

        well..what about a second layer of the same tiles? so if the top layer is damaged....the second one should be able to handle it. Think of a snake shedding it's skin or a shark replenishing its teeth with a backup
        • I don't know of many snakes that hurtle themselves at many times the speed of sound from high Earth orbit to the ground. What happens when the outer layer of tiles gets damaged and starts shedding? My guess would be quite a bit of damage to the inner layer. The heat shield is just fine the way it is.
        • You really just have no concept of the velocities involved. At these velocities, a piece of lightweight foam blew right through a few centimeters of the strongest material we can make, baring daimonds. (And it is a form of the same material as diamond!)

          When rentering, the air touching the wings is several thousand degrees. But the air in front of the wings (as in the air being pushed away by the air in contact with the wings) is several tens of thousands of degrees. So any change in the wing, such as a
        • While I'm reluctant to put a dollar value on lives, they clearly have *a* value -- we as a society repeatedly decide to risk the lives of our members for societal gain, be they astronauts, firemen, soldiers, or even just people commuting to work on the freeway.

          The development project required to do substantial changes to the heat shield would be massive. You can't just attach another layer of tiles, for several reasons. Weight is the obvious one -- it cuts into payload capacity, probably quite substanti

      • That would be called an ablative heat shield [wikipedia.org]. It's been done quite successfully

        Man, you owe me an afternoon. That was a thumping good read...

    • Re:no liner? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @08:54AM (#15798280) Homepage
      I still don't see why they can't put like a protective liner or coating on top of the fragile graphite/ceramic tiles to protect it.

      I can think of one amazingly obvious reason why they don't do it: weight (or, more precisely, mass). Every pound of stuff you put on the tiles to protect them is a pound less the shuttle can carry into orbit. It already can't carry very much (compared to unmanned rockets that are far less expensive to operate), so slapping a few hundred (or perhaps thousand) pounds of stuff on the tiles to protect them is not going to work.

      Now perhaps you'll say that such a coating wouldn't have to weigh much because it could be thin. I will remind you that the foam that brought down Columbia slammed into the wing at about 550mph relative to the shuttle's speed. Any coating that's going to do any good would have to be able to withstand such an impact or it's not worth the weight of the coating. I think you should now realize that any protective coating would have to be (a) very thick and (b) very heavy in order to do any good, which would therefore (c) make the shuttle's cargo-carrying capacity more pathetic than it already is.

      It's a bad design. You can keep applying band-aids all you want, but having the heat tiles exposed to debris damage during ascent is a fundamentally bad design than can't readily be corrected. Ever see a Saturn V launch? Tons of ice shed from the ascent stages, crashing all over the place, yet no Apollo mission was ever in any danger whatsoever because of it. The "valuable" part of the stack was at the top, away from debris, and the heat shield itself was tucked away inside the stack. Until we come up with a way to launch things without cryogenic propellants, this is going to be the preferred arrangement for getting stuff into space.
  • by Ant P. ( 974313 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:44PM (#15796028) Homepage
    Does any other country's space program have a farce^Wproblem like this, and if so why aren't we getting 10 articles a month about them too?
    • Well, you have to admit, the shuttles seemed like a good idea. They haven't panned out as promised, but it still makes sense to try and get as much return on that investment (if only scientific return) as possible while waiting for NASA's next generation of launch vehicles to be designed and built.
    • No other country has a machine capable of what the shuttle can do, though. Nothing has the sheer payload capacity of the shuttle, not to mention the manipulation capabilities once it's in orbit.
      • Unfortunately, until the new CLV is created, we're stuck with the Shuttle.

        The Saturn V was the most reliable heavy-lift vehicle ever built with the largest payload capacity. Too bad they scrapped it.
        • >The Saturn V was the most reliable heavy-lift vehicle ever built with the
          >largest payload capacity. Too bad they scrapped it.
          And then they lost the plans so they can't even build new ones.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            And then they lost the plans so they can't even build new ones.

            Fortunately, the plans are not lost. Unfortunately, even with the plans, it's not possible to build new Saturn V rockets.

            Here's what the SpaceFAQ (http://www.faqs.org/faqs/space/controversy/ [faqs.org]) has to say about the "lost" Saturn V plans.

            From the FAQ:

            WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SATURN V PLANS

            Despite a widespread belief to the contrary, the Saturn V blueprints have not been lost. They are kept at Marshall Space Flight Center on micr

      • Exactly. The more complex anything is, the more likely it is to be susceptible to many complex problems. We happen to have, for better or worse, a more complex space program than pretty much anyone else. Also, the more complex the support infrastructure that is needed, the more opportunities there are to screw up royally. While we should move on from the shuttle, It should by no means be dead yet. As the late Guss Grissom said, "If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we're in, and we
    • Does any other country's space program have a vehicle that can support seven astronauts for up to a month, can return with tons of cargo, has an airlock, grappling system, etc.?
    • Other than Russia and China, no-one *has* a manned space programme and currently neither of their programmes are as sophisticated as the US's. The shuttle may be causing some headaches, but if it hadn't been tried, people would still be demanding it was tried: "why are we sending up these space rockets and burning them up on re-entry. Why don't we try and save money and materials by building a re-usable vehicle? Added bonus: we can retrieve things from space as well as put them up there." With hindsight

    • The russians just lost 18 satelites at launch.
  • Shields up (Score:2, Interesting)

    Can anyone explain to me how, as the article suggests, less heat shield dings = better foam? I understand that foam falls off and CAUSES these problems, but surely, in orbit, there are a lot of other small things flying around? Like that spatula?
    • Most all the damage to the shuttle's tiles is caused by foam shedded during launch. Once in orbit any debris they might encounter would strike them at such a high speed that tile damage would be the least of their worries.
  • by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @08:48PM (#15796044) Journal
    ...blah blah blah this new stuff works great...

    I paraphrased a little there, but the REAL test of this stuff would be to park the shuttle in Walmart's parking lot for a few hours. See how it looks after that.
  • NASA really been letting everyone down the past few years. So many silly accident and subsequent failure to fix it. This is NASA FFS, they're supposed to be... Well rocket scientists and pretty much overall the brightest people on the planet.
    I remember growing up and feeling NASA were a magical place where anything could happen and that it was just prime ace, the place to be.
    Now where it's at is Google and... erm, where else? Perhaps like PriceWaterHouseCoopers? IBM? I dunno... My point is, that NASA shou
    • I know a guy who is a subcontracter at one of the research centers. He is an IT technician. I get to hear all sorts of stories about these so call 'brilliant rocket scientists'...stuff like "what do you mean I shouldn't store my email in the deleted items folder?" or "my laptop doesn't work when I hit the power button" meaning the power button on the monitor that isn't even connected to the laptop. He also relayed a story of a conversation that happened around the lunch table, they were talking about the mi
    • Fixing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @09:46PM (#15796254)
      Thinking of fixing, there was a famous incident in WW2 where a supposedly ruined American aircraft carrier was repaired to battle-worthiness in three days. Its presence in a subsequent engagement created enough confusion among the Japanese commanders to cost them the battle. And you know, America really did once have a reputation for precisely this kind of engineering awesomeness, which helped build America into the industrial giant it is. Could America ever regain this prestige? Maybe... if they'd ditch their hero worship of illiterate business school and start celebrating their genius Scientists and Engineers again, if they tried to be the kind of Country that Einstein immigrated to, rather than the kind of country he emigrated from, if the very idea of someone having a degree other than an MBA didn't make the average American vomit with an intense anti-illectualist rage.
      • "... if the very idea of someone having a degree other than an MBA didn't make the average American vomit with an intense anti-illectualist rage."

        Of course the irony here - the fact that with this sweeping generalization you've employed about as much actual thought as this hypothetical "average American" you're railing against - has most likely totally escaped your notice.
        • Ironic as it may be, it further supports his claim, especially if he himself is an 'average american'. ;-)

        • Generalization (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Mark_MF-WN ( 678030 )
          Everyone generalizes all the time. If you didn't generalize about absolutely everything, you'd be incapable of any action or thought whatsoever. Generalizing about the majority, of course, is particularly appropriate, since the majority is precisely the group about which generalizations are accurate. And reality is that Americans are an extraordinarily anti-intellectual people. Not at the nearly the same level as the totalitarian regimes of the 30s and 40s (where intellectuals were sometimes jailed or k
          • "modern Islamic states (where intellectuals are consistently jailed or killed)"

            Journalists maybe, or activists. But engineers, rocket scientists or nuclear physicists (whose very usefulness you seem to imply) ? Name one such state. I don't mean to apologize for modern Islamic states, but I fear that rhetoric has got the better of you. You should not let that happen to you, unless, of course, you could prove me wrong.
            • Okay, gross estimation here, but, if one of those people refused to work on the project that their government told them to work on, then they would be killed or jailed (and tourtured too!!!). Iraq did this (even with soccer players!) under Sadaam.
              • Re:Generalization (Score:1, Flamebait)

                by jafac ( 1449 )
                And now, the salafists are free to run amok, and kill barbers and torch their shops because the koran forbids hair cutting.

                Yeah.

                Iraq is so much better off now.
            • Taliban consistently was running around executing schoolteachers as "intellectuals". What they really meant to do was wipe out the "intellectual elite" which could give rise to there being some sort of other elite rather than the imam's.
      • The business of america has always been business. Engineers and Scientists have always been second best, and are most admired if they sucessful businessmen too, like Thomas Edison.

        And I am sure that the NASA engineers would do a much better job if they thought that their own lives and families depended on them doing the best job they could. It is just that we are all so rich and bloated now. That is the price of sucess.

        I often wonder how Rome pulled off being top dog for so long. I don't think America's dom
  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @09:04PM (#15796100)
    They're comparing the most recent flight against a (the) single previous flight.

    Where's the data on all flights prior to that one? What are the maxima/minima and standard deviation? A 33 or 50% variation might be expected.

  • Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by cheese-cube ( 910830 ) <cheese.cube@gmail.com> on Thursday July 27, 2006 @09:11PM (#15796124) Homepage
    ...number of dings on the belly of the orbiter...
    Dings? That's a tad un-technical. Just imagine what things must be like in the control room.
    Can we please have a report on the landing wheelie thingos? I think there was a ding on one of the balancy thingamajigs.


  • Check out the UFO on the latest shuttle launch ... ( 1 min 20 sec )

    It's not much, but it's another one NASA missed.

    http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=-91074674 70463643727& q=ufo+sts
  • So the foam has been damaging tile for a long time. Would we have had better turn arounds with fewer tile repairs if we had fixed the foam a long time ago? And saved lots of $$$ in the mean time?
    • So the foam has been damaging tile for a long time. Would we have had better turn arounds with fewer tile repairs if we had fixed the foam a long time ago? And saved lots of $$$ in the mean time?

      The foam has been damaging tiles since they switched away from CFCs to make it in an effort to appease the environmentalists that swore the ozone was being depleted as a result of CFCs. Clearly they compromised safty. Can read about it here - http://flyawaysimulation.com/article1564.html [flyawaysimulation.com] .

  • by Racine ( 42787 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @10:04PM (#15796313) Homepage
    This was never a problem until NASA had to change to a non-freon coolant in the 90s, in order to comply with EPA regulations. Can't NASA get an exemption from this? Is freon that so bad that we can't even afford to allow the Shuttle to use it, at the expense of a kludgy workaround that has, to date, claimed 7 lives?

  • So there is a 50% less chance of dying in a fiery ball of rocket fuel.

    Why do I not feel that comforted?
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Thursday July 27, 2006 @10:44PM (#15796442) Homepage Journal
    Yet, I couldn't believe they never inspected the orbiter fully while still in orbit until after they lost Columbia.

    I always imagined someone did a spacewalk (even as spacewalks are dangerous) during one of the first flights to inspect the spaceship for damage done during lift-off. This is not the way to do engineering - building something extremely complex and expensive and not learn every tiny bit it has to teach.

    The sad part is that lives could have been saved.
  • NASA needs to scrap the shuttle. Then scrap the CEV. Then with the freed up money build a 'true space exploration vessel' that will be docked and serviced at the ISS. You use the current crop of heavy lifters to get the parts and supplies up there and the Soyuz to transport the people up and down. Why wast money reinventing what we have already.
    • NASA needs to scrap the shuttle. Then scrap the CEV. Then with the freed up money build a 'true space exploration vessel' that will be docked and serviced at the ISS.

      After you scrap the Shuttle and CEV.....by the time you get anything else large enough up there, the ISS will be a pile of unhabitable rubble.
  • New Foam? Not. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LooseChanj ( 17865 ) on Friday July 28, 2006 @07:39AM (#15797783) Homepage
    This would seem to indicate that the new foam is working better.

    The foam itself hasn't changed at all, so that comment is misleading. What's been changed is where the foam is applied.

    Oh, and there's two types of foam btw. There's the stuff that gets sprayed on the acreage areas of the tank (which is applied by machine), and there's the foam that's hand applied to stuff that needs a bit more precision. The acreage foam is the new environmentally friendly stuff you hear blamed for the Columbia accident. Which is ironic, because it's the other foam, the hand applied variety, they've had so much trouble with. And guess what? It's the older, non "evironment friendly" type, and it's also the type that caused Columbia's disaster.

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