Wednesday, March 01, 2006

16 ways to kill an astronaut

So now we have it. The new, improved foam insulation on the space shuttle's external tank is just as dangerous as the old, unimproved foam insulation that caused the Columbia to break up over Texas.
NASA says 16 pieces of foam insulation broke off the fuel tank of the space shuttle Discovery during its launch last July, offering many chances for harming the spacecraft in the same way Columbia was doomed three years ago.

It's the first time the space agency has put a number on the pieces of foam that snapped off during liftoff last year in the first flight since the Columbia disaster. Engineers had hoped to prevent any threatening loss of foam and were disappointed when it happened again.

"The large size of some of the foam losses caused concern because they were much larger than analysis had predicted was likely," the space agency said in an update on its Web site recently.

Here's a wacky thought: Instead of pumping billions into continued ineffectual redesigns and operation costs, why not decommission the remaining shuttles now, before more people get killed, and instead plow that money into developing the CEV and Shuttle-C variant NASA has on the drawing board? That way that white elephant ISS gets completed eventually, but we get a more-efficient heavy lifter and a much safer manned spacecraft that much sooner. All without breaking the budget, which the current plan most certainly does. I'm sorry, does that make too much sense?

Thanks to Bad Astronomy for the link.

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  1. I agree that the the shuttle program should be shut down immediately. However, I'm not sure we should leap directly into Shuttle derived lifters as the next vehicle. I think we really need to step back and look at the big picture.


  2. Well, I have to disagree on your second point. Sure, designing a next-generation heavy-lifter would be ideal, but in this budget and political climate, we'd still be waiting for one to get off the drawing boards 20 years from now. By going with the Shuttle-C variant as a heavy lifter (and really, the proposed heavy lifter doesn't resemble the Shuttle-C much at all, other than the fact it uses much of the same hardware) we accomplish two things: 1) it gives the U.S. a heavy lift vehicle almost immediately, without decades of design meetings, and 2) it throws a bone to all the politicos who are going to be up in arms about shutting down the shuttle program.

    Not an idea approach, but it's realistic. When has logic and common sense EVER been the driving force at NASA? Science and exploration have never been more than lucky spinoffs of politically motivated programs. :-(