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Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Sensors

michael posted about 11 years ago | from the fighting-the-last-war dept.

Space 166

Norman at Davis writes "Space.com is reporting on new "sensors designed to pinpoint potential damage from falling debris or other objects [which] will be installed into the wings of NASA's remaining shuttle fleet...." Unfortunately, the sensors won't be too sophisticated, MSNBC reports that 'the extent of damage would still have to be determined by an inspection by astronauts in orbit, using an extension boom equipped with cameras and lasers.' Apparently NASA is in the process of developing three techniques which will allow astronauts to spacewalk and repair holes up to fourteen inches in diameter. Finally... the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is also running an article on the topic, stating that "not only will computers provide state-of-the-art imaging, but Defence Department satellites will supplement inspections made by the shuttle astronauts themselves and photographs taken from the International Space Station." 'NASA's efforts to improve its ability to detect whether the shuttle has been struck during flight have evolved remarkably since Columbia's January launch, when engineers watched loops of film sent to Miami for development and projected against a wall by a noisy old projector.' Hopefully this new technology will prevent another Columbia-like disaster, as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."

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primary! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700004)

aha! will of warrior!

Spacewalk? (1, Troll)

Gabrill (556503) | about 11 years ago | (#7700016)

Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

not if you believe (2, Funny)

waspleg (316038) | about 11 years ago | (#7700034)

we went to the moon *cough*

Re:Spacewalk? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700039)

Is it so difficult to RTFA?

Re:Spacewalk? (1)

ScribeOfTheNile (694546) | about 11 years ago | (#7700043)

A spacewalk isn't exactly the safest thing to do. The less the time out the better.

Re:Spacewalk? (4, Informative)

rodney dill (631059) | about 11 years ago | (#7700083)

As I recall with the Columbia it was. There is additional equipment that needs to be taken into space. Weight always being a concern if a space walk is not part of the planned activities then the suit equipment needed for manuevering is not taken along.

Re:Spacewalk? (1)

Gabrill (556503) | about 11 years ago | (#7701161)

How many astronaughts have we lost to spacewalks? It seams to me that at least one EVA suit should be standard equipment. A steel line anchored to the shuttle would prevent lost walkers. Spare tires take up weight, space and affect the design of cars, yet we almost never use them. They are considered mandatory equipment though. If we subscribed to NASA's point of view, it would be the wrecker that carried a few donuts for cars with flats, and in space, the wrecker isn't even coming.

Re:Spacewalk? (2, Informative)

gorilla (36491) | about 11 years ago | (#7701576)

It is standard equipment. There is one contingency which must be built into every mission plan, and that's if the payload doors fail to close or lock. In this case there must be an EVA in order to close/lock them. It's never happened so far, but there is always an EVA suit and an astronaut trained in the procedure aboard.

Re:Spacewalk? (4, Insightful)

Dashing Leech (688077) | about 11 years ago | (#7700149)

Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

Yes, yes it is. It's very expensive and dangerous, and they have to cover the entire underside of the shuttle, the leading edge of both wings, and the nose. It's hard enough getting cameras and 3D sensors to all those areas. Getting an EVA there would be very difficult.

Re:Spacewalk? (2, Interesting)

Unknown Kadath (685094) | about 11 years ago | (#7701817)

Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

Yes, yes it is. It's very expensive and dangerous, and they have to cover the entire underside of the shuttle, the leading edge of both wings, and the nose. It's hard enough getting cameras and 3D sensors to all those areas. Getting an EVA there would be very difficult.

Also, astronauts train for EVA's by repetition. They practice the same procedure, whether it's screwing in a single bolt on a malfunctioning satellite or replacing the Hubble's lenses, hundreds of times. Everything is choreographed to leave as little room for screwups as possible. If astronauts have to start doing unplanned or more "freeform" EVA's on a regular basis, we'll be seeing a lot more mistakes made.


Re:Spacewalk? (1)

lcsjk (143581) | about 11 years ago | (#7700470)

Some of the engineers believe that a crack too small to be seen during a spacewalk could still be destructive to the shuttle.

Re:Spacewalk? (2, Informative)

mikerich (120257) | about 11 years ago | (#7701391)

Is it so difficult to just do a spacewalk and a visual inspection?

On the Shuttle yes. There aren't hand-holds across most of the Shuttle - so the astronauts can't climb on the fuselage.

Even if they could, the tiles are so fragile that the slightest brush against the hull risks further damage to the insulation.

The alternative of the jet pack isn't carried on every mission because of weight and stowage concerns. Additionally not every astronaut is trained in its use.

And that still wouldn't resolve the problem of the tiles being far too fragile.

Best wishes,

Big Deal (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700024)

The Enterprise has better sensors anyway. Fuck NASA.


It's life Jim, but not as we know it... (-1, Offtopic)

Cenuij (526885) | about 11 years ago | (#7700053)

More importantly can the sensor array be remodulated to output the all important tacheon pulse?

That's sure to create a sub space rift and swallow up the SCOmulan empire. Might even create an inverse wormhole and grab Gates of Borg. \o/ ;)

Re:It's life Jim, but not as we know it... (2, Funny)

cberetz (317673) | about 11 years ago | (#7700110)

What about new phased plamsa inducers?! I WAS PROMISED NEW PHASED PLASMA INDUCERS? Someone get Wheaton over here :)

Re:It's life Jim, but not as we know it... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700260)

Calm down and have some nice goatse cookies [stud.ntnu.no]

Re:It's life Jim, but not as we know it... (0)

Craig3010 (634402) | about 11 years ago | (#7700540)

Is that NASA's fancified name for Saran Wrap?

It's a bandaid (5, Insightful)

signe (64498) | about 11 years ago | (#7700054)

Yep, this certainly should prevent another Columbia-type disaster. Just like additional checks on the rings and seals should prevent another Challenger-type disaster. Of course, next time it will probably be metal fatigue, and this won't do anything to help.

It's a patch, and it's reactionary. The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced. They still should be. And every time there's a hole in the dam, they slap a patch on it and say "Well, that hole's not going to leak again." Meanwhile, the entire dam is about to crumble to dust.


Re:It's a bandaid (4, Insightful)

kippy (416183) | about 11 years ago | (#7700167)

The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced.

Replaced with what? If your answer is more resuable shuttles, you should really ask yourself why. What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?

NASA needs a target not a veachle. Once it has a place to go, it should then design a means to get there. Lower Earth orbit is esentially nowhere. Let's hear it for Mars or at least the Moon.

Re:It's a bandaid (3, Interesting)

DickBreath (207180) | about 11 years ago | (#7700196)

Replaced with what?

How about a small reusable vehicle for manned flight, and a large disposable Saturn-V style booster rocket for heavy payloads. I'm not even convinced the manned vehicle should be "reusable".

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

kippy (416183) | about 11 years ago | (#7700249)

Sounds great. Now go and write your congressman. That's not a troll, it's probably the only way you or I can help drive the space program in the proper direction. I've already written mine.

Find your reps here [capwiz.com]

Re:It's a bandaid (2, Insightful)

Sergeant Beavis (558225) | about 11 years ago | (#7700285)

We don't need to spend a fortune on a new HLV like the Saturn V. We could just go with a somewhat reusable Shuttle C (which is being looked into again) and have a huge launch capacity. I was all for a winged OSP until I started reading such great articles on capsules in space.com and other websites. You can still have a ground landing, reusable capsule that will reduce the cost of just getting people into orbit. Beyond that, a previous poster is absolutely correct. We need a destination. We need to stop just going in circles in LEO. The Moon is there, we just have to go (and of course spend the money).

AHHHH! (0)

DAldredge (2353) | about 11 years ago | (#7700757)

Now, we do need to spend a fortune on a new SatV. You know why? Because they killed almost everything involved with the SatV program, up to and including destroying the plans and all the custom machines to make the SatV. And do you kow why? So it would not be a 'problem' for the program that gave use the shuttle.

At least that is what I have been told.

Re:AHHHH! (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7701064)

The plans still exist, but they could hardly keep a three or four facility production line scattered all across the country mothballed for forty years. It would be better to start from scratch than to rebuild the Saturn really, most of the KSC facilities were converted for the shuttle, the factories no longer exist, and there can't be many people left at NASA who worked with the Saturn series. A big new booster definately seems like a good project.

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

gorilla (36491) | about 11 years ago | (#7701149)

Before deciding if you want to replace it, first we have to decide if manned space flight is worth it. There isn't an overriding scientific reason for people to be up there. There isn't any commerical reason. There are huge cost reasons against it - any manned program will cost many times more than a similar non-manned program, but the manned program will have greatly truncated scientific goals, and often virtually no scientific function at all. We don't need people dying to find out how ants form anthills in space.

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

MegaHamsterX (635632) | about 11 years ago | (#7702617)

We need to have some humans off world in an independant sustanable environment.

We are now technically apt enough where a big rock should not kill us off, or a nuclear exchange for that matter.

Moving beyond this solar system should be a goal for the future, harvesting resources from other planets efficiently, this world is small and discovery limited, the universe is infinite, that should be reason enough to push beyond our mediocrity.

NASA has been hitting the crack pipe since the shuttle, now the ISS, there is this big mass of dirt floating around us that will make a far better base than the ISS ever could.

Oh, cut out the whining... (1)

El Camino SS (264212) | about 11 years ago | (#7702494)


The shuttles are old. They are general purpose vehicles that have been overworked, and should have been replaced.
What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?

You've got to be kidding.

Honestly, you need to read about the space shuttle before you start bouncing such tripe out on us. We're talking manned spaceflight here, something that actually looks more like spaceflight than just putting some payload on the back of an Estes model rocket you shot off in your back yard. I am terribly sorry that science hasn't caught up with your dreaming yet, but NASA is full of zealots that are doing their best to get our society into the space age as much as possible, with minimal funding. If you are complaining, may I suggest you get yourself a wind tunnel, several degrees in mathematics, a degree in astrophysics, fifty years of experience, and BUILD YOUR OWN FREAKING ROCKETS.

It's twits like you that complain about modernization while the geniuses plod along trying to make a difference. Please don't let your stupid expectations ever effect their intense work in REALITY.

By the way, GM called. They said that they are sorry about the delay, and your hovercar just got in out of backorder.

Re:It's a bandaid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7702615)

What has the shuttle program gotten us but dead astronauts, a few satilites and vital data on ants sorting tiny scrwes in space?


You mean besides an idea of what we need to learn before we can reach Mars while still alive? Besides a bunch of functioning satellites? Besides contact w/ Alpha Centauri?

Re:It's a bandaid (5, Interesting)

ShadowBlasko (597519) | about 11 years ago | (#7700265)


While I agree with you in general, I think you are missing the biggest problem with the whole thing. Overall accountability and *some* comprehensible flow of flight status go/no go operations.

Until there is a complete overhaul of the red tape that is flight preparedness, it doesn't matter if you patch the holes in the existing shuttle or build a new one out of unobtanium.

It was clearly evident in the months following the Challenger, and in the *minutes* following the Columbia, that the left hand does not have the slightest *clue* what the right hand is doing.

Mission preparedness is no longer about what works and what doesn't. Its about what subcontractor is in what senators pocket that has the most to ride on whether a mission is delayed.

Morton Thiokol's engineers knew that those rings suffered from a serious loss of functionality at those temperatures, spoke up, and nothing was done.

Checks on the O rings do not make a damned bit of difference if the beaurocrat the safety engineer is reporting to is gagged by red tape.

The whole freaking *world* saw that foam hit the wing, and nothing was done. (That they are going to tell us about)

At this point in time I honestly believe that NASA could break a titanium ball bearing with a rubber mallet.

I used to believe in the dream that was manned space exploration. I loved that dream. However, NASA is not going to get us out of LEO. Not unless we get idiots out of the loop, and get some resposible people, (IE engineers, not lawyers) to make the calls on what goes and what does not.

Some of the equipment will *always* break when you are pushing the edge like we *want* NASA to do. Tragedies like the Columbia and the Challenger were not an example of those failures. They are examples of the flaws in the system, not the equipment.


(And would you please answer your email you silly Paladin, It's only been 3 years since I have talked to you)

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

whovian (107062) | about 11 years ago | (#7701302)

Your dream might not yet be dead -- I'm with you. But we will have to see how the gov't responds to the space race arising out of the Eastern hemisphere.

My guess is that it will come later rather than sooner. Right now the gov't is preoccupied with avenging itself of 9/11 and getting past the 2004 elections.

Re:It's a bandaid (5, Interesting)

oudzeeman (684485) | about 11 years ago | (#7700273)

Shuttles were designed to fly much more often than they do now. NASA had envisioned at least bi-weekly flights when they designed the shuttle. At that rate of launch there actually would have been a cost savings over an entirely disposable system.

They have not been overworked. They were built to fly at least 100 missions without major overhauls. Columbia had completed 38 missions before the disaster.

Now this was supposed to be in a much shorter timeframe, but its the number of missions, not age, that causes stress on the shuttle. Also they had just done an overhaul of the Columbia before the disaster, so they did shorten the number of missions between overhauls.

I've read recent articles that NASA plans on keeping the remaining three shuttles flying for another 20 years. They plan on doing this with smaller crews, using the shuttle to tote cargo, and speeding up development of the space plane to bring crews back and forth to the space station. The reduced crew of the shuttle would make an ejection seat a viable option.

Re:It's a bandaid (2, Funny)

penguinoid (724646) | about 11 years ago | (#7700393)

The reduced crew of the shuttle would make an ejection seat a viable option.

"Press the big red button to eject.
Warning: no air outside, and it's a loooong fall"


another_henry (570767) | about 11 years ago | (#7701143)

Check out the MOOSE [space.com] "ejector seat" system - now there's something I'd give my right arm to have a go on.

Re:It's a bandaid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7701417)

>Shuttles were designed to fly much more often than
>they do now. NASA had envisioned at least bi-weekly
>flights when they designed the shuttle. At that
>rate of launch there actually would have been a
>cost savings over an entirely disposable system.

Err, no, NASA *promised* bi-weekly flights when they were lobbying to build the Shuttle, but this year there were news stories saying NASA management knew those figures were bogus even at the time they were making them. If they had used the real best estimates of the time, the cost per flight would be high enough to raise red flags on the project.

Apparently predicted costs were still less than the actual, current ones, of very roughly $1B/flight. (Compare with Russian costs of very roughly $50M/flight for ISS deliveries; I know those numbers are a bit off but that's still a 20-fold difference.)

Flying the shuttles stresses them, but age can't be ignored. They weren't initially deisgned to be flying for 40+ years.

Ejection seats only help in very limited parts of the flight. It was unlikely to have saved anyone in Challenger, very unlikely in Columbia..... And ejection seats cost weight which reduces payload.

Re:It's a bandaid (4, Insightful)

njchick (611256) | about 11 years ago | (#7701857)

But please note that neither Challenger nor Columbia disaster were in any way caused by the shuttles being reusable. The SRBs are reusable, but the O-rings failed because they were operated below certain temperature, not because they were old. The fuel tank and its foam are not reusable. The same piece of foam would break the RCC panels even if they were absolutely new.

Shuttles are not failing because they are old or too complex. They are failing because known risks are ignored. Switching to expendable launchers won't fix it.

Re:It's a bandaid (4, Insightful)

CompressedAir (682597) | about 11 years ago | (#7700318)

Neither shuttle accident was caused by maintenence failure, as you suggest. The first was caused by known safety issues that were disregarded by management, and the second was caused by an accident.

Implying that the shuttles are going to "crumble into dust" without anyone noticing is preposterous. The shuttles are the best maintained flight vehicles in the history of the world.

Re:It's a bandaid (3, Interesting)

mrdorval (472908) | about 11 years ago | (#7700399)

Simple solution: purchase seats on the Soyuz to transport people (leave the ant farms behind). Use expendable boosters (US or Russian) for heavy lifting.

The Soyuz is simple, reliable and safe, if a bit cramped. The next-generation space transport will most likely be capsule-like rather than plane-like anyway. Incidentally, capsules are the only way back from a deep-space mission, like Apollo.

Re:It's a bandaid (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700778)

> deep-space mission, like Apollo.

It's all relative, ain't it. ;-D

That really cracked me up. deep-space, indeed

I suppose when the majority of the spaceflight is a few miles above the earth, going to the moon seems like deep-space.

somehow, deep-space implies inter-stellar distances, in my mind

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 11 years ago | (#7701364)

Or interplanetary, at least...

Re:It's a bandaid (1)

mrdorval (472908) | about 11 years ago | (#7701973)

Coming back from Mars (or Europa, for that matter), you're travelling at about the same speed as a return from the Moon. That's at Earth escape velocity since that's how you get out there in the first place. About 40,000 km/hr compared with 28,000 km/hr orbiting in low Earth orbit.

Since kinetic energy goes up as the square of velocity, your heat shield has to dissipate about twice the energy, unless you do a burn to get into orbit first. Either way, you have to shed a lot of energy.

Coming back from Alpha Centauri, you may need to toss out a space anchor.

Re:It's a bandaid (for the wrong problem!) (4, Informative)

lcsjk (143581) | about 11 years ago | (#7700417)

I recently talked to an engineer from the booster rockets. He said his group was aware of the foam problem on the boosters and changed to a hard surface foam type that would not come apart during flight. The company working on the main tank foam would not consider changing foam type since it is very expensive to change at this stage of the game.

The foam on the main tank can absorb moisture, so with a fresh load of liquid hydrogen (and an overnight rain)it condenses and freezes, making not a chunk of foam, but a chunk of ice break loose and hit the shuttle wing.
There's more details of course, but you get the picture. He did mention that at the temperatures and pressures of re-entry, a hairline crack would be disastrous, and such a crack would not be detected by an astronaut doing a space walk.

Re:It's a bandaid (for the wrong problem!) (3, Informative)

twiddlingbits (707452) | about 11 years ago | (#7701308)

Pure BS. Read the CAIB. They tested the foam for absorbing water and breaking off as ice, I didn't. They are not 100% sure of why the foam came off, the area it broke away from was laid up by hand not machine and has a complex geometry, both of which were contributing factors. A hairline crack would be an issue but not disaster, again read the CAIB, and earlier shuttle flight had many tiles knocked off and some small amount of damage but not on the RCC leading edge. There is still considerable debate as to how much "punishment" the RCC can take. The foam and RCC are both issues that must be solved before RTF. The CAIB report is VERY detailed, and very complete and removes from the discussion issues such as "fozen foam", but also introduces other new risks such as the underspecification bolt catchers.

As the snow files .... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700064)

on a cold and gray Chicago morn, a poor little baby child is born, in the Ghetto....

In the Ghetto .....

and, his momma cried!

14 inch hole? (4, Interesting)

Zog The Undeniable (632031) | about 11 years ago | (#7700069)

Apparently the astronauts will have a "patch kit" for holes up to 14" in diameter. That's a pretty big hole; how big do they think the hole on Columbia was (before it fell apart, obviously)?

Re:14 inch hole? (4, Informative)

rhadamanthus (200665) | about 11 years ago | (#7700142)

Big enough that smaller chunks of Reinforced Carbon-Carbon paneling floated into space on the 2nd day of the mission. Yes, it is true. You can read about it in the accident report. There test on RCC panel 8 put a huge hole in the RCC panel, "roughly 16 inches by 17 inches".

I could rant on and on about the foolishness of the shuttle (I work at NASA) but I wont here. To much to say.


Re:14 inch hole? (1)

grunherz (447840) | about 11 years ago | (#7701323)

"(I work at NASA) ... To much to say."

You work at NASA but don't know the difference between To and Too?

Aw man ... I hope you just mistyped that.

Re:14 inch hole? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7702174)

He works on the help desk at NASA.

Re:14 inch hole? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700157)

The problem was not the fact that there was a hole. The problem was that the hole was in the most heat resistant part of the shuttle. How are they going to patch the leading edge of a wing?

Re:14 inch hole? (0, Funny)

grub (11606) | about 11 years ago | (#7700169)

14"? Then they should do us all a favour and patch goatse.cx guy.

Re:That Ol'good Patch Kit... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700538)

Yep... The kit they showed off in... 1981 for the first shuttle launches.

At that time it was used only a few times then dismissed as it could mean some savings.

Mentioned in French on October 2003 Spacenews [spacenews.be]

Now that's cutting-edge technology !

CAIB report (2, Informative)

teridon (139550) | about 11 years ago | (#7701771)

The test report is located here [www.caib.us] . Check out the hole in the panel on page 82.

Revolutionary (5, Insightful)

philipx (521085) | about 11 years ago | (#7700074)

Pretty much everybody that is into space stuff could tell you that (space debris) collisions are the #1 unfixable problem that could happen to almost any craft out there.
While most of the systems are redundant (although the recent Japanesse problems have shown and redundancy is not all), the outer shell is obviously not, therefore any damage to it is *HUGE* oooops.

Take some problems:
Fire on board - you can control (if nothing you can vacuum the chamber).
Power failure - almost all of them have redundant power systems, enough to allow repair to the primary one.
Life systems failure - autonomous suits.
Computer/Electrical failures - switch to one of the 2 (or 4 in newer shuttle models) redundant system.

Advances in in-flight repairs might bring us the good oxygen mouth needed till we manage to come up with better, stronger, cheaper alloys.
(However, one question begs: where are the energy shields? :))

Re:Revolutionary (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700217)

Computer/Electrical failures - switch to one of the 2 (or 4 in newer shuttle models) redundant system.

As I understand it, there are two backups for every sensor, but the signal lines run through the same tubes. Additionally, there is one extra backup, which has signal lines which physically run through another part of the shuttle, so you cannot loose all your redundancies when the wiring loom gets damaged.

The sensor we really need (-1, Flamebait)

Cnik70 (571147) | about 11 years ago | (#7700078)

would be one which goes off everytime NASA decides to waste more of our money on a fleet of shuttles whos time has come and gone. Can we please stop wasting money on this crap.

Repair (5, Interesting)

Davak (526912) | about 11 years ago | (#7700098)

The astronauts will be equipped with the capability to patch a hole as large as 14 inches in diameter, using one of three repair techniques still being developed. The best method will be selected around March of next year, officials said.

Holy cow. Can you imagine the stress of repairing a foot-sized hole in the shuttle? Talking about your a$ being on the line.

The problem is now the shuttle suddenly got more expensive. By investing in all of this, they are going to make inspection and repair of even minor stuff a big part of every mission.

Taking a look at the surface is the shuttle is slightly more complex than walking around and kicking the tires of your car. This is going to add expensive time to every mission.

Plus, they are now going to find tons of breaks that are not important... but they will be obligated to fix anyway.



Re:Repair (2)

GrahamMastaFlash (724929) | about 11 years ago | (#7700699)

Plus, they are now going to find tons of breaks that are not important... but they will be obligated to fix anyway.

Tons of breaks that aren't important? We're talking about a heat shield, not your '89 Oldsmobile's fender! Any hole that has appeared since launch is a result of debris during takeoff, and is pretty darn important. Especially if you're up there in the shuttle, you're not going to mind spending the time to fix. Ground control, senators, and the American public, I believe, would rather see expensive long missions than more catastrophic failures.

Re:Repair (1)

nizo (81281) | about 11 years ago | (#7702506)

In this case of Columbia, what if they had known the shuttle wasn't landable, and decided to dock with th e ISS and take the escape vehicle down instead? Granted it would leave the ISS without an escape vehicle, but it beats what actually happened, eh? If the whole columbia crew couldn't fit into the escape craft, they wait in the shuttle (should be enough food/air/water for awhile) until they can be rescued. Better yet, plan for this kind of thing in the future, and have a second escape vehicle on the ISS. In fact, that would probably be the best use for the ISS, is it actually useful for anything else? I am not trolling here, seriously what has the ISS accomplished that couldn't be done a whole lot cheaper some other way?

Interesting News (5, Insightful)

ChuckDivine (221595) | about 11 years ago | (#7700114)

Glad to see work is progressing with regard to on orbit repair. That's a capability which will benefit all kinds of future activity in space.

I don't know, though, about a shuttle replacement becoming less likely though. NASA might not come up with a replacement (think National Aerospace Plane, X-33) but teams now competing for the X Prize [xprize.org] could very well produce an orbital vehicle down the line.

If a small group can win the X Prize, it will show a better way to pursue space engineering than NASA's dysfunctional bureaucracy. Such a win will lead people to start investing real money in new space technology. It's already known that if we can reduce the cost to orbit from $10K/pound ($20K/kilo) to around $1K/pound ($2K/kilo) lots of opportunities will arise for space based activity. Get that price down to $10/pound (if possible) and you see people like me taking off for orbit to do things like create art [att.net] . At that lower price we might even see zero gravity dance like that envisioned by Spider and Jeanne Robinson [spiderrobinson.com] . The possibilities are truly endless.

Re:Interesting News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700136)

So we put in the monumental effort required to improve cost to orbit by THREE orders of magnitude, and what do we get from it? Some of your art and zero-gee dancing. Wow, that sounds so exciting and deserving of my tax money.

Why sensors? (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700133)

Unfortunately, the sensors won't be too sophisticated, MSNBC reports that 'the extent of damage would still have to be determined by an inspection by astronauts in orbit, using an extension boom equipped with cameras and lasers.

The problem with this scenario is that it is a remedy for the wrong cure. Nasa knew that something could be broken, because they had seen the piece of debris falling. So the equivalent of the crude sensors that they are going to use, was already there. It was (once again) NASAs failure to respond to the worries of the people on the work floor that were the problem.

Fitting sensors on the shuttle is just a way to avoid having to admit that nothing has changed in NASAs orginization since the Challenger disaster.
The cause of the accident was not the O-ring, it was the choice to let political pressure cut into safety margins. It was the failure to listen to worries of the people who actually build the thing.

The second disaster is no different. The potential problem was already identified and some effort was undertaken to run computer simulations on the debris impact on the underside of the wing.
However, these were not written to simulate such a large chunk of debris. The coders of the software mentioned this, but this was ignored, because the conclusion was convenient. Ofcourse, it turned out to be the leading edge of the wing that was the problem, which was not even investigated because it was supposed to be indistructable.

I think that Feynmans report on the Challenger dissaster can be transfered to this dissaster. The details are different, but these details are symptoms of a common problem, which is NASAs chain of command.

The Space Shuttle (-1, Flamebait)

Eezy Bordone (645987) | about 11 years ago | (#7700137)

The Space Shuttle is like my old Geo Metro. Disposable. You drive it until it can drive no more. Of course, the Geo didn't take out 7 people when its time was up.

Criticality One Failures (4, Insightful)

wiredog (43288) | about 11 years ago | (#7700145)

IIRC, during the Challenger hearings it turned out that there were something like 1,00 criticality one systems. Systems with no backup from which a failure could lead to loss of an orbiter. Not just major criticality one areas like, say, a wing falling off or heat shield components, but o-rings, electrical systems, etc. I wonder how many criticality one systems are left?

The failure of Columbia, as with Challenger, was one of process, i.e. beaurocracy, as much as a mechanical one. "Take off your engineer hats, and put on your manager hats." "We don't really need to have the Air Force look at it with a KH-11." Etc.

Saw both of them on TV. Live. Saw the first launch of Columbia, skipped school that day (9th grade) to watch.

Re:Criticality One Failures (1)

applemasker (694059) | about 11 years ago | (#7700673)

In 1999, CNN (http://www.cnn.com/TECH/space/9905/04/downlinks/) reported as follows:

"As a result, criticality one failure probabilities in the main engines have been reduced 83 percent to 1 in 993. The solid rocket boosters (culprit in the Challenger disaster) now pose a 1 in 1,152 chance of causing a catastrophic failure -- a 76 percent improvement in the past seven years. Overall, the chances of a shuttle having a criticality one failure are now 1 in 438. That means statistically, the shuttles could fly out their useful life without a calamity."

Reminds me of that old Yogi Berra saying, "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."

Re:Criticality One Failures (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7702140)

The problem with NASA is that as reports were sent higher up the managerial chain, they were dumbed down. Presentations were stripped of crucial data, replaced with interpretations of the severity (and poor interpretations at that!).

I've had the benefit of going to Edward Tufte's [edwardtufte.com] "Presenting Data and Information" seminar, and he makes a point of reviewing the shuttle disaster's pre-failure reports (Challenger and Columbia). The quality of the presentations given to the higher-ups is appalling, especially since you know somewhere there is an engineer at NASA who's life will forever be weighed down with the thought that he/she could have prevented the disaster.

For those interested, his (Tufte's) essay "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint" profiles the Columbia disaster, and Challenger is featured in "Visual Explanations".

Sort of a good thing (5, Interesting)

Akasha (122427) | about 11 years ago | (#7700154)

I remember my two stays at Space Camp... both times a group of campers screwed up on ther mission at the end of the week and burn up on re-entry or collide with the space station. While we explored the aspects of using the shuttle's computer to compensate for mistakes and accidents (such as fuel loss) we pretty much considered any physical damage to be a lost cause.

From the looks of how NASA really runs the show, it appears they held the same attitude with the shuttle fleet. Granted, it's nigh impossible to do complex repairs in space (especially to repair a heat shield) and inspecting an in-flight shuttle for damage analogous to a medevial European investigating himself for any wounds and praying he hasn't gotten an infection. Because of this "hope we don't get hit" attitude, the shuttle fleet needs some kind of in-flight repair process. Unfortunately, the nature of the shuttle design makes it extremely hard to perform such repairs. Sure, there is a repair process being develop (good) but it's a repair process for an out of date product used by an agency that refuses to replace it (bad).

I'm glad the shuttle fleet was made and it's something that needed to be done. But it has served its purpose and is now outdated. It's time we upgraded and it's time NASA's management understands they are not the top dogs of engineering and astrophysics anymore.

Re:Sort of a good thing (1)

lonb (716586) | about 11 years ago | (#7700225)

...yea, what a quality movie [imdb.com] .

Oh wait, you actually went to space camp! D'oh.

Space Docks (1)

Erik_ (183203) | about 11 years ago | (#7700290)

... the shuttle fleet needs some kind of in-flight repair process. Unfortunately, the nature of the shuttle design makes it extremely hard to perform such repairs.
The answer is Space docks ;-)

Replacement more likely by the day, not less (5, Insightful)

angusr (718699) | about 11 years ago | (#7700159)

The chances of there being a replacement that is reusable appear to be lessening, true.

Currently the US does not have a non-resuable space capsule available at all. Non-reusuable means that for every flight a new vehicle must be built from scratch; this might seem a bad thing, but it means that a) new design features can be added all the time, b) the components are all "new" so fatigue and wear are less of an issue and c) the production lines are in constant use.

The latter is vital. It's now pretty much impossible for a new shuttle to be built as the tools, production techniques and knowledge to build them were all lost or destroyed years ago. Endeavour, built to replace Challenger, was constructed from spare parts that were already fabricated at the time. The contract to build it was awarded in 1987, but construction on the crew module started in 1982 (as a spare module). If a single use capsule had been in use (in addition to the Shuttle or not) then the tooling, production data and knowledge would still be current.

Russia has the Soyuz capsule, which has been constantly upgraded over the decades the design has been in use. China now has Shenzou, which is Soyuz based (although it appears that there may be some quite radical differences under the hood). The only non-Shuttle design that the US has that is close to being ready-to-build is the Apollo CSM (or Mercury or Gemini, of course).

In some ways concentrating on the Shuttle at the expense of other designs of spacecraft has lead to the situation that NASA now finds itself in - and, to a large extent, the fault can be laid at the doors of those who control their pursestrings.

Re:Replacement more likely by the day, not less (1)

coloclone (552113) | about 11 years ago | (#7702634)

I wouldn't think that the Apollo CSM's are ready to build. Just think of all the improvements that could be intergrated in to that design!

With all of our Technological advances in the last 30 years we could build a seriously sweet spacecraft. It's a shame the politicians of this country seem to have no "vision" when it comes to Human Spaceflight or really the future of mankind at all! Imagine the changes in religious and political attitudes when Human Spaceflight is availible to the common man. At the current rate it won't happen for a few hundred years!

NASA's Problem (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700172)

"as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."

Thats because NASA has 2 big mental problems. They are a huge Government Beauracracy that suffers from Not Invented Here(NIH) Syndrome. Their other huge issue is the 'It Has to be Reusable' Mytosis.

Russia has a warehouse full of brand new engines, but NASA won't buy em. We have a whole fleet of Rocket Designs that are proven, but use once. More importantly there is 'infrastructure' to support those vehicles, tools, launch pads, software. All ready.

I've seen these NASA people...they make 46 year old Trekkers look like fscking 'Geniuses'. These are people who CANNOT get a job anywhere else in the world.


I assume... (1)

lonb (716586) | about 11 years ago | (#7700191)

"...will allow astronauts to spacewalk and repair holes up to fourteen inches in diameter."

Obviously buzz and friends will now be equipped with extra strength Great Stuff [dow.com] .

Space junk will kill us all!!! (-1)

Darth23 (720385) | about 11 years ago | (#7700205)

It is inevitable.

Bush can't have it both ways... (0, Flamebait)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | about 11 years ago | (#7700216)

"...as a space shuttle replacement is looking less likely by the day."

So are we going back to the moon (and to Mars) [slashdot.org] or are we going to keep NASA's budget a nearly incalculable fraction of the defense department's?

It is plainly obvious to me the reason [slashdot.org] that Bush suddenly wants to get back to the moon (and eventually Mars): Commerce, big-business, the only thing he's interested in.

I'm afraid this will end up starting a war with China over who owns the moon and Mars. After all, we've abandoned the moon (31 years ago), so it's open for claim.

misread... (3, Funny)

Bazman (4849) | about 11 years ago | (#7700223)

You can tell its Friday and that there's a carpenter sawing the ceiling off just outside my office. I misread that as "Space Shuttle to be Outfitted with New Stereo".

Re:misread... (1)

sketerpot (454020) | about 11 years ago | (#7701155)

They've got enough problems up there with noise as it is. The Russian modules, wspecially, are very loud, and noise-cacelling headphones are too uncomfortable for extended use.

Extension booms? It's Zero-G, ferchrissakes! (1)

csoto (220540) | about 11 years ago | (#7700227)

Why don't they have little repair drones like on Bab5. Or at least stupid R2 units like on that ridiculous movie...

News: NASA diagnosed with cancer... (5, Insightful)

Hiigara (649950) | about 11 years ago | (#7700230)

I'm a diehard supporter of manned spaceflight, however even I have to acknowledge the fact the space shuttle is like your old Pontiac 1991 that broke down every other week. It's old, it's outdated, and it serves no purpose. The only real advantage of the shuttle is it's payload capabilities, which haven't be used very well in the last couple of years. We'd be better off using capsules to ferry astronauts back and forth from the ISS, which is another big failure. What's the point of doing the same thing over and over? Most of the experiments being conducted in low earth orbit are jokes. Baby steps are great for dangerous activities, but a leap is what's needed to keep us in the game. Real scientific revolution.

While NASA's technology continues to improve beyond even my expectations for a under funded, it's dream, it's vision continues to splinter and die. This is just another example of that, being able to successful inspect and repair for damage in space is important for bigger and better things that might come in the future, it's being used to keep an aging useless shuttle fleet going, sucking up money and basically behaving like a cancerous growth.


Best thing NASA could do right now IMHO, scrap the shuttles, redesign the ISS and boost it to the Legrange (Spelling?) point. Use it as a construction yard for the Mission to Mars. One problem is solved already, food for the space station. Once the Chinese build a moon base they'll have a steady diet of Chinese takeout.

Re:News: NASA diagnosed with cancer... (1)

gorilla (36491) | about 11 years ago | (#7701371)

Even the payload capacities aren't that impressive nowadays. The Titan 4B can launch 22 tons to LEO, which is close to the shuttle's 25-32 tons depending on mission. Of course this is dwarfed by Saturn V, which could lift 125 tons to LEO.

Space program needs more $ (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | about 11 years ago | (#7700247)

They should definitely do an in-space inspection of the shuttle...and NASA should have more $ to help pay for such excursions. They are working on such a shoestring, it's unbelievable. The 100 million dollar mars probe crashed, but the 1 billion dollar viking landed just fine... hmmm....

Shuttle replacements (-1)

PatrickThomson (712694) | about 11 years ago | (#7700259)

Given that they were designed and built some time ago, would it really cost that much to just fab a new set of components in the same shapes and sizes, but using modern materials that are stronger and lighter? as long as all the replacement bits didn't perform worse than the originals in any way, you wouldn't have to redesign anything, you'd just end up with it twice as light, twice as strong, or twice as cheap.
Of course, the computer systems could be a problem, with the current shuttle computers all obsolete, and modern ones all having security/stability problems (Some more than others, but I for one would feel no more secure trusting my life to OSX, Windows, or linux)

fleet? (2, Interesting)

tiled_rainbows (686195) | about 11 years ago | (#7700261)

...installed into the wings of NASA's remaining shuttle fleet....

Fleet? They've only got three left! How small can a fleet be?

Anyway, what we really need to get the public interested in spaceflight again is a SSTO nuclear-powered rocket that takes off and lands vertically. That would be so cool. I honestly believe that the single best, and most logically defensible, reason for going into space is that it's cool to do so, and I believe that the hardware should be designed accordingly.

Re:fleet? (1)

sketerpot (454020) | about 11 years ago | (#7701206)

They tried to change the name to "floatilla" (sp?), but the 435th manager along the chain killed it, and it never found its way to anyone vaguely important. So now it sits in several filing cabinets, abandoned and forgotten.

Just add some high-speed/high-res cameras (4, Interesting)

Erik_ (183203) | about 11 years ago | (#7700267)

Why not simply add two high-speed/high-res cameras aimed from the cockpit level towards the wings, and just record the data local in the shuttle. Once in orbit, they can download the movies for analysis by the ground engineers for impact troubles.The cameras can even burn-up on the re-entry in the atmosphere and be replaced.

Re:Just add some high-speed/high-res cameras (1)

applemasker (694059) | about 11 years ago | (#7700979)

I dont know if they were installed for the "wow, that's neat" factor or for some actual purpose, but recent missions have flown with cameras mounted near the top of the external tank, looking aft. Doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to mount similar cameras in positions on the flanks of the ET that could view each wing throughout the ascent.

Finally, Lasers! (3, Funny)

XaosTX (723612) | about 11 years ago | (#7700289)

Now I can finally get a spaceship with fricken' lasers!

Vice versa! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700315)

Those sensors better should be equipped with a new space shuttle.

Top 10 Reasons for New Censors (5, Funny)

AtariAmarok (451306) | about 11 years ago | (#7700327)

10. "Now we can see if Lance Bass is on his way a lot earlier, so we can shut off the lights and make it look like no one is home"
9. Cerebro mode to make Professor X feel welcome.
8. To prove WMD's on Mars in advance of invasion
7. Now they can finally find out if that is a Class-M planet down there.
6. New Stroboscopic Polarizing System now makes the Mushroom Planet visible at last.
5. Sensors? I thought you said "Censors". Drats! There are too many astronauts watching Hentai aboard this thing.
4. To find out if that is Val Kilmer's robot dog scratching at the outside walls, or just space junk.
3. "A cloaked SCO battlecruiser, of the Penguinkiller class, off the starboard bow!"
2. So we, for one, can see and welcome our new alien ant overlords before anyone else.
1. Lazy fat American Astronauts can now sit in ship and see everything outside, no need for spacewalk.

Shuttle replacement needs new materials... (4, Informative)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | about 11 years ago | (#7700352)

When is titanium going to come down in price [slashdot.org] anyways? (been over 2 years now)

We need to be using new alloys [slashdot.org] for things like this instead of cell-phones!

Structural fatigue is a common fear for the shuttle and can be eliminated! [slashdot.org]

overheard at Nasa's Safety Department... (4, Funny)

bongoras (632709) | about 11 years ago | (#7700446)

holy shit, someone stole my horse! I'm gonna go lock that barn door RIGHT NOW!

borked sensors.. (2, Interesting)

Hey_bob (6104) | about 11 years ago | (#7700722)

What if the sensors that are supposed to detect if there is a hole in the shuttle, are taken out when a hole is made in the shuttle.

Re:borked sensors.. (2, Insightful)

ckaminski (82854) | about 11 years ago | (#7701640)

You're joking, right? The big computer that's screaming "IMPACT SENSOR 1028 FAILURE" over and over and over wouldn't give you a good place to start looking?

Re:borked sensors.. (1)

Hey_bob (6104) | about 11 years ago | (#7702123)

That's what I'm saying.. if the sensor that was supposed to indicate an impact (or a hole, or whatever) wasn't there anymore (due to an impact or hole etc), then would the ship kow it had been hit?

I was/am trying to make (a rather feeble) reference to the Hitchhikers Guide actually.. *shrugs*


enigmals1 (667526) | about 11 years ago | (#7700830)

I just want to know when shuttledamagecam.com will be open?! ;D

Webcam? (1)

Shishak (12540) | about 11 years ago | (#7700943)

Can't they just put a webcam and an Ethernet run on the robotic arm? Who cares if it gets wiped out from space radiation on ever flight. You can replace them for the cost of one of those shuttle tiles. Maybe add a telescoping extension so you can look under the wing, Low end Sony camera have thermal and low light imaging. I could whip it all together for a couple hundred buck and some duct tape.

Re:Webcam? (1)

ckaminski (82854) | about 11 years ago | (#7701683)

I pray you never get to work on a nuclear missile submarine. ;-)

Space efforts are misguided (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700967)

Our space program has deteriorated into: 'Fund something that'll get us some good nielsen ratings so we can get public support for more funding.'

We can get tonnage into space for roughly 1/500th the cost on non reusable machines than we can with the shuttle.

The increased cost to support human life on a craft is huge.

If I was in charge I'd put the shuttles in a museum, put some energy source on the moon, send up a gazillion different varieties of robots created by universities and let them play with them from earth. I imagine with enough time and enough minds at work it wouldn't be terribly difficult to create a hardened, life sustaining place there.

Then consider making another habitat somewhere farther away; you could potentially even build the craft to get there on the moon, where you don't have quite as strong a gravity well to escape.

Bah. The shuttle is dumb!

Prototypical Disaster Types (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 11 years ago | (#7700994)

I think there will ultimately be 5 prototypical shuttle disaster types:

1. The Challenger-like disaster
2. The Columbia-like disaster
3. The Endeavor-like disaster
4. The Atlantis-like disaster
5. The Discovery-like disaster

Throw a video camera out the bay... (0)

gatkinso (15975) | about 11 years ago | (#7701368)

...tied to a fishing pole.

Reel it back in, watch.

I realize that this is so low tech as to be laughable... but it seems reasonable to me.

Obligatory Star Trek reference (2, Funny)

c13v3rm0nk3y (189767) | about 11 years ago | (#7701471)

As long as they pronounce "sensor" as in "sen-sors indicate Kling-on wessel, captain", I'm in perfect agreement.

But only if.

Its not the technology... (2, Informative)

Storm (2856) | about 11 years ago | (#7701564)

Its the process at NASA. In the Challenger explosion, the managers at NASA were told repeatedly that the O-rings became brittle at temperatures below 56 degrees F. Up to the night before the launch, the engineers from Thyacol (sp?), the makers of the solid rocket boosters, refused to sign off on the launch. The NASA managers basically browbeat them into signing off on a launch the next day, even though the temperature was 26 degrees F that morning. NASA was getting all sorts of bad press regarding the three previous delays, and was hell-bent to launch.

From what I have seen on the subject, Columbia was much the same issue. NASA knew at launch that there might have been damage, but management seemed more concerned about getting egg on its face than the fate of the shuttle. No, thats not fair. Perhaps they didn't think it was that big of a deal, but given that space flight and re-entry pushes the hardware to its limits, there is not a whole lot of extra flex built into the system. It just seems that decisions of that magnitude are made with almost careless abandon. Technology, while good, cannot fix a fundamentally flawed system.
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