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Low Quality Alloy Cause of Shuttle Main Tank Issue

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the heisenberg-compensators-were-acting-up dept.

NASA 118

BJ_Covert_Action writes "NASA engineers have finally discovered the root cause of the cracks that have been found on space shuttle Discovery's main external tank. The main tank, one of the 'Super Lightweight Tank' models developed by Lockheed-Martin, employs an aluminum-lithium alloy developed by Lockheed-Martin specifically for this application. The new alloy is used in various structural stringers throughout the SLWT design. Unfortunately, the batch of this alloy used in the tank that is currently mated with the Discovery shuttle appears to be of low quality. The alloy used in the stringers has a 'mottled' appearance, compared to the nominal appearance typically used in the main tank stringers (see picture in article). This appearance is indicative of a fracture threshold that is significantly lower than typical. NASA has determined, through testing, that this low grade alloy has only 65% of the fracture strength of the nominal alloy typically used. NASA engineers have devised a potential fix to the problem that they are currently testing to ensure the repair will cause no unintended consequences. NASA plans to have the Discovery shuttle ready to launch again by February 24th, 2011."

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Typical U.S. quality (0, Troll)

Stenchwarrior (1335051) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880060)

Sounds like NASA should have outsourced the work to China or Mexico. It's good enough for car makers...

Re:Typical U.S. quality (5, Interesting)

dadelbunts (1727498) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880160)

Not typical U.S quality. Typical U.S government contracts. Government agencies opt for cheapest price instead of quality usually. I remember when COD4 came out i was working on some contracts for the army and i saw this quote. Could never keep myself from laughing at how true it was. “Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.”

Performance clauses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880244)

That's the Government's stupidity for not putting a performance clause into the contract.

Or even if they didn't, they go back to LM and say, "Make it right and you eat the cost. Don't like it, then you can never bid on another contract ever."

Re:Performance clauses (4, Insightful)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880470)

That's the Government's stupidity for not putting a performance clause into the contract

And you know that because...?

I work as a QA engineer for a large defense contractor. One thing I can tell you is that we issue a lot of documents requiring our plants and our suppliers to follow a metric shitload of MIL, ISO, EN and whatnot standards, for the very purpose of meeting stringent quality requirements set forth in the contracts. It takes months, sometimes years for our products just to pass qualification and type-approval tests, and our products don't even go in space.

In short, you're talking out of your ass.

Look in the mirror. (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880816)

That's the Government's stupidity for not putting a performance clause into the contract

And you know that because...?

I work as a QA engineer for a large defense contractor. One thing I can tell you is that we issue a lot of documents requiring our plants and our suppliers to follow a metric shitload of MIL, ISO, EN and whatnot standards, for the very purpose of meeting stringent quality requirements set forth in the contracts. It takes months, sometimes years for our products just to pass qualification and type-approval tests, and our products don't even go in space.

In short, you're talking out of your ass.

And yet, shit still makes it to NASA and to the military.

So, who's talking out of their ass again?

Re:Look in the mirror. (2)

publiclurker (952615) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882562)

I'd have to say that the people who try to bypass the standards and the corporate whores who defend them are the ones talking out of their asses. Then again, you weren't interested in a truthful answer, were you?

Re:Look in the mirror. (1)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884240)

You're blaming "corporate whores" as if you know for certain this is some sort of intentional error arranged around benefiting a company or people within that company. How do you know it's not simple human error? True, I'm sure these parts go through strict quality control during and after manufacturing, but what if some poor slob just screwed up? Put a decimal point in the wrong place? Miscalibrated the test gear before testing the sample? There are a billion different ways this could have gone wrong without any malfeasance or "whoring" going on. Your comment is pure speculation put forth as if it were an absolute. Typically that's the result of someone with an ideological chip on their shoulder instead of someone interested in finding out the truth of the matter.

The oxygen tank explosion that nearly doomed Apollo 13 was due to human error, equipment miscalibration, latent design faults, and unforeseen circumstances that all culminated at the wrong place at the wrong time. There was no "corporate whoring" going on then, and safety controls were damned strict back then as well -- as strict as their technology and know-how would allow. Shit happens. It doesn't mean some greedy corporation is out there trying to kill astronauts to make a buck.

Re:Look in the mirror. (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884666)

Obviously publiclurker is one of those many slashdotters who has never made a mistake, and so has no understanding of the concept. This talent is the reason why many on slashdot don't read TFA - they don't need to, as with their omnipotence they know what the article is about without reading it. :)

Re:Look in the mirror. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882598)

So, who's talking out of their ass again?

You are. Try to keep up.

Re:Performance clauses (1)

zoomshorts (137587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880976)

Lowest bidder that meets the requirements, NOT the most useless SOB. Mil-Spec is just that, due to tons of testing and evaluation. Those of you who fail to grasp this, are idiots. Sure, things happen and some people cut costs, but when the samples fail to hold up under the most basic testing, they are not allowed. True, it may take weeks to discover the flaws, but Mil-Spec is a slow process.

Cheap is not equal to shoddy in most respects. Cheaters get caught. Such is life.

Re:Performance clauses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881384)

Wouldn't it more likely be a variability issue related to production? The alloy is made for this single purpose, after all.

LSS! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34883994)

Sounds like a job for Lean Six Sigma!

Re:Performance clauses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881660)

To be fair, that's the Government's fault for not putting a quality clause on posting to the Internet.

Re:Performance clauses (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884678)

To be fair, that's the Government's fault for not putting a quality clause on posting to the Internet.

Then there wouldn't be anything on here to read!

Re:Performance clauses (2)

517714 (762276) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882306)

I am an engineer in the supply side for the nuclear power industry, we have to retrain your kind extensively - our paperwork is measured in avoirdupois kiloshitloads. Good paperwork is no substitute for good quality. The process has to be designed so that it will will consistently deliver the intended product, not merely meet specifications. I would bet that the CMTRs (Certified Material Test Reports) for the batch of stringers that have failures show the material met specs. Meeting specs is what QA is all about, but the right specs and requirements (often supplementary) must to be imposed, and in this case they probably were not. The contractor delivered a defective assembly, and no amount of paperwork is going to change that. One can only speculate on whether there were documents falsified or the process was insufficiently rigorous.

Re:Performance clauses (1)

netscan (1028690) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882720)

To top it off they slap ITAR on it to make it a pain in the balls to sell it to anyone BUT the govt.

Re:Performance clauses (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34883648)

And I work on the government side of that (working with the defense contractors to fix the broken stuff), quality issues seem to be a huge problem, most of my work is dealing with that, performance clauses are in the contracts, quality is in there as well, the contractor plans out 5+ years of how they will do everything right, and the government picks the right choice (generally), then 2 years through the plan orders come saying we just lost 10% of our budget and there are new requirements getting flowed down from higher up (and no funding for them). Now the contractor has more stuff to do with less money, the government is the one that broke the contract so they have to let them slide, nobody is willing to drop the requirements and then suddenly someone finds a subcontractor willing to do the same work for less and the government pushes for that option (since they say they can everything they want, it's categorized as just higher risk), of course it's a new untested subcontractor and the government get bitten hard by that new risk, quite often it is quality, and it may just be schedule slips. On top of that there are all sorts of clauses that give priority to different companies, a quick example is small businesses get special priority for small things so often things are just given to some company with 50 employees to make some tiny cheap critical part and they have never attempted a project like that (and they of course way underbid due because they just don't know what they are asked to do), they say they can do it and fail miserably when they find out what it really means.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

justdrew (706141) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880260)

oh bullshit. they pay out the nose on these no-bid cost-plus contracts and get served crap by greedy evil assholes who run these bloated leach like "defense contractors" all of which need to be seized and run scientifically and provide their services at cost. you're lucky the clowns at haliburton didn't electrocute your ass in the shower.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880488)

False.

Quality has been a part of every government requirement I have ever seen.
Price is another factor as well.

But hey, lets not let facts stand in the way of urban myths and hyperbole.

NASA quality has had a very demanding view on quality. No, it's not perfect. Unfortunately, when it's not perfect and something fails, it's a big deal. When that happens, no one seem to remember all the success.

The singles biggest point of quality failure is no bid contracts.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881258)

The singles biggest point of quality failure is no bid contracts.

The single biggest point of a quality post is double checking your post before submitting.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882224)

The costs of quality control overwhelm most other costs on the things we bid for, but don't let that confuse you. It's the compliance part that's the problem. It's entirely possible that LM, or more likely, one of their subs, bought the medtal, followed the procedures, but bought a knockoff ... from China. There's a reason that all of the petroleum refiners specify "No Chinese Steel" in each contract; it's shit. This is not a new problem. Yes, we also sub out to refineries, and a substantial number of the corrosion problems we find have chinese characters on the pipe.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880808)

That line is much, much older than COD4.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

tekrat (242117) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881018)

Try and remember that a significant percentage of slashdot denizens weren't even *born* when the shuttle started flying. Now.... get off my lawn.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881068)

Of course. Was never implied that COD4 made it, just that i chuckled every time i saw it.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34883090)

Hello Pedant. If you re-read what the man wrote, you will notice that he never said or implied that he thought the quote came from the game. But don't let that stop you from exercising your right to sound like a pompous douche.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880192)

"Get away from that, you don't know the components!"

"'American' components!? 'Russian' components!? All made in Taiwan!"

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880854)

"Get away from that, you don't know the components!"

"'American' components!? 'Russian' components!? All made in Taiwan!"

Unfortunately Taiwan outsourced much of their manufacturing to mainland China.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

paintballer1087 (910920) | more than 3 years ago | (#34883458)

Movie quote **WHOOOOOOOOSSSSHHHH**
Armageddon [imdb.com]

Typing this to get past the lameness filter.

Re:Typical U.S. quality (1)

Mandelbrot-5 (471417) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881650)

No, as a metal worker I can say that the mild steel, stainless, mag and aluminum that our shop gets from China is FULL of impurity. I can tell if the steel is from America vs. China / Mexico by the amount of crap that sticks to my tungsten. If after a rod of GOOD filler rod and no dips you need to re-grind your tungsten, it isn't a pure aloy. The issue gets worse and worse the more the more specialized the alloy. Having worked in airspace, if you don't dip your tung in the Al alloy you should NEVER have spit, and should have a weld stronger than the base metal.

That is unless someone has some fun with you.... Try a simple exchange of magnisum filler rod for Al. Welds the same, however the bead just falls off when done. If you try this just know when to run.

You know how they will fix it.... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880066)

Duct Tape!

Re:You know how they will fix it.... (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880110)

If they can just get a colony of space bats [wikipedia.org] to cling to the main tank, their tough, leathery wings should provide sufficient structural integrity to keep the tank together...

Re:You know how they will fix it.... (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881568)

Unfortunately, it turns out that space bats are repulsed by the insulating foam used on the tank.

I guess I'm an optimist... (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880068)

In an ideal world, wouldn't the fix be "Pick up the phone, scream at the contractor for trying to pull this shit on you, and demand a part that actually works to spec, right. the. fuck. yesterday."?

It seems like the contract must have been poorly written(and/or a blatant giveaway to our precious, precious defense contractors and their poor starving shareholders) if the solution they are ending up with is "have in-house engineers get their Macguyver on and make the gigantic tank-o'-rocket fuel on a manned vessel work somehow."

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880240)

It's not like they can rebuild the tank now. It's too late... What the contractor should be doing is paying NASA for all expenses associated with these delays. Of course, that's not going to happen.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (5, Insightful)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880268)

The problem is, the fuel tank production facility has already closed. There aren't any spare parts. It could well be that the last production cycle was done on the cheap for just that reason - there's nobody to complain to, there can't be any penalties placed on those responsible, they get their last paycheck, and if they walk away with the difference in costs, well who'se going to even notice?

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881024)

Sure there is. Either LM finds a way to give NASA a new tank or they pay someone else to do it. It might cost every dime their company is worth, but that is the risk you take.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882470)

Once a facility has been retasked it can take years to retask it back. Since only dead factories are empty and generally out of date, it can take the same if not more time to get other places up to task. So making another one is out of the question (this isn't even considering the monetary costs).

What NASA and the government can do is sue the manufacturer. But considering the tank went through government inspection before acceptance I doubt it will work out for them.

In all reality, LM probably has engineers helping the NASA engineers, first to find the problem, and now to find a solution. I can't speak (type) for them but the company I work for has done that when our products fail unexpectedly.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 3 years ago | (#34883710)

sounds like, to me, Lockheed Martin needs to build another one in the same hand-crafted, manual way that they build prototype units, which is to say with lots and lots of labor and at considerable expense.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884558)

Paid for by who? Lockheed-Martin? You assume they could afford to pay for a tank out of their own pocket, especially a tank built (as you put it) in the most expensive way possible. The result would very likely be the financial doom of the company, causing hundreds if not thousands of people to lose their jobs. But, hey! You'd feel righteous, wouldn't you? Because your life wouldn't be affected by such boneheaded actions. Just somebody else. Unless, of course, you work somewhere that provides goods or services that would've been bought by those laid-off workers, in which case you might get laid off yourself. But hey! You gotta break a few eggs to make a Righteous Indignation Omlette, and I'm sure you don't mind shared sacrifice when your Internet connection gets cut off because you can't afford it anymore. Who am I kidding? You're probably using a feed on some college campus somewhere.

And if LM didn't pay for a new tank, who would? There's no other entity involved that isn't federally funded, which means the taxpayer would pay for it...to be built in the most expensive manner possible. Yeah, that's a wonderful way to spend tax dollars in this day and age when we're already carrying the largest deficit in the history of the country.

Sheesh. I guess they don't bother teaching economics or business or government to any of you kids out there anymore, do they?

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882570)

Right. Just like in Bhopal. [wikipedia.org]

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (5, Insightful)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881084)

I'm also willing to bet that the best and the brightest at the tank manufacturing facility left shortly after they heard the shuttle program was canceled.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

negatonium (1103503) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881144)

Makes you wonder if NASA was on to something in the '70s when they didn't fly the last 3 end of the run Saturn V models.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (3, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881470)

It would take some actual evidence to convince me anybody did this knowingly. Your assumption of, "oh well, it's our last batch, I don't care if the shuttle blows up" doesn't sound very likely to me.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (2)

prisoner-of-enigma (535770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884462)

and if they walk away with the difference in costs, well who'se going to even notice?

I imagine that if the tank failed, blew up another shuttle, and killed another seven astronauts, an awful lot of people will notice. And Congress will call an inquiry. And constituents will demand that heads roll. And anyone and everyone associated with the tank -- working, retired, resigned, fired, or whatever -- can and will be roasted alive in the court of public opinion, fined into oblivion, professionally ruined for life, and perhaps even jailed. Never underestimate the power of the public's desire for a scapegoat, nor any legislative body's desire to satiate the public for it. And that assumes there's a scapegoat that actually exists in the first place, but if there isn't, one or more will be created for the occasion.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880328)

What makes you think the tank wasnt the cheapest one that met specifications. Blame the government not the contractors. They build things that barely get by the predefined margins of acceptability with the lowest cost.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (3, Insightful)

llung (1841162) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880546)

Blame the government? They didn't build the tank, the contractor did. The idea is for the contractor to build the item they bid upon to the specifications. How would the engineers know that these are at 65% of the expected fracture strength? Because they have specs.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (2)

poetmatt (793785) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881154)

this is very much a chicken and egg scenario in a lot of ways.

you have: lowest bidder, no bid contracts, government specs being too stringent, and gov't specs being not stringent enough.

all of these occur sometimes, whether it's one independently or multiple.

So no, don't just blame the contractor, and don't just blame the gov't. Everyone has a part in the issues here.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882872)

This ain't a hose bib from Home Depot. It's high tech space shit. Just because some NASA dork can write a spec (with the contractors help) does not mean that everything magically works without a hitch. They don't call it bleeding edge for nothing. Why don't you spec up a fucking Millenium Falcon and have LMT build it for you and then you can bitch if it does not work first time. Oh wait the LMT Tank DID work the first few times. then there was a screw up. How come the NASA dorks did not catch it? Oh yeah, because they only know how to write specs (with help) and watch STTNG reruns.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (3, Insightful)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880586)

They build things that barely get by the predefined margins of acceptability with the lowest cost.

Like Spirit and Opportunity, right?

Or did you mean Deep Impact (not the movie)?

Voyager 1 and 2? Cassini?

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

szark (1066530) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880472)

Things like this make me so happy to know that Congress is forcing NASA to use these same components/contractors for their new heavy launch vehicle.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

anti-human 1 (911677) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880744)

Go civilian/commercial spaceflight!

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (2)

pantherace (165052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882510)

Better yet, have Congress tell NASA what they want, then have NASA do all the contracts, irregardless of the senators & reps' home states.

However, good luck with congress not fucking that up.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

anti-human 1 (911677) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884122)

The problem with that is Congress has no goals in space. "Lets be better than Europe and China" isn't a goal for a space program. Congress likely isn't qualified to determine our progress in space. Instead, they know how to make requirements that benefit their districts.

Either way, its a huge amount of bureaucracy, which can likely be better served by companies in it for profit, wanting to develop space flight for long-term use.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880512)

because there isn't a way to fix it. If they where going to fly for years, then yeah. But hwo are they going to build a new one in time for the next flight? They can't, no one can. It's not possible.

What shuld happen is the contractor picks up the cost to fix, as well as liability from failure.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

Jaktar (975138) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880638)

You can't just lay this all on L-M. For all we know, NASA gave L-M a spec that they fulfilled. It's up to the original engineers to know the nominal strength and then design in the usual safety margin. The fact that they were able to pull up records right now showing a lower quality material was used tells me that *someone* looked at it and signed off that it met whatever requirements were applicable at the time. It's not like NASA doesn't have a Quality Assurance program.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

Unkyjar (1148699) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881010)

Somehow I doubt Lockheed-Martin received a contract for a main fuel tank that cracks and leaks when filled with fuel. And really, if they thought, "Hey it's good enough even with the cracks" then they really are bad people.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881230)

This is all arm-chair quarterbacking.

I work for LM, and based on what I've seen on my project - incidents like this are the exception, not the rule. We're all human, yes, but we do work very hard to get these things right.

Re:I guess I'm an optimist... (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880644)

That was somewhat my reaction as well. Why are NASA engineers working to ameliorate the problem, when the real solution should be to have the contractor that provided the faulty tank replace it (at no cost to NASA) ASAP?

First post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880074)

So the astronauts better have some balls. With no

insane. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880098)

put duct tape and a patch instead of completely replacing the affected parts and rewelding ? this is so stupid its unbelievable. the shuttles tank is likely to leak when the patches get stressed on ascent due to aerodynamic forces anyway.

Duct Tape (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880104)

all they need is duct tape, didn't they do that in the Apollo 13 film ?

Heard this before? (1)

drumcat (1659893) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880108)

See: Titanic.

That is surprising (4, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880232)

The bad alloy is distinct enough from the good one to tell at a glance from a low res photo.

And it even seems that they had records of the unusual appearance. So the materials came in, somebody noticed and documented that this batch looked funny, but nobody thought to investigate if they might have got something other than what was specified?

Re:That is surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881774)

If you're an experienced QA guy and you know the plant is shutting down, you might decide to leave before the plant finishes the last set of tanks. So all you have left at the end are inexperienced, overworked QA engineers and, well, this kind of thing happens. Something slips through the cracks that would have otherwise been caught.

Never buy a Friday car, and never use the last rocket part built - donate it to the Smithsonian.

Interesting that altitude affects it (1, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880282)

Low quality alloy cause of Shuttle main tank issue

It's interesting that a quality alloy simply put at a lower altitude would cause an issue. You'd think it was something more obvious, like a missing hyphen.

Master of the understatement (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880320)

they are currently testing to ensure the repair will cause no unintended consequences

it's either ... (0)

serbanp (139486) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880412)

idiotic engineering or bad reporting.

I can't believe that the shuttle has components with such a low FoS that a 35% reduction in material strength will put them at risk. If they are, then engineering was very sloppy, if they are not, then the 65% figure is bogus.

Re:it's either ... (2)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880536)

35% is very high, and it increase the risk enough. Even with perfect materials, there is always a risk.

Clearly you have no clue on engineering shit the goes into and returns from space.

Re:it's either ... (2)

joebob2000 (840395) | more than 3 years ago | (#34883352)

Uhh, it's not a ferry boat. Its a fucking space shuttle. The goal is to get into space, not to meet some vague undergrad textbook factor of safety rule of thumb you read as a nooblet. Also, they are not buying bar stock from McMaster-Carr, they're whipping up batches of engineered materials for a specific application. This application is about as performance demanding as things get, the runs are small, the costs are high, and there is not a lot of room for error. Yet man is still not god, so errors happen despite the best efforts of a lot of dedicated people. If you are a real engineer, and you have never made a mistake, then count your blessings instead of acting like a cock. If you're not a real engineer then STFU.

I can't help but think... (2)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880426)

That this is more of a "make-work" project than anything else. Last shuttle flight is coming up, then everyone goes home. What better way to give them all a 3 month bonus than to find some previously-undiscovered issue.

These aerospace materials are extensively tested, analyzed and inspected. Paperwork with melt number, lot number and names of everyone that ever touched the material are kept.

Decide for yourself...

Re:I can't help but think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880680)

NASA is a make work project.

Re:I can't help but think... (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880684)

These aerospace materials are extensively tested, analyzed and inspected. Paperwork with melt number, lot number and names of everyone that ever touched the material are kept.

Why would that be expected to work? Good intentions? In testing where you have a very low "positive" rate (that is, presence of rejectable flaws in your parts), especially with humans making most of the inspections, then you tend to get a high false negative rate. So it's not surprising to me that a flaw made it this far. IMHO it's likely that this flaw has made it onto Shuttle launches before, it's just the first time it got caught at this point.

Re:I can't help but think... (1)

pz (113803) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880704)

That this is more of a "make-work" project than anything else. Last shuttle flight is coming up, then everyone goes home. What better way to give them all a 3 month bonus than to find some previously-undiscovered issue.

These aerospace materials are extensively tested, analyzed and inspected. Paperwork with melt number, lot number and names of everyone that ever touched the material are kept.

Decide for yourself...

And the wife of the fellow who is scheduled to fly the final mission just got shot in the head very publicly by an American terrorist. Personally, I'm OK with NASA stretching out their schedule 3 months, if that's all this is, in order to allow the captain to fly as planned.

Re:I can't help but think... (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880990)

Not every nutcase is a terrorist. That word is far over used. He is a criminal, a murderer and a nutcase, so are most terrorists but the inverse is not always true.

Re:I can't help but think... (4, Insightful)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880884)

Or, alternatively, back in November when Discovery was being fueled, an on-pad engineer could have noticed a crack along the main tank that looked large enough to be suspicious and reported it. As a result, NASA delayed a launch multiple months (something which causes a hassle for other launch platforms preparing to launch, as shuttle almost always takes precedence) to figure out what was causing the main tank, a gigantic bubble filled with cryogenic, highly flammable liquid explosives, to crack since, you know, they don't want that toxic shit spraying all over their personnel on launch. Then, after performing three months of rigorous analysis to model, simulate, and test a highly complex system with hundreds of thousands of stress focal points that are subjected to extreme temperatures throughout a mission, the people that NASA pays a cubic assload of money to for being smarter than you and I finally figured out the problem, and proposed a solution.

There are dozens of ways low-quality material could have made it through the QA process at Lockheed that don't require some sort of communist-conspiracy, "OMG we need jobs," to explain. For instance, it could be that, since production on this particular tank model has stopped, the remaining work force was simply trying to make due with what they had, materials wise, and produce their product (the tank) as quickly as possible without giving a particular two-shits to the wind as to how sound it was since, you know, their program was getting canceled anyways. Or, yeah, it could be a jobs program. Sure.

Re:I can't help but think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34883348)

There are dozens of ways low-quality material could have made it through the QA process at Lockheed that don't require some sort of communist-conspiracy, "OMG we need jobs," to explain. For instance, it could be that, since production on this particular tank model has stopped, the remaining work force was simply trying to make due with what they had, materials wise, and produce their product (the tank) as quickly as possible without giving a particular two-shits to the wind as to how sound it was since, you know, their program was getting canceled anyways. Or, yeah, it could be a jobs program. Sure.

You gave the same explanation in refutation to the explanation you dismiss. There is no difference between:

a) a jobs program

and

b) as quickly as possible without giving a particular two-shits to the wind as to how sound it was since, you know, their program was getting canceled anyways

Re:I can't help but think... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34883772)

What is this "toxic shit" you speak of in the main fuel tank? While extremely dangerous if it's let out any opening other than the shuttles main engines, the liquid hydrogen and oxygen that the shuttle burns aren't known for producing dangerous byproducts, unless very, very pure water meets your definition.

Re:I can't help but think... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880954)

Revise to say

These aerospace materials should be extensively tested, analyzed and inspected. Paperwork with melt number, lot number and names of everyone that ever touched the material are kept.

I think there's more to this story. If these parts are considered critical, there should have been tensile tests conducted on coupons from the same melt/heat lot. If the paperwork indicates the tests were conducted and the coupons passed, either the paperwork was falsified or the parts degraded during storage.

Re:I can't help but think... (1)

Thelasko (1196535) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881120)

everyone that ever touched the material...

...no longer works there.

fixed it for ya!

Most likely was imported (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880434)

America had a way of producing cheap high quality al-li. However, other nations have been trying to figure out ways to produce it My guess is that L-M was trying to save a buck and used imported crap from China. We had the same issue happen just several years ago with titanium. Really too bad.

statistical testing (1)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880506)

the production folks at lockheed martin, one of the largest us govt contractors, might want to look into it.

simply amazing that they weren't performing acceptance tests on each batch of material.

and shame on NASA for not making them.

they should both know better.

Re:statistical testing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882682)

>simply amazing that they weren't performing acceptance tests on each batch of material.

>and shame on NASA for not making them.

All because after the Apollo program ended, massive budget cuts hit NASA like a tsunami. The NASA solution was to cut 70% of the QA budget, just as they were beginning design, test, qualification, and characterization of the shuttle.

That's how we got stuck with that stupid O-ring design on the SRBs. That's how we got a Hubble telescope mirror built out of spec by one millimeter that never got tested before it got flown.

That so few things have gone wrong is a testament to how good NASA engineering is, but that does not excuse the lack of QA.

Warranty? (1)

no1home (1271260) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880864)

Aren't manufacturer defects generally covered by a warranty? It should be replaced for free!

Re:Warranty? (1)

hurfy (735314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882194)

Sure, but that return freight is gonna bite ya in the ass :O

I think the QA guy at L-M should get a free shuttle ride ;)

That is how my dad ran his aircraft repair...the mechanic got to be the 1st passenger. You can bet all the bolts got double checked :)

Time to make a post X-mass return. (1)

GameMaster (148118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880866)

Return it and demand a replacement/refund.

Downsizing NASA (0, Offtopic)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880902)

NASA still has 10 "Centers". NASA still has all the "centers" it had in the Apollo era. With the end of the shuttle program, that needs to come way down. NASA Ames should be trimmed down to just the wind tunnel. The centers in Slidell LA and Cleveland OH should be closed. One of Langley and Dryden should be closed. One of Huntsville and Houston should be closed. And NASA HQ should be downsized to about half its current size.

Re:Downsizing NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34881166)

It is not Slidell LA, it is in New Orleans East. The rumor is that this site is to be used for "green power" research, aka windmills. I used to live in the area around that site and currently work with SEVERAL people who worked at that site. This leads me to my main point. Lockheed Martin and NASA performed rigorous QA testing on everything from what I am told. I know in the aircraft industry we document ALL testing that we do and the federal certifications are extreme, I would assume that NASA would be the same. I would find all the QA inspectors from both Lockheed Martin and NASA who signed off on this and ask them what went wrong, and what can be done to fix it. Lets fix this issue and get that last boat anchor up and down safely and work on a better means of putting things into orbit.

Think about the children! (1)

MarcQuadra (129430) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881362)

But if politicians can't grab bits of the funding for their own districts, won't the entire economy collapse?

Re:Downsizing NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882182)

You do realize that NASA's budget is a teeny tiny fraction of the money spent, correct? The various wars spend more money in one day than NASA uses in a year.

Downsizing it is pointless and will damage our space programs. If anything they should increase NASA's budget.

Re:Downsizing NASA (1)

ediron2 (246908) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882508)

Fascinating.

Since these facilities were opened, we've added comsat, gps, ISS, and countless military/industrial/commercial space programs. NASA provides data for everything from urban planning to weather to crop planning and cultivation, and is involved in deep space research, materials science, world climate research and god knows what else.

But Apollo and a closing space shuttle program mean these facilities should be mothballed.

God I hate the stupid that comes out when slashdotters start speaking authoritatively about NASA. "It's not like it's rocket science..."

Non-disclaimer: I have never earned a dime for/from anything NASA-related.

Make Lockhead supply another one (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880968)

If they supplied faulty parts make them replace it or sell their company to someone who will.

Why is NASA Being Blamed? (2)

BJ_Covert_Action (1499847) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881054)

I like how there are folks complaining about NASA when the tank and alloy were manufactured by Lockheed-Martin....

It's not rocket science, people! (1)

thepainguy (1436453) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881200)

It's metallurgy.

Well, rocket science metallurgy, but still!

Your tax dollars at work (4, Insightful)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881318)

A contractor provides inferior quality alloy for a lightweight fuel tank. So NASA engineers come up with a system to brace said fuel tank, reinforcing it and fixing the problem.

The lightweight fuel tank now weighs as much as a regular fuel tank, when you include the reinforcement, but at 3 times the cost. But don't worry, people stayed employed at your expense, and that's all that matters. Yay!

The only thing that bothers (1)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881796)

me about space flight, is that I'm sitting on top of something that went to the LOWEST bidder. One of the original Mercury astronauts.

Re:The only thing that bothers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882832)

Actually, it was said by Wally Schirra during the Gemini VI shot (although you get partial points because he was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts).

The mission was delayed a second time when the Titan II engines beneath the space capsule ignited at countdown and then shut down. [ed. note - somebody had left dust-blocking caps on the end of fuel line segments when mating the stages: no fuel, no zoom.]

[...]

Asked later what he thought while sitting on the launchpad, Capt. Schirra replied, "This was all put together by the lowest bidder."

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/03/AR2007050300879.html

Whew! (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882028)

At least they found it in time! God knows how many more shuttles could have gone up with these bad tanks!

Drop Lockheed-Martin (1)

elkto (558121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882390)

Ever pulled together the correlation between ALL external fuel tank issues and the contract being moved to Lockheed? Yes the foam as well. Somebody has to say it.

They where even granted a exception by the EPA on having to switch to a different foam, but they did it anyhow.

No conspiracy here, just a Bird Colonel that favors Lockheed.

WHOA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882650)

Regardless of where the alloy was sourced, which part of "mottled appearance" did quality control not pick up?
Or is L-M outsourcing QC to China also.
Also kind of interesting the alloy seems to have gotten some kind of surface finish on one side only.

watch their stocks go way down... (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882988)

I wonder if this will deter future contracts and maybe even make stocks go down.

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