NASA studying 2 new space shuttle problems

February 10, 2010 By MARCIA DUNN , AP Aerospace Writer
Space shuttle Endeavour lifts-off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., Monday, Feb. 8, 2010. Endeavour is carrying six astronauts who will deliver a room and observation deck to the International Space Station. A piece of foam insulation is seen falling to the right of the orbiter. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP) -- NASA is taking a close look at two new problems on space shuttle Endeavour.

A round ceramic spacer near one of the cockpit windows is sticking out. And a thermal tile repair that was made before the flight has failed, and the original crack is back, right over the cockpit.

Mission management team leader LeRoy Cain said Wednesday that neither problem appears to be serious. But he said everyone wants to be "very vigilant and take a closer look" in case spacewalking repairs are needed.

has been extra careful about such matters since Columbia was brought down by a cracked wing in 2003.

The good news Wednesday was that Endeavour's heat shield looks to be in overall good shape. The shuttle arrived at the early Wednesday.

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1.5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2010
I am sorry but a crack in a thermal tile "right over the cockpit" should not allow the shuttle to be considered in good shape, that sounds pretty bad. I am no expert but I would probably elect to stay in space until all "cracks" around the cockpit are repaired and the all the ceramic spacers are in their proper place.

On a side note I guess this is another good reason why it is her, Endeavors, last flight.
4.8 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2010
Right above the cockpit is not one of the high-heat areas, though - so it really isn't that serious. The spacers have been seen a number of times, and haven't been an issue.
2.4 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2010
All this reminds me of a suggestion I made that got taken pretty seriously by NASA engineers--and got shot down by politics. (It was politely phrased but..) The problem of the tiles not sticking correctly had just been discovered. (The adhesive had to have give to allow the tiles to expand, but too much give and the tiles could be sucked/blown off.)

Anyway, I pointed out to a fairly senior engineer at NASA and a long-time family friend that they (NASA) still had some unused Gemini capsules in storage, and you could fit one easily in the shuttle payload bay. We could and did sketch out the major details over dinner.

A few days later I got a call explaining that a couple changes had been made to our BOE (back of envelope) design to dampen vibrations from the SRBs, but it looked good to go.

Three weeks later it was DOA. Why? The astronauts would need to wear old design space suits, and the designer of the new suits, which would be ready for the first flight anyway, was upset.
2.4 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2010
The real killer though were the high-level "suits" who thought that putting a Gemini capsule in the payload bay would make NASA look like they thought it wouldn't work.

Hello? Earth to Langley! Damn right most of the engineers were not sure it would work. The best estimate I heard for the first flight was a 98% chance of surviving re-entry--for any particular flight. Out of 150 attempts by shuttle pilots to be to get the shuttle from Mach 15 to Mach 3 with the computers out, there was 1 success. And of course, that assumes that everybody got the computer code for the flight dynamics right--no way to test it without an actual shuttle launch. (The pilots could, and did, do the subsonic part of the landing better than the computers, so launching a shuttle without a crew would result in lots of good data, and about a 100% chance of a bent airframe, even landing in California.

Anyway it didn't happen, and Skylab burned up because the Carter administration wasn't going to risk a crash.
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2010
(That's not really a dig at Carter, there was a lot of risk reduction going on while they were sticking tiles on and pulling them off. The call to skip the Skylab reboost mission was probably right, and the risk of the mission increased as Skylab got lower. It sure was a waste of a perfectly good space station though.)

I did make a tongue-in-cheek suggestion to David though. Put the Gemini capsule in the shuttle. Do the boost mission to almost using up the fuel in the OMS pods, and ride the Gemini capsule back. The next mission up could take two crews, and use a tether trick to allow both shuttles to re-enter from 350 miles up. With two shuttles and tethers you can boost the Skylab further, and the shuttles end up at re-entry altitudes with no burn. Well no major burn, you need to keep the tether under tension. I knew that before the tethered satellites were tried later. If you don't kinks can form that cause the tether to break.
3 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2010
I said tongue in cheek, because I knew by then that the top management layer was a mix of engineers who were adverse to real risk, and manager who were adverse to the appearance of failure. We lost two shuttles--and two crews--because some managers didn't understand the difference. I'm glad I never officially worked for NASA, even though I worked on several NASA projects--including the shuttle--as a consultant. I don't know how I could have lived with myself when the crew of Columbia WAS NOT TOLD they "might" have damage to the wing leading edge. I don't know if they could have landed safely, but the pilot could have tried a skip reentry. (I've said enough for tonight, look it up on the web.)
not rated yet Feb 11, 2010
eachus: It is unfortunate that future manned spacecraft technology appears to be mired in Mercury to Apollo thinking. While the space shuttle has had serious problems, it is still a true spacecraft model and should not be abandoned so easily. For re-entry protection from high tempurature plasma, have suggested to NASA (without response) that the magnetohydrodynamic effect could use the re-entry heat and velocity of the plasma to generate enough power to both create a protective field around a craft, as well as generate a magnetic field that would hold ceramic tiles (seeded with a ferrous component) to the hull structure. If ancient sailors had given up on their first ship designs due to some failure, man would still be relegated to skins and furs.

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