Category Archives: Space

—STS-133/Discovery External Tank Drama Continues

Spaceflight Now | STS-133 Shuttle Report | Shuttle Discovery launch delayed to late February.

“While a single root cause of the cracks has not been determined, it appears the stringers in question were made using an aluminum alloy from a batch produced in 2002 that has a mottled appearance and may not be as strong as engineers expected.”

No word here on when this was noticed. You would think they would have run something like a coupon of the batch through structural testing before using it for a critical system like the ET. What other compromises have been made in STS production and processing over the years?

They will try to put doublers in this tank and will “probably” get away with it a couple more times. Then they can put these things in museums and let historians argue whether it was all worth it.

—ARES 1-X Test Flight

Ares I-X launches – managers claim successful test flight | NASASpaceFlight.com

The main ascent components seemed to work, although no telemetry results have been revealed yet.  As the dummy upper stage/spacecraft/abort system separated, it tumbled violently instead of coasting along the flight path, as if unguided.  As it appeared certain to swing around and impact the coasting booster, they froze the NASA-TV feed.  According to NASASpaceflight.com, only two parachutes on the booster deployed.  There was no live coverage of the descending booster, and controllers appeared to have lost all live communication with the flight systems.

[nm about the ascent plume business—I suspect it was a view as the nozzle gimballed away, then they switched flight cameras.]

Mostly successful in that it didn’t hit the tower and fly sideways into Atlantis on the other pad, or shake itself to bits on ascent.  But since it was essentially a Shuttle SRB in a manned spacecraft costume, the relevance to future development will be a matter of marketing rather than actual engineering.

—Apollo 11–40 Years Later

The original step-off footage of Armstrong:  http://www.nasa.gov/externalflash/apollo11Splash/index.html

40 years ago—I remember staying up all night to watch Walter Cronkite and the Moon landings. I had to explain patiently to my mother why I was staying up so late (I think Armstrong stepped out at around 3am local time. The wiki says 2:56 UTC July 21, 1969)

In a serious setback for the fake-Moon-landing cultists; photos of Apollo 11 landing site from the current Lunar orbiter:  http://www.space.com/news/090717-lro-apollo11-images.html

Apollo veterans had a lot to say about the current state of manned spaceflight on the occasion of the 40thanniversary—apparently little of it complimentary:

ApolloAstronauts Blast Today’s NASA – Science News | Science & Technology | Technology News – FOXNews.com

And Despair.com shows that if people have enough time on their hands,they can find something sarcastic about nearly anything:

http://www.despair.com/ac.html

—Fraud at NASA!

A husband-wife team of non-civil-service-managers has been caught committing fraud and misappropriating millions of dollars of Federal funds!

FOXNews.com – Professor, Wife Accused of Defrauding NASA of Hundreds of Thousands of Taxpayer Dollars

Let’s see—-fraud at NASA—-how does that old adage go?

Selling coal to Newcastle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

—“…A Sense of Unease…”

How complicated is too complicated?  After 30 years of the Shuttle program, many of its flight-critical systems are still only marginally understood:

Spaceflight Now | STS-119 Shuttle Report | Shuttle launch put on hold

floridatoday.com | The Flame Trench | Florida Today's Space Team Blog

During the STS mission in November, a hydrogen pressurization control poppet cracked, and released a small fragment of metal into a critical pressurization line.  There are several potentially catastrophic scenarios for a failure of this kind, including puncturing the line or failure of LH2 tank pressure control.  They’re talking about pieces of metal dinging around in the line at speeds from 200-600 mph.  Nobody seems sure whether the breakage occurred due to an existing undetected crack, or the crack occurred during the ascent.

Meanwhile, Discovery’s next flight is off the calendar pending a decision about how to evaluate existing valves, and possibly redesign them to avoid the problem. 

[Finding something mean to say about the political situation in the U.S. is like shooting the proverbial fish in a barrel (as thoroughly evaluated by the Myth Busters).   I’m just going to have to find someone else to talk about for a while.]

—Meltdown in NASA Transition?

Orlando Sentinel: NASA chief Griffin bucks Obama’s transition team

From the Orlando Sentinel, reports of serious friction in between the NASA Administrator and Obama’s transition team:

Soon after, Garver and Griffin engaged in what witnesses said was an animated conversation. Some overheard parts of it.
“Mike, I don’t understand what the problem is. We are just trying to look under the hood,” Garver said.
“If you are looking under the hood, then you are calling me a liar,” Griffin replied. “Because it means you don’t trust what I say is under the hood.”

I’m afraid Michael Griffin is NASA’s equivalent of Albert Speer—he knows better than to work for the devil, but just can’t break the habit.  Griffin once called STS and ISS “mistakes”, but now he is prepared to defend Ares/Orion/Constellation with his last administrative breath, even though somewhere deep inside he must know it can’t possibly work.  He isn’t the only tragedy in the collapse of manned space exploration, but he is one of the most visible.

—Ares 1X

FLToday: Ares 1X Preps Pick Up Around KSC

A detailed report on the planned 7-11 suborbital test of NASA’s melon-on-a-fishing-pole concept for the future of manned space exploration.

—Extrasolar Planets Imaged

Two groups have produced the first direct images of planets orbiting other stars:

First-ever images taken of extrasolar planets – Space.com- msnbc.com

One is a sort of spooky infrared image from the Hubble ACS of the relatively nearby star Fomalhaut.  Images were taken 4 years apart to verify that the object is actually in orbit around Fomalhaut.  The object appears to be “herding” the outer portion of Fomalhaut’s accretion disc into a distinct, bright edge.

The other set of images is of several planetary object in orbit around HR 8799.  These were apparently imaged in visible light by ground-based telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. 

The technology for planet detection is improving dramatically.  Of course, when the excitement dies down a bit, astronomers will go back to squabbling about the definition of “planet”.  The smallest of these objects, now labeled Fomalhaut B, is three times the mass of Jupiter.  Several of the others are estimated to be around 10 times Jupiter’s mass.  Somewhere around 13xJupiter is apparently the lower limit for a type of failed star called a “Brown Dwarf”.  As techniques improve, it should become possible to resolve planets of  a more practical size.

—The Future at NASA

In case you were starting to feel better about NASA’s future, Michael Griffin (head of NASA) reveals in a FL Today guest column that in 10 more Shuttle flights there is a ~ 1 in 8  probability of a fatal accident!

Time to retire the shuttles | floridatoday.com | FLORIDA TODAY

Further comments on the subject from Jay Barbree and Alan Boyle:

How safe is the shuttle? – Cosmic Log – msnbc.com

As for the Ares/Constellation/Orion replacements, Griffin has complained—according to this AP account—that low staff morale on the project is because of anonymous bloggers posting undocumented and pilfered NASA briefing documents out of context, as far as I can tell from this story:

My Way News – NASA chief: Criticism hurting space agency morale

There is a much more obvious explanation, but not one that anyone at NASA will be saying out loud, if they want to remain employable. 

There are some pretty well documented, non-anonymous reasons to be skeptical of the future of Shuttle replacements:

NASASpaceFlight.com » Thrust Oscillation options outlined for Ares I PDR

The magnitude of the thrust oscillation problem is becoming more obvious.  Whereas standards from the Gemini program call for accelerations—I’m guessing they mean from lateral oscillations and/or vibrations—to be kept below 0.25 G’s, the uncorrected Ares/Orion as designed would subject crews to 5-6 G’s!  This “jack-hammer” vibration is well above the level which would pose health risks to the crew.  The fixes currently envisioned involve various kinds of skirt-mounted and interstage isolation mechanisms, and possibly shock-absorbing seats in the capsule.  They apparently haven’t completely discarded the contra-firing dampening rockets as an option, either.

This ongoing process of patching the fixes to the redesigns to the busted concepts would almost certainly lead someone engaged in competent engineering practice with the desired personal integrity to conclude that the entire design is deeply, if not fatally, flawed.  But you can’t do that in the NASA environment, because you’ll be fired, and possibly sanctioned so that you’ll never get another job, either.  

Management is committed to a design that most Congresspersons will perceive as reusing Shuttle technology (which it doesn’t) across as many states and districts as possible (are the “propellant discontinuities” which lead to the “shearing of internal flow” due to the SRB field joints?).  The engineers have obviously been ordered to “make it work”.   It shouldn’t take an “anonymous blogger” to see why there is a morale problem in the Ares/Orion program.