Monday, July 18, 2005

An Accident Waiting to Happen

The space shuttle Discovery still sits upon it's launching pad, this time held up by a fuel gauge problem. The first indication that there were problems that might hinder the successful launch occurred the day before the originally scheduled launching. A plastic windshield cover just came loose, fell off and damaged some tiles near the base of one of the engines.

A piece of plastic.

Just came loose.

Damaged some tiles.

What the.......?

Who builds those things anyway? American Motors? They'd be better off having the folks at Lego build them.

If you remember, the explosion of the last shuttle was caused by a similar problem. While it was ascending a piece of fuel tank foam insulation dislodged and pierced the wing, causing the shuttle to explode on re-entry.

This latest SNAFU makes me more than a little concerned about the competency of NASA engineers, or at least, their contractors. Possibly NASA is one government agency that shouldn't award contracts to the lowest bidder. Perhaps NASA should take other factors into consideration. Like quality, for instance.

And what is the deal with these ceramic tiles they use anyway? Apparently,it takes no more than a light piece of plastic or some foam insulation to dislodge those tiles. Maybe NASA can figure out a way to affix them a little more securely? I am not an engineer, so I admit I don't know what I am talking about, but it surely seems to me that there has to be a better way.

Here's another thought to consider as well. When the plastic windshield cover fell off the shuttle countdown had already begun. That means the engineers at NASA had already determined that the Shuttle was ready to launch. Think about that. If that piece of plastic hadn't fallen off, the engineers would have allowed the launch to go off without ever knowing there were additional problems.

I am thinking if NASA doesn't want another disaster on their hands, they'd better do more than just figure out the present fuel gauge problem. I would respectfully suggest they do an inch by inch re-check of the entire shuttle and booster engine system. I mean microscopic inspections of every square inch. If a tile has a tiny imperfection marring one edge they should remove it and replace it. And fasten them down with something stronger than Elmer's glue.

This is a scary thought. According to reports, NASA is up against the clock. If extensive repairs are needed and the shuttle has to be moved off the launch pad and into the hangar, the flight could end up being bumped into September to ensure a daylight liftoff.

The space agency wants a clear view of the ascending shuttle in order to spot any launch damage. When combined with the constantly changing location of the international space station, Discovery's destination, this means that the shuttle must fly by the end of July or remain grounded until Sept. 9.

It's scary because it would seem to indicate the good folks at NASA are in a hurry, and in light of past problems, that would not inspire confidence that they are making absolutely sure there are no possible impending problems.

Well, as I am fond of repeating, I'm just your humble friend and uneducated blogger, but this surely looks to me like an accident waiting to happen. I don't think I'm going to be volunteering for the astronaut program anytime soon.

ADDENDUM: I discovered a very good blog over the weekend. Mary, over at FREEDOM EDEN cover's the issues of the day with insightful, and sometimes inciteful, commentary. Check her out.


Poison Pero said...

I'm a huge proponent of NASA, but there is no space mission with a priority over human lives.

The space program is great, and has awsome long-term possibility, but it is a luxury......Not a national necessity.

Sure we have become over-cautious after the last shuttle disintegrated in front of our eyes, but we are Americans --> We are not like the Ruskies, who simply tossed guys up like they were nothing and if they died, oh well.

Redo the entire schematic, make sure each nut and bolt is tight, and do it right.........Then throw the astronauts back up in the sky. --> They want to go, and we want them up there, but only with the knowledge they have every opporotunity to return safely.

Daffy76 said...

I have to say that watching the Challenger explosion about a hundred times on the news when I was in third grade left quite an impression. I think of it everytime NASA announces a launch. I sure hope that before they send anyone up, all their ducks are quacking. The idea of a rushed job scares me.

Xena76 said...

I swear I don't get it. Don't they supposedly do hundreds of inspections before they go to all the trouble of moving it to the lauching pad? They SERIOUSLY couldn't see these problems before NOW??? I know that the closer you are to something, the more likely it is you will miss little things like typos for example. But come on!!! I think one solution would be to get it as ready as they think they can then hire a bunch of middle school boys to play on it for a few hours. If nothing breaks, they might be ready to go. In my experience, if it might break, the boys will find a way to point that out.

Erudite Redneck said...

Daffy was in third grade? Gak. I'm old. :-(

Uncle Mark, tell us about the Apollo landings! ;-)

(I was 5 in '69, and do remember gettin' woke up in what seemed like the middle of the night to see some history bein' made on our black-and-white Zenith!)

First time I saw the lunar module at the Air and Space Museum in DC, I thought: "Seat belts? Toggle switches? Holy crap! Is that a clutch??" It did not look unlike the insides of the combine -- that's COMbine, Kansas boy -- my dad bought, for cash, in '69.

Erudite Redneck said...

Oh, and Pero, of course I have to disagree about space exploration and such not bein' in our national interest. Luxuries? Not. Necesarry to the spirit of the land, to the dreams and hopes of a great people who seem to have lost their way -- and a bunch of other tommyrot that I know makes yer head explode. I think the arts are way underfunded, too. Federalwise. Taxmoneywise, I mean. He said. Layin' the bait right at Pero's tootsies. Did you know that last weekend was Woody Guthrie Day in his hometown of Okemah, Okla.? This land is your land, this land is my land ... hoo hoo. The gin is talkin' now, boys!!

Mark said...

ER? You were 5 in 69? Dang, Now I really do feel old. I graduated High School in '69.

tugboatcapn said...

You remember that the only survivor of the last shuttle mission was a can of worms...
I find this oddly poetic...

Francis Lynn said...

We are big supporters of space exploration. NASA was at its finest in the late 60's, 70's. We have since lost some confidence in them. The shuttle in time needs to be replaced with another type vehicle & a new technology. Sitting on a fuel tank the capacity of a small refinery is not a confidence builder. Using Lego tiles that are that sensitive to damage makes each flight a dicey proposition.

tugboatcapn said...

I dunno, Francis...
They should be okay as long as they wiggle the right wires, don't you think?

Poison Pero said...

Hey Press: I said at the beginning I'm very in favor of NASA, but during a war it is definitely way down on the list of things we need to spend money on.

And you are right, I disagree about th rest of the stuff you want spent on too.

Let private individuals sponsor the arts........Not hostage held taxpayers.
On a different note, you're from OK? Very nice, I spent a lot of time in Tulsa while stationed in Wichita Falls, TX........You know you are in Smallville when you think Tulsa's big time.