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No Shuttle Flights Until Debris Problem Resolved

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Within a few hours of Tuesday’s launch of Shuttle Discovery, pictures were released that show foam insulation on the main fuel tank coming loose and impacting the shuttle.

The images also showed that several surprisingly big pieces of foam broke off the tank’s bipod area where a pair of struts connects the tank to the orbiter.

Remote camera inspections performed by the shuttle crew today showed a small amount of tile damage to the shuttle’s nose tiles, but NASA officials said that it was minor, and not a concern.

However, Shuttle Program Manager Bill Parsons, speaking at a press briefing this afternoon said:

“We had a debris event on the PAL ramp along the LOX field line – below the point where the LH2 ramp begins. Our expectation is that we would not have an unexpected debris event. The PAL ramp is one area we should have reviewed.

We knew we would have to remove the PAL ramp. We did not have enough data to be safe and remove it. We had very few problems with it so we decided that it was safe to fly it as is. Clearly, with the event we had, we were wrong.

Until [this issue] is closed we will not fly again. Might as well let that out now. Until we are ready we will not fly again. I do not know when that will be. This is a test flight. Obviously we have more work to do.

Obviously we cannot fly with PAL ramps coming off the way that this one did.

We need to go off and fix it.”


Not such a perfect launch after all.

The scheduled September flight of Shuttle Atlantis has been put on indefinite hold.

Also posted at VERMONT SPACE

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About Bennett Dawson

  • Keep in mind that this was the same sort of problem which caused the Columbia disaster. I’d say they are right in delaying seding any other shuttles off until the problem is fixed.

  • I’m thinking it might just be an inheritable reaction with the shuttle itself going in space. Has this problem occurred with the newer generation spacecrafts?

  • Bennett

    It seems to be a design flaw with the the side-by-side reusable gliding back to earth spacecraft concept.

    I’ve tied things to the roof of my car and tried to drive down the freeway… Have you? And that’s only 60 mph.

    At 7,000 mph, shit peels off. The foam insulation has been peeling off ever since the first flight. I read a NASA piece a few months ago where the speaker basically admitted that NASA had been incredibly lucky all these years.

    Many shuttles have returned to earth with serious damage to the heat shield tiles, but none of them ever “hit the jackpot” until Columbia.

    All of the new designs for the replacement to the shuttle are in-line, big booster with the payload on top.

    What will NASA do until a new generation of launch vehicle is ready?

    Cross fingers and toes, I’d say.

  • How will the shuttle land? Any special precautions?

    Natalie linked to you – neat:)

  • There’s not much they can do about landing. If I recall correctly they now carry a kit to let them repair certain types of damage to the heat shield tiles, but apparently they do not think the present damage warrants attempting such repairs.

    So they’ll probably do a normal landing and hope for the best, much as they did with Columbia.

    That’s the trouble with putting all your eggs into one basket. Sometimes, you just have to cross your fingers and hope nothing goes very wrong with that basket.

  • Tony L

    As I have said before, it is time to scrap the Space Shuttle and to use it’s operating funds toward the design and building of a new space vehicle. If we lose the Space Station as a result, well…we have wasted much more money on much less over the course of this nation’s history.

  • Bennett

    You may be right, Tony.

    The debris situation outlined in the post is a serious deal, and loosing volunteer astronauts due to a inherently flawed design is asuch a waste.

    Check out my comment on Natalie Bennett’s post for more on the options we have to choose from over the next five years.

    Thanks for the comment.


  • The low earth orbit shuttle was a poor design and use of resources from day one or earlier. It is limited in its use and obviously filled with glitches.

    Since exporation and research should be one of America’s high goals (unlike war and jails, it actually produces that which wasn’t before — knowledge and inventions).

    The shuttles must fly but it is surely a long overdue need to overhaul the entire program in order to fly higher, better, SAFER, and more effectively.

    Sadly, too many non-constructive things — the drug war, a prison on every corner — have siphoned funds from scientific research and space exploration.

  • Bennett

    Spot on with every point you make, alpha.

    If hand wringing could transform where we are into where we wish we were, I’d say Indulge!

    However, as NASA engineers rally to find an acceptable solution to this quandry, and I believe they will, there is sure to be plenty of non-productive hand wringing and finger pointing in the upper echelons of administration.

    No fun, that.

  • bhw

    If these astronauts burn up on re-entry, NASA can pretty much kiss their public support goodbye.

  • Bennett

    I’m not so sure of that bhw, but the timing, and the loss of life, would be tragic indeed!

  • bhw

    You don’t think back-to-back disasters would do them in?

  • Bennett

    NASA is so much more than just the Shuttle, or the manned space program. With the incredibly successful robotic missions that are currently sending unprecedented amounts of data back to earth from Mars, Saturn, etc., NASA has quite a bit of credit with the House and Senate.

    If Discovery doesn’t make it back safely, it could result in abandonment of the shuttle as a launch vehicle, and put the CEV and CXV on the very fast track – a la the Kennedy era focus on the Apollo Program.

    We live in a unique time. No longer is it just the USA and the USSR competing for “dominance” of space. It’s China we’re racing now, and this renders the Proxmire-ish arguments of naysayers entirely moot.

    We live in interesting times.