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space (spās) n. 1. space beyond the atmosphere of the earth.

prag·ma·tism (prgm-tzm) n. A way of approaching situations or solving problems that emphasizes practical applications and consequences.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fire Someone

Neil Cavuto of Fox News thinks whoever built the shuttle tiles should be fired for incompetence. Sadly it is hard to argue with his logic.

3 comments:

Karl Hallowell said...

I fail to see the logic. The tile gashes will continue to occur even if one were to replace both the tile and external tank makers. The design and other restrictions (like environmental regulations) are beyond the control of the contractors. The tiles are inherently fragile; the ET, filled with LOX and liquid hydrogen, is naturally cold and will collect ice; and the foam (due to use of HCFCs and some of the structure on the side of the Shuttle) and ice will naturally flake off and hit the Shuttle in its underbelly where the fragile tiles reside.

Gashes are inevitable.

John said...

As usual, Mr. Cavuto is foaming at the mouth about something he doesn't understand. He is the perfect example of the kind of person he describes: "...now second-guessed by virtually everyone". And if you look around you will discover our space program is still pretty much second to none.

Our "obsolete" shuttle system is still a great symbol of US technology every time it flies. Now that the Russians have come in from the cold, things are changing, but for decades other countries came to us for space launch needs of all kinds, including the shuttle. We're the only ones with a funded effort to get people back to the moon and hopefully elsewhere in the solar system. We're the ones taking pictures of Saturn and the other outer planets. We're the ones who have just developed a completely new stable of expendable launch vehicles which, when fully operational, will provide the most efficient and reliable access to space the world has ever known. If we are second to somebody, I'd love for Mr. Cavuto to point them out.

As for the tiles... The original decision to use thermal tiles on the Orbiter was very controversial. Previous high speed aircraft were all metal (the X-15 set the speed record of Mach 6.70). Not only was the Orbiter going to operate at much higher speed, but it also had to be light enough to carry a 65,000 pound payload. Its quick turnaround requirement (14 days between flights!) ruled out using ablative material because replacement after flight took too long. The tiles were (and still are) an amazing material development; the weight of styrofoam with the ability to withstand repeated re-entries with no degradation. Minor damage during flight was expected; the tiles are easily replaced and you have to lose a fair number of them to make a difference in re-entry. Remember, Columbia was victim to damage to the wing leading edge, which is reinforced carbon-carbon (RCC), not lightweight tiles. RCC is extremely tough stuff, both thermally and structurally, and serious damage to it was not expected to occur and was known to be catastrophic because of the extremely high heating on the leading edge of the wing. The relatively lower heating on the bottom surface plus the different aerodynamic conditions there permit loss of tiles or damage to tiles without impact to the Orbiter. In this post-Columbia environment, we are especially careful about damage to tiles, but I am sure we have re-entered many times before with worse damage than that seen on Endeavour.

brownpau said...

It's quite amusing that if NASA actually does follow Cavuto's "advice," they'd end up "firing" Boeing IDS and Lockheed-Martin. Then we'd not only have lost the Orion spacecraft, but Fox will have lost advertising revenue from the world's two biggest aerospace/defense contractors.