Shuttle Damage Graphic
July 28, 2005 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Shuttle Damage A nice graphic of the 15000 hits the shuttle program has had.
posted by srboisvert (25 comments total)

 
Fascinating. That graphic really brings home the number of Space Shuttle flights since 1983. The NYT's article from which this graphic comes is interesting: Intense Hunt for Signs of Damage Could Raise Problems of Its Own.
posted by ericb at 3:28 PM on July 28, 2005


why does the external tank attach fitting get so dinged up?
posted by joelf at 3:47 PM on July 28, 2005


Oh, that crazy external tank attach fitting - always getting in trouble! It just can't learn to stop looking at meteorites the wrong way, really.
posted by Drexen at 3:54 PM on July 28, 2005


This is good, too. That shuttle is pretty hardcore.
posted by Drexen at 3:54 PM on July 28, 2005


That has to be hard on long-term and short-term comprehension. No wonder pieces keep falling off.
posted by buzzman at 3:55 PM on July 28, 2005


Nor is it clear how it could be fixed. NASA's efforts to create a repair kit for tile and leading-edge panels, a recommendation of the board that investigated the Columbia accident, have not been successful.

Never heard of duck tape, apparently.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:12 PM on July 28, 2005



32 dings and counting

posted by joelf at 4:15 PM on July 28, 2005


I find it odd that the left wing and the right wing are not, apparently considered from the shuttle's own perspective. where "own" = cockpit up.
posted by norm at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2005


From the NYT link (Dr. David Wolf):
"How do you distinguish - discriminate - between damage which is critical and damage which is inconsequential?" asked Dr. David Wolf, an astronaut who spent four months aboard the Russian space station Mir. "We could be faced with very difficult decisions, in part because of all this additional information that we will be presented with."

Is this just an argument for taking chances and accepting the consequences? NASA is spending a lot of money collecting and analyzing data in this mission, perhaps Dr. Wolf thinks it is a waste...

It costs money to gather the data, and it costs a lot more money to analyze it. Sometimes you even find problems that you decide not to solve for any number of reasons, but that doesn't mean you ignore the data.

So fine, if Dr. Wolf thinks it makes more sense to risk mission failure and many deaths then he is entitled to that opinion. I don't think many people would agree with him, and I find his double speak offensive to say the least.

"We could be faced with very difficult decisions" - As if the engineers that design this stuff don't face 'very difficult decisions' ever day. What the fuck is he thinking...
posted by Chuckles at 5:17 PM on July 28, 2005


Fun facts:

  • The number of hits sustained by the Shuttle program is over twice the number of hits by Hall-of-Famer Pete Rose, but slightly less than the number taken by Snoop Dogg during the making of the "Doggystyle" LP.

  • The windshield of the shuttle Discovery is littered with the smashed exoskeletons of over sixty thousand moths and horseflies.

  • The amount of ink used to print all 15 thousand tiny squares was surreptitiously lifted from the normally-colorized "Garfield" strip.

  • posted by wakko at 5:46 PM on July 28, 2005


    I am astonished! It looks like some graphic designer accidentally read Tufte instead of brandishing it on the bookshelf.
    posted by Nahum Tate at 6:05 PM on July 28, 2005


    "I am astonished! It looks like some graphic designer accidentally read Tufte instead of brandishing it on the bookshelf."

    As a graphic designer, I resemble that remark. Actually, I think Tufte is synonymous with shuttle damage infographics.

    plus, Joelf wins the thread with the ding graphic. Very good. You get a cookie.
    posted by Mcable at 6:55 PM on July 28, 2005


    The amazing thing to me is 15,000 damage hits in 99 flights covered by the graphic, not including Challenger's destruction, is an average of 150+ damage hits per launch. Big rocket launch is a dirty business, and the Shuttle is designed to accelerate pretty slowly, in keeping with it's Space Truck operating philosophy, thus keeping it in the "dirt spray" zone for several seconds immediately after launch. The average is clearly skewed upward by the big damage incidents called out in the graphic, but the ominous "rumble" of the pattern on the left, with damage impacts on virtually every mission counted is one of those indicators like the continuing O-ring burn failures noted in virtually all of the solid booster rebuild cycles before Challenger, but ignored as "normal." Why in hell didn't somebody with some common sense say "These ain't paint chips were getting, fellas." after about, oh, say 15 or 20 missions? And do something effective about debris control at launch.

    Because launch conditions contributing to debris generation are something you maybe have some control over, as opposed to random damage to the orbiter from space junk and natural phenomenon, in flight, which you can't predict or do much about.

    This graphic is eye-opening. Good post.

    But it really points up, again, how desperate to fly the NASA culture is, and how slow to spend money on fixing things that common sense should tell them is going to catch up with them. Bullshit engineering, or more likely, if the public record for Challenger and Columbia is read, really bullshit program management.
    posted by paulsc at 8:20 PM on July 28, 2005


    I am astonished! It looks like some graphic designer accidentally read Tufte instead of brandishing it on the bookshelf.

    As a graphic designer, I resemble that remark. Actually, I think Tufte is synonymous with shuttle damage infographics.

    For those who might not be aware ... Edward Tufte pointed out the deficiency of the use (i.e. "the methodology of presentation") of PowerPoint during the hearings regarding the Columbia disaster.
    posted by ericb at 8:35 PM on July 28, 2005


    Well, it looks like a chunk of foam hit the wing. Not to worry says NASA.
    posted by caddis at 8:42 PM on July 28, 2005


    why does the external tank attach fitting get so dinged up?

    Most likely because the external tank attachment struts deflect things into the shuttle. See side view. Small comfort: since these are secondary impacts, they've probably decelerated quite a bit before actually hitting the tiles.

    But it really points up, again, how desperate to fly the NASA culture is, and how slow to spend money on fixing things that common sense should tell them is going to catch up with them. Bullshit engineering, or more likely, if the public record for Challenger and Columbia is read, really bullshit program management.

    I don't think this is the only lens to view this through. NASA does a lot of risk assessment before spending money, and there's a keen appreciation of the paradox that things you can do to improve one kind of safety end up hurting it in other respects. A case in point is the perennial suggestion that the crew cabin be a detachable module with, say, an Apollo-style recovery parachute. NASA understands that such a feature could, under certain circumstances, save half-a-dozen astronauts' lives -- but it also introduces the risk of an accidental activation. The system's complexity is already high enough; adding to it almost demonstrably raises risk.

    The most important thing that NASA could do to improve shuttle safety, it's long been agreed, is to replace the SRBs with Liquid Fly-Back Boosters. (It was the SRBs that failed in 1986.) They would also reduce per-flight costs. The capital investment, however, is much higher than for other safety improvements.

    Right now, it looks like the most obvious solution to the external tank problem is eliminating exterior foam. This creates different problems of its own. Before Columbia, the foam problem wasn't considered very serious, and the focus was on reducing weight. Almost anything to reduce the need for thermal insulation (or put it somewhere else, like inside) would add to the weight and/or complexity of the tank system.

    The real problem with NASA is a kind of engineering paralysis, similar to what this article points out. They almost have too many options, too many things they "oughta" fix. At some level, it's worth considering whether the Shuttle is impossible to fix "enough"; then you have the open question of whether such a system is, in any practical sense, flyable. NASA may well simultaneously be the most robust organization on Earth to tackle such a question, and yet completely inadequate to answer it definitively. The mandate to fly, in a sense, does not come from NASA; it comes from the White House, and Congress, and the public.

    This is a very interesting reason why some advocate privatizing spaceflight. A corporate entity pursuing maximized profits might well make safer decisions. Or pehaps they would just make ones that make a little more easily justified sense the next day. It's paradoxical.
    posted by dhartung at 9:21 PM on July 28, 2005


    dhertung, thanks for the points. I would suggest that 'engineering paralysis' comes from too many marginal calls piling up, which is a safety problem in itself.

    I guess the problems all stem from having such a confused mandate. Not much the engineers can do about that. Private companies might be able to demand clarity, but I think that is flawed logic. Like hiring consultants to tell you what you already know, because they are 'experts' you listen to them...
    posted by Chuckles at 9:59 PM on July 28, 2005


    Does anybody have a link to that extremely high-res image that really details all the dings and dents in the Shuttle hull?
    posted by wigu at 10:12 PM on July 28, 2005


    It's not the years honey, it's the mileage.
    posted by blue_beetle at 10:23 PM on July 28, 2005


    At some level, it's worth considering whether the Shuttle is impossible to fix "enough"; then you have the open question of whether such a system is, in any practical sense, flyable.

    While they haven't said it out loud, I think NASA has effectively admitted that the shuttle is impossible to fix. It should be clear at this point that the design is fundamentally flawed. But yeah, there's still that ugly question of whether or not you want to fly it anyway, and accept a 1% failure rate as the cost of continued exploration. "You go to space with the rocket you have..."
    posted by Galvatron at 10:57 PM on July 28, 2005


    "The real problem with NASA is a kind of engineering paralysis, similar to what this article points out. They almost have too many options, too many things they "oughta" fix. At some level, it's worth considering whether the Shuttle is impossible to fix "enough"; then you have the open question of whether such a system is, in any practical sense, flyable. NASA may well simultaneously be the most robust organization on Earth to tackle such a question, and yet completely inadequate to answer it definitively. The mandate to fly, in a sense, does not come from NASA; it comes from the White House, and Congress, and the public."

    dhartung, you've compressed a number of points in this paragraph that deserve separate considerations, and that I don't agree support the conclusion that the mandate to fly, in the way NASA has chosen to do so, comes from the White House, Congress, or the public. And if, God help them, NASA has chosen poorly, and the worst happens in a few days, any such top level mandate to fly manned missions is likely to evaporate in the puff of smoke that we all hope Discovery is not going to become.

    Let's take a "reasonable man" approach to a few questions that could have been posed to planners of this "return to flight" mission, after the Columbia disaster (albeit with admittedly 20/20 hindsight, now that the s**t has hit the shuttle, again, so to speak):

    1) Should the return to flight involve a full crew, if the best available mid-mission orbital alternate in the case of damage to the orbiter serious enough to prevent "safe" deorbit is ensconcing the crew at the ISS until a rescue mission can be mounted?

    Fact: The ISS has a long history of problems with oxygen and power generation. Opinion: It may not a great "lifeboat" for 7 additional souls, for any length of time, but it is the only one. But a minimum shuttle crew needing to stay there would stress ISS systems less than the 7 man crew NASA chose to go with.

    2) With the shuttle fleet once again "grounded," from where is the vehicle for any needed rescue mission going to come?

    Opinion: The Russian Soyuz capsule launch program might not be up to the job.

    3) With safety concerns paramount for the return to flight mission, did it make sense for this to be a full orbital mission? Wouldn't it have been prudent to intentionally fly a sub-orbital "flight worthiness" test mission, with a minimum crew, in which the orbiter was intentionally spared re-entry stress, using a planned RTLS abort mode as a return to flight?

    Fact: Shuttles have aborted to orbit due to premature main engine shutdown. RTLS or Trans-Atlantic abort procedures can be performed electively, and neither subjects the orbiter to re-entry stresses.

    4) In light of the history of shuttle flight disasters, and a long history of management issues and continuing questions about the internal safety culture of NASA, should NASA, as shuttle mission manager, retain the right to change safety standards and flight minimums ad hoc? Was a four year program employee the best person to oversee preparation of the external fuel tank assembly for this mission?

    As a kid, I watched every Mercury, Gemini and Apollo mission, beginning on grainy black and white TV, and I've always held a special reverence for the "steely eyed missile men" and the folks with The Right Stuff. I want, and have always wanted NASA to succeed, and to see men go into space, and take my imagination with them.

    But I'm thinking now about 7 people in orbit, and looking at the left edge of the graphic in this FPP, and wondering, with other Americans, if NASA is really making the percentage calls anymore.
    posted by paulsc at 12:22 AM on July 29, 2005


    Chuckles: Is this just an argument for taking chances and accepting the consequences?

    No. It's an acknowledgement that better diagnostic tools don't always lead to better decisions. As the NYT article describes, a false alarm could lead to unnecessarily risky decisions of the fear factor is cranked up too high.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:47 AM on July 29, 2005


    Nahum Tate writes "I am astonished! It looks like some graphic designer accidentally read Tufte instead of brandishing it on the bookshelf."

    That's exactly what I thought. Thank goodness for Tufte.
    posted by OmieWise at 6:59 AM on July 29, 2005


    paulsc: Well, here is the way I think about it. First of all, the shuttle was designed to take some quantity of damage in terms of tank debris. So just counting the quantity of impacts may look scary, but isn't exactly enlightening. Second, the distribution of hits per flight looks like a fairly random distribution. So you would have to do a lot of flights to iron out this particular failure mode. I don't think that just doing a bunch of limited sub-orbital flights are really going to tell us much. And it really would not do much to test our ability to asses Orbiter condition while in orbit.

    To be quite honest, I think to some degree that there is a strong argument for "taking chances and accepting the consequences". I think it will be a long time before we can make spaceflight "safe." Earth-based science is not entirely "safe" either. And yet, somehow we manage to get by.
    posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:26 AM on July 29, 2005


    I've been wondering this, but I just don't know who to ask, if the foam insulation is only important as the shuttle sits on the launch pad and as it inevitably comes off in lift off, why don't they score the foam so that when it does come off, it comes of in very small pieces, that wouldn't have the inertia to damage the craft?

    I started wondering this when I learned that they had replaced thicker foam panels with multi-bilion dollar heaters.
    posted by Pollomacho at 7:35 AM on July 29, 2005


    « Older Wondershowzen   |   Balancing Point Newer »


    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments