back to article NASA: no fix needed for shuttle

After a week of hmm-ing and haa-ing, NASA has elected not to repair the hole in the Shuttle Endeavour before it returns to Earth. Mission chief John Shannon said the decision had not been unanimous, but had been "pretty overwhelming", according to the Houston Chronicle. Mission controllers were worried that the three and a …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ideal test

    Would have thought it would be an ideal test of the repair kit they've come up with. Non-critical but stressed. Shame they're worried about disintegrating spacesuits.

  2. Ralph B

    Oh super ...

    ... I love fireworks.

  3. Chris Morrison

    Heads will roll

    They better pray there aint a cock up here. What would the problem have been with a couple of hour space walk to go fix the hole. I would love to have heard Nasa's conversation when they told the crew.

    "Hi guys it's gonna cost us an extra day and a million pounds to fix that hole in the shuttle. We don't really want to spend that so lets just pray you make it home safely."

    If this doesn't end well (which I hope it does) then the whole of Nasa should be mothballed and a new organisation created (possibly a private partnership) to develop space.


  4. Rob Sked

    Prepare . . . .

    . . . . for quite possibly the biggest "oops" ever?

    Again, this was an ideal chance to test the repair kit. I hope they get back safely.

  5. Steve

    disintegrating spacesuits ?

    If I was up there, I;d be more worried about disintegrating astronauts. Fuck NASA's "It will be OK, we've run the numbers", where have we heard that before ? After all, this was suposed to be a 'flawless' lift-off.

  6. Michael Sheils

    Any money

    They would have gone for the repair, if they wern't more worried about there space suits falling apart.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re Heads will roll

    "What would the problem have been with a couple of hour space walk to go fix the hole"

    If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

    It's an untested repair technique that could potentially make reentry more risky. Plenty of Shuttle landings have been made with more tile damage (not wing leading edge damage) .

  8. Steve Roper

    If the shuttle burns up...

    ... the bean-counter responsible for pushing that decision should be rewarded with the privilege of being the maiden test pilot for that new re-entry suit they're working on. I wonder how much cost-cutting he/she'll want to engage in then?

  9. Glen Turner

    Still not safe to fly?

    WTF? A huge bit of foam hitting an accelerating wing causes a crash. Then the next flight up, after a huge government inquiry, huge bits of foam still fall off, but fortunately don't make contact (the astronaut, and Doctor of Engineering, Andy Thomas was on that flight and complained bitterly about this engineering failure. He has been on the outer at PR-obsessed NASA ever since). This flight a small bit of foam falls off and makes contact. This simply doesn't read like a risk that has been dealt with, so why is this craft still flying?

    The criticism of NASA not choosing to repair the gash is a bit rough. A temporary repair spacewalk has never been attempted. It could have unforseen risks, perhaps making the craft unsafe whilst draining repair supplies.

    The criticism I have is more basic -- why hasn't a in-flight repair been tested on some non-essential surface such as a test surface inside the cargo bay? Why was in-flight repair accepted as a procedure and then never adequately exercised? That's where the Bean Counters have really short-changed safety.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As long as they are still docked to the station...

    so if they can't use the nasa suits they still can repair the shuttle with the russian suits. Also fixing this small hole would be good test for the repair kit. In the worst case if the kit doesn't work they can still come home without repair.

  11. arran

    cant they just

    park up and go for a coffee on the International Space Station thingy and wait for the AA (Astronauts Association) to send a tow shuttle out to them?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Maybe "Lets Just pray" is official policy handed down from Bush administration.

  13. Thorin


    @ Anonymous & Steve

    I agree, they give up a chance to verify their repair process and further safeguard the crew because they found a small tear in 2 out of 5 layers of a glove. If I was up there I'd definatley want to be fixing it.

    I kind of find it strange that the astronauts aren't making their own call on this one. WTF can NASA do? "No don't leave the craft".....GL with that.

    Not to mention russian space suits or the impracticality of only taking 1 suit for each person that's meant to space walk...nice redundancy!

  14. Graham Bartlett


    I suspect they're not worried about a cock up there. It's the cocks down here in NASA management that doubtless have them crapping their Novak nappies...

  15. Rob

    They should test the repair kit.

    At the end of the day if they make a mess they can point the shuttle into deep space and send it off. They can always come home in a soyuz...

  16. Kurt Guntheroth

    lay off NASA

    In spite of their obvious failures, NASA is pretty safety-obsessed, plus if they lose another shuttle, they absolutely can't meet their commitment to finish the ISS and then it's pretty much a complete waste of $100,000,000,000.00 (!) plus the public will be so pissed it's pretty much goodbye moon and goodbye mars for NASA. There's enough riding on this decision that I think we can count on the big brains at NASA to make the best decision possible.

    I'll betcha anything the beancounter-boffins were judging the relative risk, principally to human life, if they did or did not attempt the repair, and decided it was *safer* to not mess with it.

    Astronauts are a pretty trusting bunch (or they wouldn't climb up on top of a million pounds of volatile fuel and let somebody light a match), so if the boffins say this is the way to go, after days of computer analysis and lab tests, it is quite unlikely that the astronauts will risk their personal crispyness on a contrary gut feeling.

  17. Chris Morrison


    Did they not perform a repair on the shuttle before last?

    I'm sure there was a space walk and they tested the repair kit by filling in a small hole (that wasn't going to cause a problem) and then sanded it down so it was flush.


  18. Mark

    Historical basis

    I'm constantly surprised that anyone thinks NASA should be surprised by this kind of damage. It's not as if the 2001 incident was caused by the first ever foam strike. This was in New Scientist magazine the week after Columbia was lost:

    "DURING Columbia's lift-off from the Kennedy Space Center launch pad, debris from the huge external fuel tank was seen falling off and striking the fragile thermal protection tiles on the underside of the craft. While the shuttle was in orbit, teams of engineers scrambled to analyse the launch video, and turned cameras on military spy satellites to photograph the shuttle's underside and assess the damage. Others analysed its potential effects, with inconclusive results.

    Sounds familiar? The landing came two days later, on 14 April 1981. During the shuttle's fiery re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, observers on the ground and the astronauts themselves were hoping and praying for the best, but fearing the worst. It was the maiden voyage of the space shuttle, and it returned to Earth safely. When its commander, John Young - NASA's most experienced astronaut, who had walked on the Moon and is the very epitome of the fearless, gruff, reserved American with the "right stuff" - stepped out of the orbiter, he was smiling exuberantly. He trotted down the steps, and after exchanging a few greetings headed back under the shuttle and spent a long time gazing up at its shiny, black-tiled surface. He looked surprised to be alive."

    (From a great article at the NS website).

    They'll have plenty of historic evidence to compare this tear to, even if they don't want to go public on it. I imagine there are plenty of NASA ground crew with hair-raising tales about damage found to the craft upon post-landing inspection.

    I'd also expect that if they lost another craft, that's it, game over. No more shuttles will fly - and since that's the main reason for NASA to keep going right now, you'd hope they'd take it seriously.

    They'll never get rid of the foam-strike problem - it's inherent in a design where the orbiter is carried below the tank. Every mission until retirement will face the "repair or not repair" question. They were "lucky" it took as many as 100-odd missions for the problem to become catastrophic.

  19. Morely Dotes

    @ Rob & Kurt

    "At the end of the day if they make a mess they can point the shuttle into deep space and send it off."

    Well, actually, no. The orbiter doesn't carry enough fuel to leave low orbit, other than a deorbit retrograde burn. It could be tethered to the ISS, I suppose, but if it's rated unsafe for reentry, it becomes a permanent fixture in that general neighborhood.

    "There's enough riding on this decision that I think we can count on the big brains at NASA to make the best decision possible."

    Yes, we've seen what trusting those "big brains" leads to. This is not the era of Apollo 13; this is the era of Challenger and Columbia.

  20. Silas Humphreys

    "If it ain't broken, don't fix it"

    There's the problem. It IS broken.

    "So, guys, there's this hole smashed into your heat shield. It goes right through. It's OK, though, we've played with our computers a bit and we're reasonably sure you won't die too much, so we're not going to have you fix it, even though we figured out a way of doing a quick get-you-home fix over twenty years ago."

    Risk is inevitable in space travel. That doesn't mean there's any call to go screaming "Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!" to Murphy...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Think about the risks of attempting a repair.

    I find it rather amusing how many Reg commenters think they know better than the (quite literally) rocket scientists at NASA. I'm not surprised they elected not to repair the gouge. Think about it:

    Repairing the damage requires a spacewalk and spacewalks are inherently risky. The safety margins are razor thin - and that's compared to the already thin margins involved in any kind of space travel. Add to that the fact that this would be an unplanned and therefore unpracticed spacewalk and the likelihood of an accident just goes up higher.

    Assuming NASA did decide to try the repair, how would the astronaut actually do it? I don't think the shuttle's robotic arm (they did bring it along on this mission, didn't they?) is flexible enough to position the astronaut over the damaged area. If it isn't, then how does the astronaut even get to the spot to perform the repair? There's no hand-holds on the outside of the shuttle; no place to hook a safety tether; no place for the astronaut to anchor himself (herself?) so he isn't constantly floating away from the spot. Maybe he could use suction cups, but I suspect that would risk tearing off entire tiles. I rather suspect that an astronaut crawling around on the shuttle in an extremely bulky spacesuit is likely to cause far more damage than he fixes.

    The only way I can see it happening would be for the astronaut to anchor himself to some exposed part of the space station and have the shuttle maneuver up to within arm's reach. That sounds like a pretty dicey maneuver with plenty of possibilities for further damage to the shuttle, plus damage to the space station and a squashed astronaut.

    In the end, any repair attempt would have been risky for the astronaut and could have resulted in even more serious damage to the shuttle. The shuttle can make it back safely the way it is, so bring it home and repair it on the ground. (Actually, they'd repair it while it was hanging in the VAB, but compared to orbit, that's pretty close to the ground. :)

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re "If it ain't broken, don't fix it"

    "There's the problem. It IS broken."

    Not badly enough to need repair. The hole (that hasn't quite reached the aluminium hull) is 1" x 0.2".

    The Shuttles have always suffered from tile damage and landed undamaged. This landing will be no different.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "normalization of deviance."

    NASA does not need to be de-funded.

    Criminal penalties need to be doled out for those who make criminal decisions. If Linda Ham decided not to let the DoD imagers examine the Columbia against the advice of the engineers fine. Then let here stand trial for seven counts of criminally negligent homicide. Failure to take responsibility for one's actions occurs when one is never held accountable for one's actions. Fining a business for the criminal (or criminally stupid) actions of individuals encourages disaster -- disasters that others must pay for. It the world more financially secure now that Arthur Andersen is no more and thousands of skilled and ethical workers were dismissed? No.

    And, yes, I am an engineer with intimate knowledge of the situation.

  24. Alan Donaly

    Im sure it will be all right

    Nothing to worry about I am sure it's OK

    really well actually it's going to kill you either

    way it may as well be on time.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re Think about the risks of attempting a repair.

    They have a 50 foot extension for the 50 foot robot arm. Quite capable of getting two astronauts to the damaged tile. Still a risky space walk though.

    Suction cups don't work in a vacuum. They need air pressure outside the cup.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Re Think about the risks...

    "Suction cups don't work in a vacuum. They need air pressure outside the cup."

    D'oh!! Ok, I'm stupid. That should have been obvious.

    I hadn't heard about the extension to the arm. Does that make it long enough to position an astronaut over any spot on the belly of the shuttle? Or are there still spots they couldn't get to?

    Also, is it standard practice to always launch with the arm? (It used to be that they didn't bring it on missions where they weren't planning on using it because it was just extra mass.)

  27. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "I am an engineer with intimate knowledge of the situation"

    You're anonymous, which puts your credibility on the issue at a hair's breadth above - well no, actually your credibility is strictly zero.

    As for me, I just hope the crew gets back safely. I agree with those that say that a 2nd burn up would be the death of the Shuttle as well as of the crew, and I agree even more with those who say that the NASA we have today is a far cry from what we had in the Apollo days.

    NASA is extremely security-minded ? In fairy land, I'm sure that's true. Just as Iraq had WMDs.

    NASA is run by beancounters nowadays, that and political, career-minded rats. Not scientists. Scientists would ensure that there is a 100% efficient method to repair tile damage and use it when necessary. I cannot think that Scientists would play dice with the lives of even one person.

    But NASA is not run by scientists these days. The Challenger event has proven beyond doubt that scientists - having given the warnings and protested during meetings - were simply ignored by the ruling class. We saw the result of that.

    I just hope we won't see it again.

  28. Mark Roome

    In space ...

    Isn't there another teacher on this trip? A replacement for the last one? I could be mistaken though.

    In space, no-one can hear you scream!

    Sapce-suit~ Air-lock~

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