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SCI/TECH: NASA Identifies Foam Flaw That Killed Astronauts

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posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 06:18 PM
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The piece of foam that took the lives of seven astronauts, was found to be defective, the result of applying insulation to the shuttle's external fuel tank, NASA said on Friday. This accident was left open, since none of the foam or the fuel tank could be recovered for study.
 



www.reuters.com
A suitcase-sized chunk of foam from an area of the tank known as the left bipod, one of three areas where struts secure the orbiter to the fuel tank during liftoff, broke off 61 seconds into the flight on Jan. 16 of last year. It gouged a large hole in Columbia's left wing.

The damage went undetected during the shuttle's 16-day mission, but caused the nation's oldest spacecraft to break apart under the stress of re-entering the Earth's atmosphere on Feb. 1, killing the astronauts.

"We now believe, with the testing that we've done, that defects certainly played a major part in the loss. We are convinced of that," said Neil Otte, chief engineer for the external tanks project. He spoke at the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the half-million pieces of every shuttle fuel tank come together.

The fault apparently was not with the chemical makeup of the foam, which insulates the tanks and prevents ice from forming on the outside when 500,000 gallons of supercold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen are pumped aboard hours before liftoff.

Instead, Otte said NASA concluded after extensive testing that the process of applying some sections of foam by hand with spray guns was at fault.

Gaps, or voids, were often left, and tests done since the Columbia accident have shown liquid hydrogen could seep into those voids. After launch, the gas inside the voids starts to heat up and expand, causing large pieces of insulation to pop off.


Please visit the link provided for the complete story.


This happened on nearly 60% of all launches! The piece of foam the caused this weighed only 1.67 pounds (0.75 kg), but at the speed involved, it hit the orbiter with enough force to shatter the reinforced carbon-carbon panels of the wing's leading edge.

NASA has made several changes to the foam-application process and still has alot of tests to certify the tanks for flight.

New regulation have said that pieces of foam weighing only half an ounce are allowed to pop of during the first 135 seconds of flight. Obviously ALOT safer!


[edit on 8-13-2004 by Valhall]




posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 06:34 PM
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Now, I realize that liquid hydrogen is a very small molecule and that it is difficult to leakproof a tank filled with the stuff, but still. As I read this, the foam was applied to the outside of the tanks and the liquid hydrogen got between the tank wall and the foam. Is this correct?

[edit on 13-8-2004 by HowardRoark]



posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 08:20 PM
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How much did this commission spend to come to this conclution that most people accepted months ago? This is at the center of the culture of waste and micro management at NASA. I realize there is a weight issue, but why can't the sandwich the foam between aluminum or something?



posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 08:24 PM
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How soon will this be fixed? Sounds like shuttles will be grounded for quite a while still....



posted on Aug, 13 2004 @ 11:40 PM
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Originally posted by HowardRoark
Now, I realize that liquid hydrogen is a very small molecule and that it is difficult to leakproof a tank filled with the stuff, but still. As I read this, the foam was applied to the outside of the tanks and the liquid hydrogen got between the tank wall and the foam. Is this correct?

[edit on 13-8-2004 by HowardRoark]


Most likely what they are referring to is out-gassing that occurs during the transfer of liquid hydrogen into the tank...i.e. you get some measure of gaseous hydrogen out-gassing during transfer and apparently they're saying it could permeate between the hand-laid layers of the foam insulation. At least, that's my read on it.


Originally posted by FredT
How much did this commission spend to come to this conclution that most people accepted months ago? This is at the center of the culture of waste and micro management at NASA.



Actually, the rest of us made an educated guess based on the obvious, while this commission researched the issue and came back with an answer (that happened to coincide with our educated guess) based on facts.

If I were the next shuttle astronaut, I would much rather have the commissions fact-based deduction than your educated guess...sorry, but this is not waste, this is prudence.



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