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Thursday, July 28, 2005


The Shuttle launches:

"Take note of what you saw here - the power, the majesty of the launch, but also the competence and professionalism, the sheer gall and the pluck, the great work of this team that pulled this programme out of the depths of despair two and a half years ago and made it fly," - Dr Mike Griffin

Story in full AFTER two-and-a-half years of soul-searching and safety makeovers, NASA's manned space programme was finally back on track last night as the shuttle Discovery thundered into orbit at 17,400mph
You would think from the coverage,& the Scotsman is actually comparatively restrained, that the US is actually going somewhere in space. They are now demonstrating their ability to reach orbit - little more than that - something they first did over 40 years ago Indeed 36 years ago they landed on the moon - there is absolutely zero possibility that they will be able to do so again on the 40th anniversary of that event.

All that has happened is that a politically demanded launch has been made (by overriding their own safety rules) of a shuttle that was designed at the start of the 70s & due to budget stretching, first flew in 1980. In fact, due to various compromises made, mainly with the military, the shuttle was NEVER a cheap & easy way to orbit - Apollo is & was cheaper per kilo. They should now be on their 3rd generation of shuttle - we are talking about a time gap, & what could have been a technology improvement, similar to the difference between the biplane Bleriot first flew the channel in (1910) & the Superfortress that dropped the bomb (1945). Instead we still have the equivalent of an old biplane held together by sticky tape after each flight.

This has been brought about by NASA's culture of spending their time designing projects which will be politically acceptable & even more by their government's demanding this & insisting on politicians, who have no technical knowledge, having a veto on everything. The International Space Station named "Freedom" is just such a political goal - fundable but of little unearthly use. Part of the political problem is also the risk averse behaviour defined by the "precautionary principle" unofficially defined as - many things should be done but nothing should ever be done for the first time. The shuttle is a perfect example of why this fails even in its own safety predominant terms - had shuttles been improved as aircraft were they would now be much safer.

The way to do it is to give Dan Goldin (NASA's previous boss) or better yet Burt Rutan $10 billion & not to phone back till they are phoning from the Moon. The even better way to do it is to set up an X-PRIZE which would allow either gentleman to keep the balance if it cost less - something which, as I have commented elsewhere, could also be done by us.

Meanwhile China has the same capacity as the US (1 launch recently) & Russia has much more & with the Russian economy booming may soon be able to afford some surprises.

Assuming we don't have some Kyoto style treaty outlawing progress somebody is going to go to the stars, or at least the asteroids, but on present showing they won't be speaking English.

I spotted this on
"according to Alex Gimarc, who would know, environmental concerns caused NASA to switch away from CFC-based foam for the ET in 1995. The substitute foam started flying in 1996, around the same time as debris hits on Shuttle tiles went up by a factor of 10. An industrial adhesives chemist friend tells me yes, water blown foams have a tendency to be a bit more rigid and friable than the CFC based ones. He adds that if you do the foam app wrong, you get a high probability of interlaminar misbonding which can, in turn, be peeled apart by thermal stress, cryopumping, and/or acoustical vibration.

Were I running the program, I'd be in the White house right now telling them give us environmental waivers and we'll fly in three months" Henry Vanderbilt

If so then NASA not working with the proportionate technology of Bleriot they are actually using worse because it is more PC.
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