Science and Space

Shuttle roundup. NASA has issued the following release on the Space Shuttle Discovery foam incident:
RELEASE: 05-207

Statement on Foam Shedding From External Tank

NASA engineers are evaluating the loss of a large piece of insulation foam from the Space Shuttle Discovery’s external fuel tank during Tuesday's launch. Based on initial assessments, the foam -- which appears to measure approximately 24 to 33 inches long, 10 to 13 inches wide and 2-1/2 to 8 inches thick -- was seen by high-resolution camera equipment added to the Shuttle system after the loss of Columbia in 2003. The accident was caused by foam from the external tank hitting the orbiter during launch.

There was no indication the piece of foam sighted Tuesday caused any damage to Discovery. The Shuttle will undergo further inspection beginning Thursday to check for any significant damage to the orbiter.

"As with any unexpected occurrence, we will closely and thoroughly evaluate this event and make any needed modifications to the Shuttle before we launch again," NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said. "This is a test flight. Among the things we are testing are the integrity of the foam insulation and the performance of new camera equipment installed to detect problems. The cameras worked well. The foam did not.”

Discovery’s seven crew members are being updated with the latest ground team analysis of the foam loss and are continuing to take part in the inspection process.

Tariq Malik at Space.com writes: 'NASA officials have grounded the agency's remaining space shuttles after the Discovery orbiter's external tank shed chunks of foam, including one piece more than 2 feet long. The problem is similar to what occurred in the disastrous Columbia flight in 2003 and was thought to have been fixed. Space shuttle officials said that while there is currently no indication the foam contacted the Discovery orbiter, the incident should not have happened in the first place and is reason enough to put a hold on future flights. Images taken of the external tank in orbit identified the foam separation, and also detailed additional areas where the material pulled loose from its tank, they said. "Until we've fixed this, we're not ready to fly," said Bill Parsons, NASA's space shuttle program manager, during a press briefing here at Johnson Space Center. "You could say that we're grounded." ... he foam shed during Discovery's Tuesday launch originated on a protuberance air load (PAL) ramp that juts out from the orange external tank and protects vital cables, wiring and pressure lines running along its length. Current estimates place it between 24 and 33 inches long at its longest point and up to 8 inches wide.' NASA's two remaining shuttles, Atlantis and Endeavour, will not be flown until engineers fully understand and fix the problem, according to officials.

An AP article by Marcia Dunn (you can tell it's AP by the word "pessimistic" in the headline) reports:
NASA may never be able to prevent threatening chunks of insulation foam from breaking off the shuttle's fuel tank during launch, the agency's chief said Thursday, a day after future flights were ordered grounded because of the problem during Discovery's liftoff.

"We are trying to get it down to the level that cannot damage the orbiter,'' NASA administrator Michael Griffin told NBC's "Today."

"We will never be able to get the amount of debris shed by the tank down to zero," he said.

With Discovery in orbit, NASA grounded all future flights because a large chunk of foam had broken off the external fuel tank in a hauntingly similar fashion to Columbia's doomed mission. This time, NASA believes the foam missed the spacecraft, although it's being closely inspected.

"Everything that we see at this point says that the orbiter is in fact a clean bird," Griffin told ABC's "Good Morning America'' on Thursday shortly after the shuttle did a somersault maneuver to allow the crew on the international space station to photograph the shuttle's belly for signs of damage. Discovery later docked at station to deliver long-awaited supplies.

Griffin stressed in a statement late Wednesday that the current mission was a test flight and ``among the things we are testing are the integrity of the foam insulation and the performance of new camera equipment installed to detect problems."

"The cameras worked well. The foam did not," he said. ...

No new posts from Rand Simberg, but I'll keep an eye out.

On the air, in the air, into space. On a somewhat more upbeat note, Kuwaiti Girl posts some pictures of her radio rig and a story on Kuwait's first woman pilot, 19-year-old Munirah Mohammad Buruki. Also thanks to Maryam for the link to this blog by aspiring astronaut Damaris B. Sarria of Florida. The 23-year-old woman holds a degree in Aerospace Engineering from Texas A&M, has held a string of space-related jobs, and currently works for Boeing at the Kennedy Space Center. Go pay her a visit.

Of spacecraft and art museums. Some rules can't be broken. On "The L Word" (Season 1, Episode 12), Bette, the art museum director, asks the cute butch contractor Candace for an estimate on some remodeling. When Bette is taken aback by the quote, Candace draws a triangular diagram with its three sides labeled fast - good - cheap. She then imparts the following wisdom to Bette: "You can have any two of the three in combination, but you can never have all three together."

If NASA under Administrator Goldin had hired Candace as a consultant, she could have explained the self-evident folly of the slogan "faster, better, cheaper" - but it's doubtful that anyone would have listened. It took the disastrous consequences of that approach to shake things up. Let's hope that the current leadership understand that the laws of economics, like the laws of physics, are unforgiving. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.