RE: OT: The Columbia

Subject: RE: OT: The Columbia
From: JB Foster <jb -dot- foster -at- shaw -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 03 Feb 2003 15:06:07 -0700

I'm not surprised there was a possible failure in one of the wheel housings,
or it's cover. Considering these shuttles are getting old, and the launches
have become rather frequent. Also, there is a tendency - when you repeatedly
expose a plane, or shuttle, to extreme stress - that the chances of a
catastrophic failure will increase. There will always be stress-fractures
present ... the trick is knowing which one will quickly fail. That also goes
for everything else on the underside, that's re-used with the next launch.

Many an airplane design has failed while landing, or taking off. The only
way engineers (for the airlines, manufactures, and FAA) learn about
problems, is after a crash. Previous to any incident - there is no 'real
way' to determine what work could be done in advance, to prevent a possible
failure from happening (even computer models can't help at the moment).

Unfortunately, budget cuts to NASA, has meant flying older equipment,
longer; and taking some risks. The aviation industry has gone a similar
route with regards to balancing safety w.r.t. cost. Many planes fly
well-past their 'best-before' dates. What keeps them in the skies, is
experience (not knowledge) with known weaknesses in the airframe, and proper
maintenance procedures as they get older. Often, the only way to learn about
engineering problems, - sad to say - is through experience.

Maybe another question, considering the aging fleet: is whether that
particular mission was really necessary. The usefulness of the experiment's
on-board, have come into question. Also, NASA has desperately found uses for
the shuttles, because of fears that the entire fleet might be grounded by
budget-cuts. Add to this, the corporate-world having stayed clear of the
intended use of the shuttle ... because satellite-delivery systems using
rockets - is far cheaper.

Unfortunately, the current shuttles were designed for a purpose no longer
needed. With this recent loss, maybe it's time NASA re-thought the shuttle's
use ... and if some of these missions are actually worth risking lives.
Also, maybe this accident will force congress to look at a new fleet. One
that is redesigned as smaller, more cost effective, ISS material-carrying


> The NASA guy in the press conference said that:
> a) The Columbia mission was not prepped or trained for a spacewalk.
> b) Even if they were, the astronauts have no ability to swing around
> the bottom of the shuttle and examine its underside. (Spacewalks are
> largely confined to the area surrounding the payload bay, which on
> this flight didn't even contain the robot arm.)
> c) Even if they could do a "walk-around", there are no existing
> procedures for repairing tiles while in space.


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Re: OT: The Columbia: From: Bonnie Granat

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