The 7 members of the Shuttle Columbia crew lost their lives because of a needless environmental law. Read these cuts from today’s report carefully:
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) – The foam that struck the space shuttle Columbia soon after liftoff — resulting in the deaths of seven astronauts — was defective, the result of applying insulation to the shuttle’s external fuel tank, NASA said on Friday. …
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. It gouged a large hole in Columbia’s left wing. …
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 (1.9 million liters) 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.…
NASA has made extensive changes in the foam-application process, but still has tests and perhaps more procedural changes before the tanks can be certified for flight.
“It was not the fault of the guys on the floor; they were just doing the process we gave them,” Otte said. “I agree with the (accident investigation board) that we did not have a real understanding of the process. Our process for putting foam on was giving us a product different than what we certified.”
This report is devastating when you know the rest of the story.
Foam falling off the tank is nothing new. It was first documented in 1981. But it greatly increased in 1997. You see, in 1997 NASA was forced by environmental regulations to use a different method to apply the foam to the tank. The old method used Freon and we all know the environmentalists consider it the worst substance ever created. (except maybe DDT) So NASA was forced to use a different method than the engineers had originally called for.
Following the change, the November 1997 mission had 308 ceramic tiles damaged. The usual number was 40. Since that time NASA has tried to improve the method of applying foam but it has not been easy. Indeed, Lockheed’s Charles Martin said at Tulane University that compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on the space shuttle project was “much more difficult than anticipated.”
Rather than making the shuttle as safe as possible we made it as politically correct as possible. That cost 7 astronauts their lives– not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars.
While there are many reasons for NASA to gloss over the Freon connection, the most obvious is that NASA probably could have gotten a waiver to the rule if they tried. Of course the environmentalists would have gone nuts and they represent a large hunk of NASA’s supporters.
Worst of all, Congress banned freon having no idea what it really does in the atmosphere. Many people have theories but we have no proof it attacks ozone at all. (and anyone telling you they know what freon does in the atmosphere is lying to you) Even if we knew that it attacked Ozone we still don’t know what that means in real terms. It’s all conjecture, but we banned it anyway.
Congress routinely bans things because they MIGHT hurt the environment while paying little or no attention to the obvious benefits of the product– even if that benefit is millions of lives saved.
DDT, which was also banned based on poor science, is now coming back because banning it caused millions of people to die from malaria.
As long as we make policy based on environmental mythology rather than science, people will continue to die. We can add the names’ of the 7 Columbia astronauts to that list.
UPDATE: Below the fold
UPDATE: Maybe before people comment people should read this. Google really is easy to use…
MIAMI – NASA engineers have known for at least five years that insulating foam could peel off the space shuttle’s external fuel tanks and damage the vital heat-protecting tiles that the space agency says were the likely “root cause” of Saturday’s shuttle disaster.
The Jan. 16 launch wasn’t the first time that Columbia’s fragile tiles were pummeled by chunks of foam. It happened on the spacecraft’s first launch, and again, more severely, in 1997.
NASA and other researchers have been studying the problem of foam “shedding” from the shuttle’s giant external fuel tanks for years, but the space agency’s managers never considered the problem a serious threat to flight safety before Saturday’s catastrophe.
The shuttle’s towering tanks are covered with sprayed-on insulation that’s designed to keep their super-cooled nitrogen and oxygen fuels at the necessary temperature.
Engineers typically find some damage to the orbiter’s 24,000 ceramic tiles after missions, averaging about 40 “hits.” The tiles lining the craft’s belly can withstand searing 2,300-degree heat during re-entry, but they are relatively fragile and easily damaged by flying debris or by ice chunks that form on the fuel tanks.
1997 flight had 308 hits
NASA engineers who examined Columbia after a 1997 flight found 308 hits, according to a Dec. 23, 1997, report by NASA engineer Greg Katnik, a mechanical systems engineer at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., whose team is responsible for the shuttle’s external fuel tank, thermal protection shielding and other critical systems.
An investigation traced much of the damage to a “massive material loss on the side of the external tank,” Katnik wrote in an article in “Space Team Online” that was reprinted on a space-related Web site.
Katnik called the damage “significant” — 132 hits were larger than an inch in diameter, and some slashes were as long as 15 inches. More critically, some penetrated three- quarters of the way into the two-inch deep tiles, close to the orbiter’s aluminum skin, which can burn at only 350 degrees.
In all, more than 100 tiles had to be replaced.
“Foam cause damage to a ceramic tile?!,” Katnik wrote. “That seems unlikely, however, when that foam is combined with a flight velocity between speeds of Mach 2 to Mach 4, it becomes a projectile with incredible damage potential.”
Investigators are now examining the issue as they try to understand why Columbia disintegrated more than 200,000 feet over Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
During the Jan. 16 launch, cameras recorded a fragment of insulating foam from an external fuel tank nicking Columbia’s left wing. NASA staff and experts studied the event but concluded that it did not threaten the lives of the astronauts aboard Columbia.
Yet with the shuttle just minutes from Florida, the orbiter exploded.
While NASA stressed that it has not reached any definitive conclusions, the agency now says that nearly three pounds of hurtling insulation may have shattered the protective tiles.
“We’re making the assumption that the external tank was the root cause of the accident,” said Ron Dittemore, the shuttle’s program manager.
In his 1997 report, Katnik noted that the 1997 mission, STS-87, was the first to use a new method of “foaming” the tanks, one designed to address NASA’s goal of using environmentally friendly products. The shift came as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was ordering many industries to phase out the use of Freon, an aerosol propellant linked to ozone depletion and global warming.
As recently as last September, a retired engineering manager for Lockheed Martin, the contractor that assembles the tanks, told a conference in New Orleans that developing a new foam to meet environmental standards had “been much more difficult than anticipated.”
The retired Lockheed engineer, who helped design the thermal protection system, said the switch from a foam based on Freon — also known as CFC-11 — has “resulted in unanticipated program impacts, such as foam loss during flight.”
In fact, he noted, the hits to Columbia on that 1997 mission, the same one Katnik studied, forced NASA to replace nearly 11 times more damaged tiles than it had after a previous mission that had used Freon-based foam.
NOTE: I wrote most of the bottom part just 2 days after the shuttle crashed, well before all this was confirmed. I did not save the hyperlinks back then but the original sources were:
Hampton Roads Daily Press,