Saturday, August 18, 2007


It is a testament to the horrendous state of science education in this country if people start coming to me for NASA analysis, but here you go: Endeavour and her "troubling gash" are fine. If I had to lay money on a safe return with the astronauts coming home with the vehicle in this condition, I would slap five bucks down at the betting window and order me something alcoholic and tropical.

The ding that external tank foam left on the underbelly of Endeavour is nothing different from what orbiters have been bringing home with them for twenty-five years. Why, then, did we lose Columbia? Because Columbia had a hole in her wing. The size of a suitcase. In an area which bears the brunt of the re-entry furnace. And we didn't even see it.

Endeavour's gash is far more happily placed; although the bottom of the orbiter does get rather warm, there's about a 2000 degree differential from the place where the gash is and the part of the orbiter which, due to the positioning of the orbiter and the friction of the atmosphere, becomes the hottest. Allow me to assure you that images of said gash have been zoomed upon and emailed and poured over by more men with pocket protectors than Tivo-pulled pictures of Janet Jackson's nipple.

What's at play here is balancing the risks of re-entering with the gash and making an emergency spacewalk to complete the repairs. We are, sadly, in the same frame of mind concerning spacewalks as we were twenty-one years ago for launches and five years ago for landings: That these extraordinary feats, blessedly undertaken without major incident so many times, are safe. To suit up an astronaut, stick him on the end of the Canada Arm, and position him underneath the orbiter, where he stands the risk of accidentally hitting the tiles and creating further, far more serious damage is potentially disastrous. You do realize, don't you, that all that stands between an extravehicular astronaut and the absolute vacuum of space is about three inches of fiberglass? Better to allow the very able TPS teams at Kennedy Space Center to repair the scrape in the comfort and safety of full gravity, as they have for a quarter century now.

I won't guarantee that the crew will come home safely. I can't. Because it's spaceflight. But I hereby place this decision in NASA's Folder of Good Calls.

On a horribly related note, yesterday I glanced up at the television to see a movie commercial, the CGI-flaming shuttle bits of which left me open-mouthed in its brutishness. Bite me, The Invasion. And thanks for today's very early morning nightmare trigger.

closing the cargo bay doors at:


Laura in Virginia said...

completely unrelated to the post, but: I got your thank you note today, and the first thing I noticed was that not only do I drive by your husband's work on a fairly frequent basis, I have also driven by your HOUSE before too (though I think it was before you actually lived there), because although I technically live more than an hour away before traffic is factored in (sometimes--sometimes I just stay with my parents), I often work up near you.

Anyway, long story short, thanks for the thank you note! It was a pleasant surprise :)

Anonymous said...

Oh how fun-- thanks for letting me know the thank you notes are successfully deployed :) What you've got there on the envelope is an office address, but be sure to wave next time you trot by.

folicacid400 said...

I'm the only person I know who worries like an astro-mommy from the moment the space shuttle lifts off to the complete stop of the return landing. Thanks for showing you also care about these pioneers, MB. I agree that "The Invasion" is beyond tasteless in the timing of it's release.

Ellie in Delaware

red pill junkie said...

"Allow me to assure you that images of said gash have been zoomed upon and emailed and poured over by more men with pocket protectors than Tivo-pulled pictures of Janet Jackson's nipple."

Well, even for me, a straight guy, I think the sight of Endeavour's gash is far more enticing that Janet's goth nipple ring!!!

You have to consider that, were not for the threat of Dean (almost class 5 and entering Yucatan Peninsula while I write this), NASA would probably consider it safer for the astronausts to conduct some repairs before re-entry.

Anonymous said...

Dean is a totally separate issue and has nothing to do with the gash. They weighed the dangers of a spacewalk against the dangers of leaving the tiles as-is, and decided to leave it as-is.

AlaskaMe said...

That was an extremely entertaining post and informative as well. I use to want to join the space program but since in my old age I have developed major motion sickness - like to the point I would rather drive all my friends anywhere then ride - it was probably for the best that I did not assult my stomach with space flight.

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