Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The ecoweenies missed one

Liftoff: Discovery soars on July 4th:
Fla. - NASA gave the shuttle Discovery a majestic Fourth of July send-off and said early signs showed the spacecraft to be in good shape, despite once again being struck by the flying foam that has plagued the program.
Shuttle managers said early video images of liftoff showing small pieces of foam breaking away — and one even striking the spacecraft — were not troubling.
Discovery thundered away from its seaside pad at 2:38 p.m EDT.

About three minutes later, as many as five pieces of debris were seen flying off the tank, and another piece of foam popped off a bit later, Mission Control told the crew. The latter piece seemed to strike the belly of Discovery, but NASA assured the seven astronauts it was no concern because of the timing.

Shuttle program manager Wayne Hale said Discovery was so high when the pieces came off that there wasn't enough air to accelerate the foam into the shuttle and cause damage.
It was unclear for a while Monday whether Discovery would fly at all.

A slice of foam, not much bigger than a crust of bread, fell off an expansion joint on the external fuel tank as the spacecraft sat on the launch pad. Shuttle managers concluded Monday night after intensive engineering analysis that the remaining foam on that part of the tank was solid.

Engineers said the piece — 3 inches long and just one-tenth of an ounce — was too small to pose a threat even if it had come off during launch and smacked the shuttle. Inspectors devised a long pole with a camera to inspect the joint and found no evidence of further damage. NASA also made sure there was no excessive ice buildup at that spot Tuesday.
NASA's chief engineer and top-ranking safety official objected two weeks ago to the 12-day mission without eliminating lingering dangers from foam loss, considered probable and potentially catastrophic.
In its flight last July, Discovery experienced dangerous foam loss, though the chunk was smaller than one that slammed into Columbia's left wing, and it missed Discovery altogether.

Just like a year ago, more than 100 cameras and radar were trained on Discovery at liftoff to spot any foam shedding. The intensive picture-taking continued with on-board cameras and the astronauts snapping zoom-in shots upon reaching orbit.

NASA figures it will be nearly a week before it can decisively say whether any debris hit Discovery during launch.

Last July, cameras caught a 1-pound chunk two minutes after liftoff, despite extensive repairs that came after the Columbia disaster killed seven astronauts in 2003. The big piece of foam came off an area untouched in the wake of the tragedy. Smaller pieces popped off other parts of the 154-foot tank.

Over the past year, NASA has removed foam from the location of last year's largest foam loss, saying it represented the biggest aerodynamic change to the shuttle in 25 years of flight. Engineers deemed the foam there unnecessary.
Conveniently unmentioned is the fact that the foam didn't use to be a problem until the ecoweenies made NASA switch to an "environmentally friendly" substitute for the stuff that worked. No word on "astronaut friendly."