Wednesday, December 31, 2008

File under: "No, really?"

NASA has released the report on Columbia's final minutes. Among the grim factoids was a priceless bit of bureaucracyspeak:
"the breakup of the crew module ... was not survivable by any currently existing capability."
Really? You mean sitting in a little metal box that breaks apart at ten thousand miles per hour thirty-eight miles above the ground is unsurvivable? Who knew? There oughta be a law!

16 comments:

Jeffro said...

The report also found that while crew members were wearing their pressurized suits, one astronaut did not have on a helmet, three were not wearing gloves and none lowered the visors before the module lost cabin pressure. One astronaut also was not seated.

And that made a difference how??

Tam said...

Their death was mercifully quick instead of drawn-out and screaming?

Justin Buist said...

You mean sitting in a little metal box that breaks apart at ten thousand miles per hour thirty-eight miles above the ground is unsurvivable? Who knew?

I read that, remember that Kittinger jumped from an insane height, thinking it was 110km, Googled it and it was 22km, then looked up re-entry speed of a shuttle which isn't 10,000mph, it's 16,000mph.

I came here to say, "Maybe, kinda, if they had a plan in place." but after 60 seconds of research I agree. You're fucking screwed. Ain't no way out of that shit.

Anonymous said...

"the breakup of the crew module ... was not survivable by any currently existing capability in 1972, when we designed it."

FIFY.

Cybrludite said...

Anon,

Even with today's technology, I'm pretty sure we don't have anything which will save you if your ride comes apart while doing over Mach 24 at about 200,000 feet ASL.

IZinterrogator said...

I'm pretty sure Han Solo would have bought it in those conditions while he was in his carbonite coffin. You're not making it through re-entry with any kind of individual equipment short of a Mercury capsule, even if they did it once on G.I. Joe.

Dr. StrangeGun said...

I'd need to read it again, but I'm pretty sure the report said that the crew cabin didn't separate and de-pressurize until somewhere between 100,000 and 60,000 feet. By then it's not screaming along nearly so fast.

docjim505 said...

Tam - Really? You mean sitting in a little metal box that breaks apart at ten thousand miles per hour thirty-eight miles above the ground is unsurvivable? Who knew? There oughta be a law!

Here's the problem: though you know, I know, and anybody with half a brain knows that the astronauts had no chance under those conditions, we are unfortunately outnumbered by those who "know" that the Columbia's crew would have survived had NASA put the right gee-whiz-Buck-Rogers gizmos in the shuttle so they could have parachuted to safety.

It's sort of like Katrina, 9-11 and many other disasters: ignorant people think that the gubmint has all these Jack Bauer super-geniuses on the payroll whose efforts to Save Us All (TM) are thwarted by idiot bureaucrats and politicians and their eeeeevil corporate masters. NASA is merely trying to stop Michael Moron making Bowling for Columbia 9-11 in which he will PROVE that George Bush PERSONALLY ordered NASA to remove the emergency transporters from the Columbia's cockpit so that the astronauts couldn't escape after Dick Cheney poured Alien blood acid on the engines to make them blow up to give Halliburton an excuse to invade Mars.

If I was inclined to mischief, it would be interesting to dummy up a conspiracy story about the Columbia, float it at Kos or DU, and see how long it would take to catch on. Think how easy it would be to find the name of some NASA engineer who worked with the shuttle program who died (under mysterious circumstances!) shortly after the accident and then make up some official-looking reports with his name on them complaining of political pressure "from the very top" to remove safety systems from the Columbia that could save the crew in the event of an accident during reentry. The nutroots and MSM would do the rest.

Mark said...

docjim505, that was more'n a little funny.

Though regarding the last seconds of the astronauts aboard Columbia, in Mike Mullane's "Riding Rockets", he mentions part of the Challenger investigation that indicated crewmembers on that bird retained consciousness for some time after the ship blew, and their onboard consumption figured indicated that most people were alive if not conscious until the flight deck module hit the sea. I'm quoting from memory here, but that's the gist of it.

I had to pour myself a stiff double after reading that the first time.

So yeah, quick and merciful would be good.

rickn8or said...

Sure, you can engineer in safety to the point where Columbia or Challenger would have been survivable, IF you don't mind reducing the mission payload to 4 oz.

Once the SRB's light off, these people are spam in a can, and they know it.

Blackwing1 said...

I seem to recall from the early 1970's that the initial design studies for the "reusable" space shuttle was that they were going to use a titanium sheath (suitable for temperatures up to 1800F) for the affected areas of the re-entry vehicle. It was rejected due to total cycle cost, because they thought the tile system would last longer than single-missions.

As it turns out, they're replacing almost all of the tiles after every mission anyway, so a titanium-skinned vehicle would have ended up safer and cheaper than the tile system is now.

In engineering, everything is a compromise, and a "perfect" design can exist only given a choice as to what is being optimized. To put it in simple terms, "You can have it Good, Fast, and Cheap...pick any two out of three." On the othe hand, given that it was the dot-gov doing it, we ended up with "Bad, Slow, and Expensive".

David said...

We already have laws to cover this sort of stuff - laws of thermodynamics, laws of motion and momentum, laws of gravity and attaction, etc.

Oh and that little stuff called common sense. But since there is no law requiring us to use it many folks seldom do.

Everyone seems to believe that NASA is the cutting edge of space technology. But their development time is so long that by the time they put a system into use it is old and antiquated. But even if our shuttles had the latest and greatest technologies we have to offer there is no airbag short of carbon freezing (see IZinterrogator's comment above) was going to save them.

John Stephens said...

I've got this mental picture of some cop in a Texas pasture, issuing a citation to a pile of ashes for not wearing a seatbelt.

TBeck said...

One of the news sites had this as a headline: NASA Says Lethal Trauma Caused Astronaut Deaths.

Golly, ya think? I thought about emailing it to Taranto for his News of the Tautological section of the Best of the Web.

Anonymous said...

docjim, that would be a compelling argument if NASA were still made up of terminal nerds and ex-Nazis (an era I like to think of as The Good Old Days). But the national Moonbat-in-Chief is right up there at the top of NASA, and the price they charge for anything should include unicorns. So yes, I'm saying that if your mission is to launch schoolteachers who won a lottery, ex-Senators who keep their medals polished, and other sundry PR ambassadors, you ought to make the crew compartment survivable. The era of steely-eyed rocket men is, regrettably, over--at NASA, anyway. It's a Space Bus--that's what they call it--and it needs airbags.

The plant that made the tiles is just down the road from me. Not a swinging appendage still works there from the era of that project. They've--ISYN--lost the formula. Flying the shuttle today is liking finding a Gotha bomber under a tarp in a barn and deciding to fly it around the world at 30000 feet without oxygen or parachutes. Or maintenance.

The re-entry heat shields on Mercury capsules were made of oak and sintered cork.

The shuttle is not, and never was, a space ship. It's a recyclable spam can. We have to stop thinking in terms of hurled trajectories and start building craft that can fly into space and fly back down. IIRC there were eight men who actually earned the astronaut badge with wings attached. Don't say it can't be done.

docjim505 said...

Anonymous - IIRC there were eight men who actually earned the astronaut badge with wings attached.

Yeah, I often wonder what might have been had Ike left the space program in the Air Force where it belonged. I think we can say that, at the very least, James Hansen would be a babbling, smelly inmate of a mental hospital or Ivy League university instead of a dangerous pest trying to destroy our economy.