Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Physics Doesn't Lie

So says a NASA engineer in this NY Times account of the shuttle debris fiasco. By implication, this (necessarily anonymous) engineer suggests that perhaps humans at NASA were not as honest as the physics: "It's an ugly story. It's a mess." Unfortunately, the lengthy NYT article, which uses 55 words to describe the crew's wake-up music, does not dig much deeper into the "root cause" of this ugly story.

I'm a neuro-conservative, not an engineer (dammit Jim!), so I'll admit right up front that I might be wrong in the speculation that follows. But this story, which has circulated the right blogosphere for a while now, seems conspicuously absent from both the NYT article and NASA's official explanations. As summarized by Paul at Wizbang:

The 7 members of the Shuttle Columbia crew lost their lives because of a needless environmental 1997 NASA was forced by environmental regulations to use a different method to apply the foam to the tank. The old method used Freon...Following the change, the November 1997 mission had 308 ceramic tiles damaged. The usual number was 40.[emph in original]

According to this Reuters account, it was precisely the application of the foam, which caused bubbling (thereby causing weak points that detached as debris), that was at fault in the Columbia disaster.

While it is certainly possible that my understanding of the Columbia report is off, or that something else entirely caused Discovery's current foam problems, doesn't it seem strange that the NASA spokesman states "We'll put our best people on it, and we'll figure out something to do." Representative Sherwood Boehlert is quoted as saying "it's back to the drawing board." And most curiously of all, the intrepid NYT reporter allows these comments to sit there, floating in space if you will, without providing the reader with any of the background cited above.

Is it unspeakable to consider the possibility of returning to freon for the shuttle? How much ozone would be lost? Is it worth the lives of the crew and the costs involved with derailing the entire manned space program? Or is it unthinkable, because, as Michael Crichton has stated, "Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists...It's about whether you are going to be a sinner, or saved. "


Anonymous roman said...

Neuroconservative. Thank you for raising this issue. It is just so frustratingly unbelievable that the space shuttle was not exempted from the freon ban. I wonder how many segments of various industries got their exemptions or extensions and continued to utilize freon at rates that would dwarf the usage on the space shuttle missions. The sad part is the lives lost because of this series of PC decisions.

1:41 PM  

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