About The Shuttle

I’ve beaten this dead horse a dozen times… but in case you’re a new reader, the Space Shuttle scares me. I don’t think we (currently) need to risk people’s lives to explore space. On top of that, much of the mission of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station is worthless.

Yesterday, NASA revealed a little problem with some thermal insulation.

A NASA spokesman said the gap appears to be the result of an unusual fold in the blanket.

“We’ve landed safely with damage (in the same area) that’s similar or worse,” Kyle Herring said. “I don’t think concern is the right word; there’s no urgency with the situation.”

There’s no doubt, this story is being played down in Houston. NASA placed the news halfway through the last of seven paragraphs in today’s press release:

The robotic arm cameras took a closer look at an area of insulation blanket on the port orbital maneuvering system pod that pulled away from adjacent thermal tiles. Engineers are analyzing the imagery. Olivas took additional photographs of the area this morning.

NASA seems assured. The insulation shouldn’t be a problem. This has happened before.

That, of course, is what was said by NASA when a ‘small’ piece of insulation broke off and hit the shuttle during Columbia’s launch. The very same thing had happened before.

Columbia disintegrated as it plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere in preparation for landing. Seven astronauts were killed and the space program put on hold.

I’m not saying NASA’s characterization is wrong. However, they probably know less than they’re letting on.

This insulation protects a surface that ‘only’ warms to around 1,000&#186 Fahrenheit – much less heat than Columbia’s ruptured skin faced. Is it critical to the aerodynamics of the shuttle as it hurtles back toward Earth? Only NASA knows… or, by later today, only NASA will have an educated guess.

With all their detailed checks and rechecks, how the hell could this happen?

The shuttle is extremely complex and inherently dangerous. The more times we fly the fleet, the more problems we’ll face. The shuttle fleet has gotten old. Atlantis (flying now) was delivered in 1985.

It’s been 46 years since Americans first sent a man to space. It’s time the government stepped away. Space exploration demands the kind of creative thinking and agility NASA can no longer provide.

This is not the kind of business government is suited to run.

Explosives Alkalais And Me

Back when I used to host Inside Space on SciFi, we took a trip to Boulder, CO for a series of shows. In one, we went to the atomic clock at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies.

The NIST building is Boulder was jam packed with nerds and geeks – my people. Inside, some scientists are tracking the weather on the Sun, while others are following the orbits of objects which might one day hit the Earth. Who knows what else goes on?

The atomic clock we visited wasn’t really a clock as much as an accurate counter. A small stream of cesium passed by a sensor. Since cesium has a very predictable resonant frequency, it became the calibration source for the counter&#185.

I remember the clock being more plumbing than anything else, with wires exiting at various intervals. Parts of it were wrapped with what looked like, and probably was, thermal insulation. It was definitely a homebrew device.

Dave Brody, our producer, spoke with the clock’s master. Dave wanted to know where we could set up and shoot our video?

The answer was simple. We could do what we wanted, but we had to be very careful. If we bumped the clock, the building would have to be evacuated. Of course, it wouldn’t matter to us. We’d be dead!

We got the point. This scientist was being funny, but also serious. This was one dangerous clock.

I really didn’t know much about cesium, except that it doesn’t like to be alone. When cesium combines with other elements, the reaction is explosive!

At least, that’s what I’d heard. I’d never seen cesium at work until tonight when I ran across the video at the bottom of this entry.

I am now very glad we stayed away from the clock. Very glad.

&#185 – That last paragraph was done from memory. I’m sure it’s not 100% right, but it gets you in the ballpark.