Thursday, November 01, 2007

Band-Aids, Bailing Wire, and Tunnel Vision

The STS-120 crew will attempt a repair of the crippled solar array of the International Space Station. By using the shuttles self-inspection boom and the station's Canadarm II, mission specialist Scott Parazynski will be able to access the damaged part of the array. He will be attached to a precarious perch while working on a torn electrical circuit with 110 volts running through it at who knows how high of a potential current. The issue here is that the solar array starts working once exposed to sunlight, although disconnecting both ends of the array's electric circuit and turning it parallel to the sun's rays would go a long way to providing a modicum of safety. The purpose of the repair is to mechanically reinforce the array, presumably so it can be fully deployed. I can't imagine they're going to try and electrically fix any broken wiring, but I could be wrong.

So here's my only beef. I would hope that by now somebody at NASA has figured out that the solar arrays should've only been extended ONCE. The previous news conference I listened in on had the NASA representative speaking to reporters about the FA analysis of what might have caused the rip this time versus the jammed grommet last time, and whether or not atomic oxygen was playing any part in the failure (which he said it wasn't). Not one reporter or any NASA representative ever questioned the retracting/extending practice, which seemed to be the root cause as far as I could tell, and that made me think that there must be a lot of people at NASA who have serious tunnel vision.

I say the same tunnel vision is behind the development of the CLV. The rationalization must have sounded like this, "Hey, we have to do this on the cheap, so let's reuse Shuttle parts since all of our manned spaceflight infrastructure is built around the shuttle. We'll use an Apollo-like capsule, because we know how to build that and we know it works. We'll use an SSME to get us into the final orbit, because we'll have quite a few of them to spare and they're man-rated. Oh wait, scratch that, SSME can't be air-started, so we'll use a modified J2, since we built that for Apollo -- well not really, but we sort of did. Finally we'll use an SRB for the first stage since it's man-rated.. wait.. we need a little more boost.. OK, we'll use a 5 segment SRB as a first stage, because it's sort of man-rated and besides which we know the SRBs have never given us any trouble, except for that one time..."

..and volois, you have an almost completely new rocket, and it's still using a firecracker for a first stage (In case you haven't guessed by now, I'm not a fan of man-rating solid rocket boosters, which remind me too much of either a bottle rocket or a red rat if turned sideways). On the other hand if you start with the idea that you are building a brand new rocket, then your design process can be more flexible.

Somebody might've well said, "Hey, if we're really just going back to an Apollo, less the LEM, why don't we just use an F-1 and a bit of tankage for a first stage, a J2/cluster for a second stage, and this new bigger capsule/command module and call it a day. We still have a few F-1s laying around and besides, it's not like they caused us any trouble, EVER. And it's not as though we can't figure out how to make more of them because their dead simple to start with.

NOTE to the regular readers. See how the posts are beginning to knit together? Cool , huh?

Or you could say, Lockmart and Boeing are building EELVs, let's use them. And call it a day that way.


Blogger Will said...

Ah, that's to easy Bill. It doesn't waste enough money and take a long time, so NASA won't do it. Gold plating on everything! That's their motto.

April 15, 2008 1:05 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home