Of the millions of ways the government missuses, squanders, wastes money, the space program is one of those things I generally just shut up about. Yes, it’s all the same theft–parasites sucking money from you and me in order to finance their values–but there are a million ways in which the state does harm beyond even the fact of the theft, and it’s not obvious to me that the space program is one of those. So I give it a pass.
But perhaps no more.
The thing about the aviation and space business is that it’s very serious business. While a bunch of dolts in DC and the statehouses have no compunction about sticking their noses in all manner of affairs they know nothing about–like how a business should be run–they have tended to leave the business of aviation design and space exploration to people who are actually experts in the field, like engineers, pilots, astronauts and such. Imagine that!
NASA engineers had already seen how fixes can break things. After
they made a minor change in the foam application process in the late
1990’s to comply with environmental rules, small divots of foam rained
off of the tank during ascent. The phenomenon, called popcorning, was
caused by trapped bubbles; NASA solved the problem by venting the foam
with tiny holes, but it was a reminder, if any was needed, that
seemingly small changes could have profound effects.
"Foam really is complicated," said Douglas D. Osheroff, a professor
of physics at Stanford and a member of the board that investigated the
Columbia accident. "Once you go supersonic, the top surface melts, the
bottom surface is brittle as all hell because it’s very cold, and
you’ve got everything in between."
Although the material could be made less fragile by adding fibers
to the foam, he noted, "that adds weight" to the shuttle, and any
changes can take years.
Ultimately, the accident board recommended that NASA find ways to
prevent any shedding of foam or other debris. And NASA gained
confidence during the time between flights that it was making progress.
Among other things, it improved the training processes for applying
foam by hand. At the Michoud tank assembly plant in Louisiana, an
observer monitors every worker spraying foam – "for every sprayer
there’s a watcher, a second pair of eyes," said June Malone, a NASA
But the tank that flew with the Discovery last week was made before
the new procedures went into effect, and NASA stopped short of
requiring that the ramps be redone, said a spokesman, Martin J. Jensen.
So now the popes, cardinals, bishops and priests of environmental hysteria get to have a say in the design of spacecraft? And now, even in the face of good evidence that complying with these environmental rules by formulating a foam that does not contain the dreaded freon is the very root cause of the Columbia meltdown, they fail to address that root cause? They just throw more money, more people, and more bureaucracy at it, so now it’s virtually indistinguishable from any other sort of government boondoggle.
Well, perhaps Rutan and Branson will get it right. See the first three articles.
He also said that test program would put more people into space than
have flown there in the last 44 years of spaceflight. Forty-four years,
which have so far yielded fatalities for each 62 flights, according to
Rutan. It’s the result of ground-launch methodology that among other
things places people "on top of a one kiloton bomb," according to
Virgin Galactic’s Whitehorn. Part of the plan is to exponentially
surpass that safety record.