8 thoughts on “Stovepipes”

  1. So, the short version would be, if I read it right; they had a rather simple and easy solution to the actual problem decades prior. Instead, they spent millions analyzing the risk (while allowing the risk to persist).

    Bureaucracy at its finest.

  2. Not only did they spend decades and millions on that particular risk, but it seems that no one asked if any prior work had been done about that risk, and if so, what had they found, and could that work be factored into their analysis. “Not invented here” syndrome at its finest.

  3. My erstwhile company had a NASA space architecture study contract back in the late 1990s. One part of the contract consisted of determining what it would take to develop technologies NASA considered essential for the kind of space ecosystem imagined by the visionaries of the day. The list of technologies was long, but each was quite well-defined.

    We had a team of engineers do a round-robin tour of all of the NASA centers in order to find out if any of the listed technologies had been studied at the center level. We found that over 95% of them had not only been studied, but brought to at least TRL 7 before being shelved and forgotten.

    An associate looked at that result, and remarked that it brought to mind a saying about his former employer, the German industrial giant Siemens AG, viz “If Siemens only knew what Siemens knows…”

  4. Before Challenger, NASA was “monitoring” the issue of O-ring erosion. They did nothing about the known problem until after an orbiter was destroyed and a crew was killed. Likewise, NASA was “monitoring” the issue of insulation breaking away from the ET and striking orbiters during launch. They did nothing about the problem and lost another orbiter and crew. So, they were also “monitoring” this problem. Lucky for them, the program was ended before they lost yet another orbiter and crew. Bureaucracy at its finest. I know some people from my company who do contract out at MSFC. They say they can understand how some people believe we never went to the moon based on their experiences of dealing with NASA personnel. Today’s NASA couldn’t go to the moon in 20 years if their lives depended on it. They’d be too busy having meetings about the status of PowerPoint slides to be used at other meetings to actually accomplish anything.

    1. Actually, I don’t think this was an obvious bit of bumbling on NASA’s part. One hang-up occurring “infrequently” and two hang-ups on two flights out of 100-odd suggests ~0.027 chance of any given nut hanging up on any given flight [sqrt(0.02/28)]. If three hang-ups almost certainly won’t kill anybody, and four almost certainly will kill everybody, 0.027^4 * 8! / 4! / 4! is a little less than 0.00004, or about a 1/25,000 chance of killing the crew this way. I would say this falls well within “safe is not an option”, and is no reason not to fly, in and of itself.

      Now of course, if there was a way to reduce that to essentially zero at negligible cost in time and money, it does suggest that ways should be found to increase organizational “cross-talk”.

  5. Taking a step back, why were they using giant bolts to hold the Shuttle down, as opposed to other fasteners? Why did they use giant SRB’s? Why did they decide to attach a huge but delicate space vehicle to the side of giant fuel tank, and why did they attach two giant boosters to that tank? Why did they decide a space vehicle needs to land like an airplane?

    It’s like the entire design process was moving forward regardless of the engineering challenges and nightmares the design was creating downstream, so that eventually teams of bright people were left saying “Well the only way we could possibly cope with that problem is to do this…” which created more problems somewhere else.

    Ideally, a re-usable rocket that comes back and lands shouldn’t need hold-down bolts except to secure it on the pad during bad weather, much like aircraft tie-downs. If Booster 1 (Nee Super Heavy) and Starship can sit on their skirts, fully fueled, they should be able to sit on their landing legs, fully fueled. If they’re supposed to land and take off from Mars, they shouldn’t need a sophisticated launch pad. If they don’t need a sophisticated launch pad, there’s nothing to bolt them to.

    If you pursued that thought with Falcon 9, the legs would get beefed up a bit so that they could support a fully-fueled Falcon. The engines would start up at low throttle, and if they’re all running fine, they’d throttle up and the rocket would ascend. In theory, if the rocket could sit on it’s legs prior to launch, it could abort at any point, come back, and land, regardless of fuel state.

    The result would be something that acts more like a regular flight vehicle and less like an exercise in extreme engineering, with giant exploding release nuts and the like.

  6. Wayne Hale is one of those cult of personality figures in spaceflight that I just could never figure out the origin of their hero worship. Tim Pickens, Jeff Greason, and Bill Gerstenmaier are some others that quickly come to mind.

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