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The Investigation Begins
Allison Gatlin has the latest on the test explosion in Mojave. There are quotes from Jeff Foust and Brett Alexander, including this one, with which I agree:
"Because of the nature of this accident, I think that there will be limited media attention from here on out of this accident," Foust said. "I suspect that you'll see a lot more coverage over the next few days of NASA's peccadilloes - intoxicated astronauts and sabotaged computers - than you will of this accident. As a result, this is going to be out of the general public's minds pretty quickly, outside of those directly affected by the accident."
It's ironic and amusing that NASA's latest foibles may knock the biggest accident to affect NewSpace off the headlines, but I think he's right.
[Update in the evening]
This is one of my biggest pet peeves:
"Today, as we are focused on the human side of this mishap we can't loose sight of what it is we choose to do and to whom we serve," airport General Manager Stu Witt said Friday.
It's bad enough when people do it on unedited internet fora, but you'd think that professional editors and reporters could get it right. I wonder if it's going to become the accepted spelling, because we can no longer hold back the tide of ignorance?
And yes, I know it's confusing, as demonstrated a few grafs later:
"Our nation enjoys the safest transportation system the world has known, largely because people like the ones who populate the companies engaged in systems research and testing at Mojave, Edwards and China Lake choose this location to practice their craft," Witt said.
Same pronunciation, different spelling. Yes, English has idiosyncratic spelling conventions. But again, professional writers and editors are paid to know the difference.Posted by Rand Simberg at July 28, 2007 12:50 PM
I disagree -- this story will come up every time Rutan, Scaled, VG, or space tourism is written about in the mainstream media. This iss because the writers will pull up alll the old stories on the topic when they write a new article, and this episode will be prominenat among them. Also, the Oberstars of this world are looking for excuses, and this provides a hook for both real and imaginary concerns.Posted by Jim Bennett at July 28, 2007 06:18 PM
Yes, this is a scar that will stay with them. But as horrible as it is this is an industrial accident, not a space tourist accident. It could have happened just as well if they were working on a DOD or NASA contract. Or in any other firm using Nitrate Oxide for industrial purposes.
There is zero reason for the FAA to be involved. Industrial accidents like this one are OSHA’s turf and that is why CAL-OSHA is doing the investigation. And if any recommendations come out of it FROM OSHA they will apply to ALL users of Nitrate Oxide, not just rocket firms, since this was an accident involving handling a chemical, even if it was eventually to be used in a rocket.
And these accidents do happen in other industries. For example here is one report about a 300 ft nitrate oxide distillation tower that blew in Ohio Biotech firm in 2003.
Although the column was underground it took out the windows of an office building 140 away. I am sure a search of the web will find other records of Nitrate Oxide explosions over the years.
And no this didn’t kill the biotech industry off.
So there is zero reason for alt.space folks to be making this bigger or more important then it is.
CAL-OSHA will determine the cause and perhaps make recommendations to prevent future accidents. OSAH may act on these for ALL users IF it decides its necessary. And Spaceports supporting SpacehsipTwo will need to meet those requirements for everyone’s safety, justa s they must meet OSHA requirements now for the chemicals they handle.
As for alt.space, its time to honor the dead, help the injured and move forward.
The FAA flight permit review will cover all aspects of operations, certainly including propellant loading, ground operations of the fully replenished spacecraft, as well as flight operations. Materials characteristics of the propellants and potential accidents resulting from handling and mishandling will be at issue in the safety reviews. Since this accident involved propellant flow through a piece of flight hardware (or prototype of flight hardware), i.e. the injector, the accident report will certainly be reviewed as part of the flight safety review. I can assure everyone (having been through the exercise myself) that the insurance carrier will require it to be discussed thoroughly.
Of course the commercial space industry will move forward, and history will see it as the loss of pioneers that is inevitable. we will honor them, remember them, and move on. But to do so requires a realistic assessment of the consequences and implications of this event.Posted by Jim Bennett at July 28, 2007 09:11 PM
Yes, and the EIS will have to cover possible environmental impacts from the fuel used as well. Including contimation from accidential releases as in this case. So they will want to know about it as well. That is also part of the process. But there is a good chance this was not related to the flight test hardware as well and it was triggered by some other event.
But we are speculating until CAL-OSHA finishes its investigation and releases it report. Until then patience is the main requirement.
Quite honestly I feel the long term impact of this accident, tragic as it was, to flight safety will be no greater then if a truck full of JP4 blew up while fueling a prototype jet engine on a test stand. Rocket fuel, like aviation fuel, has a lot of energy and so accidents with it are always a possibility. But then fuel pumps have been know to blow up on people fueling their cars as well...Posted by Thomas Matula at July 28, 2007 11:14 PM
The long-term impact will depend partly on whether the industry responds with realism and forthrightness. The industry to date has encountered skepticism, which it is overcoming, but to date it has generally been treated sympathetically by the media and the FAA/AST and its predecessor, the OCST. (Remember, we have to succeed for them to succeed.) But sooner or later we will encounter truly hostile parties in positions where they can do us much harm. Accidents such as SC's will be fodder for a dishonest campaign that, at a minimum, does not take such events in perspective. I will wait for the Cal-OSHA report, as everybody should. But in its wake we must be prepared to incorporate its lessons learned into a flexible but realistic safety system, ideally generated by the industry, in cooperation with regulattors and insurers, not by our enemies.
And if it turns out that there were lessons learned from previous experience with N2O-PBD hybrids, of which substantial numbers have been fired, that were ignored, that will be a hard fact that must be dealt with -- preferably by us first.Posted by Jim Bennett at July 29, 2007 07:43 AM
Doncha know that spell-check is an editor's best friend? If it the spell-checker OKs it, it must be spelled correctly.
I could do a better job, and would be willing to do it for half the money.....
[awaits phone call from a big-city newspaper, while the crickets chirp]Posted by Hale Adams at July 29, 2007 11:49 AM
>>But again, professional writers and editors are >>paid to know the difference.
It won't end until they're fired for not knowing the difference.Posted by Andrew Ward at July 30, 2007 11:00 AM
Interestingly, Wired.com had this posted, prior to the accident, listing the 'Best Dangerous Science Jobs,' with rocket propulsion engineers high on the list...
...but they saw a greater risk from injuries related to cryo fluids, than explosions. And in spite of recent events, they might still be right.
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