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File under : “You have to be f**king shi**ing me!” January 20, 2008

Posted by shubber in distracting PR, hot air, Manned Space, NASA, space, Wasting Money.

For those who aren’t superstitious or just weren’t aware of the history of American manned spaceflight, we have just entered NASA’s “witching weeks”. This is the strange bermuda-triangle period (late January-early February) that seems to attract catastrophic failures to the Agency – specifically:

Apollo 1 pad fire: January 27

Challenger destruction on ascent: January 28

Columbia disintegration on reentry: February 1

My suggestion: avoid flights in January/February. I’m not saying it’s anything more than a coincidence, but given the risks (and that we only have three orbiters left) I’d say better safe than sorry…

Except… well, I open the Washington Post and come across this little gem:

“NASA Says New Rocket Might Shake Violently – Potential Problem May Destroy Spacecraft”

The article goes on to say that apparently there’s a little design flaw (to be fixed, of course) in the first stage that would violently shake apart the capsule housing the astronauts…

NASA engineers characterized the shaking as being in what the agency considers the “red zone” of risk, ranking a 5 on a 1-to-5 scale of severity.

“It’s highly likely to happen, and if it does, it’s a disaster,” said Paul Fischbeck, a Carnegie Mellon University engineering professor who has consulted on risk issues with NASA in the past.

Now of course there are those who believe that there’s nothing to worry about – NASA will solve this just as they have in the past.. for example, they’ve managed to find one Professor Jorge Arenas of the Institute of Acoustics in Valdivia, Chile, who said: “NASA has developed one of the safest and risk-controlled space programs in engineering history.”

1 of…. 3. That’s impressive. Last I checked, only three countries have a manned space program that is capable of launching their own astronauts into orbit (as opposed to hitching a ride with someone else). One could just as easily say “NASA has developed one of the the three riskiest and uncontrolled space programs in engineering history,” because, of course, the pool of such countries is so darn small.

The Post says that the first launch of astronauts aboard Ares I and Orion is set for March 2015.

Methinks they might want to consider building the rocket, testing it, and making sure it doesn’t go boom before they start announcing a target month for the launch. But hey, at least they’re avoiding January/February. No point taking unnecessary risks.



1. Sam Wise - January 20, 2008

FWIW, NASA Watch has been covering this issue for a couple of months now. See here:


and here:


and here:


The Ares folks have a long way to go, but this is hardly the biggest issue that’s ever shown up in a development program.

2. Ed Minchau - January 21, 2008

“Methinks they might want to consider building the rocket, testing it, and making sure it doesn’t go boom before they start announcing a target month for the launch”

Of course, NASA eliminated the testing programs for Ares as a cost-cutting measure. Check out Rockets and Such.

3. Chiya - January 24, 2008

I haven’t read stuff about space for a while, until yesterday. (There was a link that said something about an origami space plane, apparently it’s made out of paper…)

Anyway there was also a link to a video, called Saturn V Tennis shoe test (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qCRGeYZn7E). It was about them back in the 1960’s sometime, testing to see what would happen if the Saturn V rocket was swaying in the wind.

So…what I’m trying to get at, from a non-rocket-scientist point of view, is can they use more of the knowledge from back then instead of having to deal with the same problems now?

4. shubber - February 6, 2008

can they use more of the knowledge from back then instead of having to deal with the same problems now?

Great question Chiya – and unfortunately the answer is (mostly) no.

You see, unlike those central-planning soviets (um, Russians), America decided the best course of action for developing space was to continuously change our designs and vehicles and throw away everything we had developed previously, to the point that we couldn’t just build another Saturn (or even Shuttle) right now by simply restarting a production line… meanwhile the Russians continue to churn out inexpensive (relatively) Soyuz vehicles because they are effectively being built on an assembly line, with little variation over a 30 year stretch.

I say (mostly) no, because we did prove that the Moon is real and where we think it is, which should come in handy if/when we go back. But that, and a few launch pads in Florida, are about all we have of leverage-able value from the Apollo program.

5. C’mon lucky number 7! Baby needs a new pair of shoes… « Space Cynics - February 25, 2008

[…] Senior engineers working on the Ares 1 have determined that there is a high degree of danger of catastrophic shaking vibrations in the launch vehicle, with the expected bad outcome for those brave souls sitting on top. (See previous post on this topic here). […]

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