Microwaves and the Thermalized Mentality: Five Billion Dollars, and still counting up

John Michael Williams jwill at AstraGate.net
Tue Sep 2 01:02:46 EST 2003


Here is a transcript from Volume I of the
final report of the Space Shuttle Columbia 
Accident Investigation Board (CAIB),
page 155:

R. Dittemore to L. Ham, erstwhile high-level
NASA managers:

  ". . . We need to make sure [the foam]
   can't damage the tile . . .   Lambert [Austin]
   and Ralph [Roe] need to get some folks working
   with [the External Tank foam coating]."
   
An Email from C. Schomberg to Ralph Roe,
dated 22 Jan 2003, while Columbia still
was in orbit, explaining why foam shedding 
couldn't damage the shuttle; and, therefore,
imaging or other concern about damage was not
necessary:

  "No--the amount of damage [External Tank] foam
   can cause to the [Thermal Protection System]
   material tiles is based on the amount of 
   impact energy--the size of the piece and its 
   velocity . . . it is a pure kinetic problem--
   there is a size that can cause enough damage to
   [cause loss of the vehicle on reentry.]
   . . . the foam usually fails in small popcorn
   pieces. . . . That is what I expect this time--
   nothing worse [than need to replace a couple of
   tiles]."

Even though a SMALLER piece of foam had damaged
hundreds of tiles in previous shuttle launch 
STS-27R, and Dittemore, Ham, and Roe must have
known about it.

Does this sound familiar:

  "Pooh pooh:  All that microwaves can do is transfer
   heat energy to the body.  If it doesn't cause
   overheating, there can't be anything but trivial
   harm."

In the CAIB report, Lambert Austin, it should be 
mentioned, is quoted later as pointing out that there 
are more parameters than energy involved, and that 
damage could be serious.   He was pooh pooh'ed.

The (10 Meg) CAIB report is available for PDF 
download at

   http://www.nasa.gov/columbia/home/index.html


Lots of nice photos, and plenty of detail on
why we come to accept risk when it doesn't
obviously kill us.

Take time out to think about this.  Have a 
cigarette.  And, be a better cell-phone listener.

                         John
                     jwill at AstraGate.net
                     John Michael Williams



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