PDA

View Full Version : A Question Of Ethics



Russ
2003-Feb-05, 06:36 PM
I'm not sure which catagory to put this in so I tossed it here. Phil, if you want to move it feel free.

There has been much speculation in the news and on the web as to what NASA knew and when they knew it. eg Did they know the wing was bad and would not survive re-entry?

This has left me wondering what is the answer you come up with when you have plenty of time to think about and look at the problem in the cold light of day. What do you say to the crew?

OK, so what do we do if we DO know something is wrong?
1) Do we tell the crew?

2) Do we not tell them?

3) Is it better that they know that the only future is that they die?

4) Is it better for them to attemt the return unaware of the problem?

5) If you do tell them, how long do you let them hang up there waiting to die? or Do you suggest that they go ahead and attempt the re-entry just to get it overwith but hoping things hold together?

I don't know the answers to these questions. I'm looking for your answers, opinions, and thoughts about what you'd do. What do you tell someone in a shuttle that won't survive reentry?

Does anyone know what NASA pollicy is?

_________________

(edit to remove signature)

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Russ on 2003-02-05 13:38 ]</font>

DALeffler
2003-Feb-05, 06:52 PM
I would most definetly tell the crew.

They did with John Glenn when his space craft was in exactly this kind of trouble.

ALWAYS tell a pilot the condition of his craft, otherwise, that pilot may do something inherently safe with a fully functional vehicle but catastrophic for a crippled vehicle.

Doug.

Sleepy
2003-Feb-05, 06:59 PM
I believe that there was concern over the heat shield on Apollo 13 CM and whether it had been damaged when the O2 tanks blew. As there was nothing anyone could do and to avoid worrying the crew unnecessarily mission control did not relay their concerns.

aporetic_r
2003-Feb-05, 07:10 PM
This is a very interesting question.

Telling the crew would be the best idea.

1) They may be able to come up with ideas that the support crew hasn't thought of, or they may be able to try otherwise unnecessarily risky repairs.

2) They would be able to contact their significant others in a timely fashion.

3) They may be able to set up some sensors or other procedures by which ground control can gather valuable but usually unrecorded information from their inevitable demise.

4) Their manifest levels of professionalism and bravery demand a certain level of respect from their comrades. One element of this respect is full honesty in every situation. To not tell them the truth would be a great insult to their, for lack of a better term, honor. It would amount to thinking the crew incapable of dealing with the facts of the situation. It would be to treat them as weak underlings rather than as peers, or perhaps even more accurately, firsts among equals.

Perhaps that last part sounds a bit weird to other members of the board. I consider astronauts a very rare and valuable specimen - a union of reason and spiritedness (not in the Platonic sense, by which such would be degrading, but rather in a more Nietzschean vein, that is relating to his categories of Apollinian and Dionysian, under one stream of his significations [refs. available]). Therefore, I consider rather Achaean concepts to be operative.

Aporetic

Russ
2003-Feb-05, 07:31 PM
On 2003-02-05 13:52, DALeffler wrote:
I would most definetly tell the crew.

They did with John Glenn when his space craft was in exactly this kind of trouble.

ALWAYS tell a pilot the condition of his craft, otherwise, that pilot may do something inherently safe with a fully functional vehicle but catastrophic for a crippled vehicle.

Doug.

I'm not sure knowing would have made adifference on the shuttle such that "...that pilot may do something inherently safe with a fully functional vehicle but catastrophic for a crippled vehicle."
I was/am a very big fan of the space program. I listened to both the Glenn & A-13 reentry discussions live and realtime. Both crews knew their situation without ground telling them.

Glenn was getting the same "heat shield not alined" alarm on his pannnel as Houston was getting on theirs.

Apollo 13 crew was looking out the window at the SM as it drifted away. They could see the damage better than ground. They knew without being told, they were at risk. Besides, there was nothing they could do. They were going to enter the atmosphere and there was nothing anybody could do to stop that.

You provided a good answer. Thank you.

Russ
2003-Feb-05, 07:44 PM
You provide an interesting perspective. I'll put a sample transmission from Houston, and see how you respond.



On 2003-02-05 14:10, aporetic_r wrote:
This is a very interesting question.

Telling the crew would be the best idea.

1) They may be able to come up with ideas that the support crew hasn't thought of, or they may be able to try otherwise unnecessarily risky repairs.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston. We have data indicating you have a huge crack in the left wing and about half the heat sheild tiles are missing. Have you got any ideas on how to fix that before re-entry tomorrow?

2) They would be able to contact their significant others in a timely fashion.
Russ: you have a very good point here.

3) They may be able to set up some sensors or other procedures by which ground control can gather valuable but usually unrecorded information from their inevitable demise.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston: We want you to go ahead and re-enter as scheduled. We are going to take some telemetry on what happens to the shuttle when a wing falls of during re-entry.

4) Their manifest levels of professionalism and bravery demand a certain level of respect from their comrades. One element of this respect is full honesty in every situation. To not tell them the truth would be a great insult to their, for lack of a better term, honor. It would amount to thinking the crew incapable of dealing with the facts of the situation. It would be to treat them as weak underlings rather than as peers, or perhaps even more accurately, firsts among equals.
Russ: you make a very good point here too.

Perhaps that last part sounds a bit weird to other members of the board. I consider astronauts a very rare and valuable specimen - a union of reason and spiritedness (not in the Platonic sense, by which such would be degrading, but rather in a more Nietzschean vein, that is relating to his categories of Apollinian and Dionysian, under one stream of his significations [refs. available]). Therefore, I consider rather Achaean concepts to be operative.

Aporetic



I know I sound flippant in some of my responses but wish to....emphasise the delecate type of conversation this would have to be.

Thank you for your insightful response.

DStahl
2003-Feb-05, 08:43 PM
For myself, working in an industrial teamwork environment, one should always share all information. One may keep information from a child or a mentally distressed person in the interest of not causing them unnecessary anguish, but the Shuttle crews are robust, powerful individuals with great ability to work in dangerous situations. They should be told.

But of course that isn't to say that NASA controllers have always seen it that way--that's just my opinion.

Donnie B.
2003-Feb-05, 09:02 PM
First I want to emphasize that we're talking about a hypothetical situation here. I don't think it applies to the Columbia accident at all.

But in such a hypothetical situation, it's glaringly obvious to me that you must tell the crew (if they don't already know). And if you know that reentry will be fatal, you don't reenter at all! You leave the ship on orbit and try your best to get a rescue mission aloft in time. In addition, you immediately institute a low-consumable-usage profile to conserve resources as long as possible - keep crew members asleep as much as possible, cut power consumption to a bare minimum, go on half-rations or less.

It's patently absurd to suggest you'd do anything less than everything you could think of to stretch the survival of the crew to the limit.

And if all theses efforts still fail, at least the crew has had time to compose farewells to loved ones. Painful, yes, but at least it provides some "closure" (to use an already overused expression).

Doodler
2003-Feb-05, 10:02 PM
Yes, they should be told, if for no other reason than to have a chance to say good bye. Would't you in their shoes? Keep in mind a number of them had children.

JayUtah
2003-Feb-05, 10:09 PM
1) Do we tell the crew?
2) Do we not tell them?

We tell them. The flight crew and the ground crew form a single team. No team can function if there is a breakdown in communication between them.

The flight crew is at the scene. Their observations are first-hand. As fully-qualified team members, their ideas and feedback are essential to the decision-making process.

3) Is it better that they know that the only future is that they die?

The premise of the question is simply outside the astronaut mindset. Most of these people have been in life-threatening situations before: combat, flight-test, etc. They are used to making important decisions while subject to that stress. The astronaut mentality, as an extension of the test-pilot mentality, is simply that you do the best you can to survive the situation, even if the chances of survival are miniscule.

4) Is it better for them to attemt the return unaware of the problem?

No. Decision-making in high-risk enterprises is most frequently compromised by conceptualization barriers: we spend time trying to extrapolate a theory from the observations. This is often a wrong theory, and often poor decisions are made as later observations that don't fit the theory are discarded.

If the flight crew had been told ahead of time of the theory that the left wing was critically damaged, and they decided that a landing attempt was feasible, they could have interpreted the sensor data appropriately and spent more time working the problem instead of trying to determine what the problem was. Perhaps there may have been no solution other than to fly the descent normally, but you don't make the situation better by keeping people in the dark.

5) If you do tell them, how long do you let them hang up there waiting to die?

The team together explores options, and the team together decides on a course of action.

Do you suggest that they go ahead and attempt the re-entry just to get it overwith but hoping things hold together?

How hypothetical is this question? Are we talking specifically about the Columbia? Each situation will be different.

A Columbia-like crash destroys the orbiter, kills the crew, and endangers lives on the ground. This is probably the worst scenario.

A landing evacuation destroys the orbiter, offers some measure of survivability for the crew and endagers lives on the ground. This would be logical if it were likely the orbiter would withstand re-entry to 20,000 feet.

Allowing the crew to remain on-orbit until their consumables are expended results in loss of crew, but preserves the orbiter. It is likely a future mission could rendezvous, repair the orbiter, and recover the remains. Since not many scenarios for these circumstances allow for crew survival, this may be an attractive option.

Clearly the decision to attempt a landing has to be made on a purely objective engineering analysis of the likelihood of the vehicle to withstand re-entry and function reasonably well. The pilot ethic does not allow wilfully placing one's craft in an out-of-control state that endangers bystanders.

What do you tell someone in a shuttle that won't survive reentry?

Sorry for letting you down, and it's been a pleasure knowing you.

Does anyone know what NASA policy is?

If they have one I don't think they'd make it public until they had to implement it.

sacrelicious
2003-Feb-05, 11:38 PM
well, since the shuttle could have doubled the length of its mission, time is a luxery that was abundant to them. this means mission control could (and certainly WOULD if they thought it to be a problem) work on the problem themselves without worrying the crew, and then if they came up with nothing they could break the bad news to the astronauts and hope that they might think of something new (they'd certainly have the most incentive to figure out the problem), and all before the mission is even scheduled to end. at the very least, not giving them the opportunity to talk to their families is not something NASA would knowingly do.

anyway, what I would do (and most likely what NASA would do) is try to figure it out from the ground, and then only worry the crew with it when all other avenues have been exausted, or when they are needed to fix or examine something.

the whole "He's a pilot, you tell him the condition of his craft!" line from The Right Stuff is highly quotable, but in a situation like this panicing them before you have to may turn out to cause more harm than good (I imagine the horror could possibly lead to mutiny, since only some of the astronauts have had their self preservation instincts drummed out of them via military discipline)

JayUtah
2003-Feb-05, 11:51 PM
... in a situation like this panicking them before you have to may turn out to cause more harm than good

Why do you assume they would panic?

johnwitts
2003-Feb-05, 11:54 PM
According to the technical press conference I saw, the Shuttle flys the 'gentlest' profile for descent that can be devised as it is. This is because they want to re use the vehicle, so they want as little stress as possible. You couldn't tell the crew to 'fly extra careful' because that's what they do anyway...

Argos
2003-Feb-06, 12:12 AM
I believe truth is better. At least they can figure out ways and make assumptions based upon real data. The downside is that the stress derivated from the situation can blur their thoughts to some extent. Anyway, to be an astronaut is to be prepared to deal with truth and everything that goes with.

Chip
2003-Feb-06, 12:59 AM
Author Tom Wolff (The Right Stuff) was interviewed by Lou Dobbs on CNN last night. He basically went along with what Jay Utah posted above, though didn't cover every point.

As to a hypothetical scenario, if a major defect was detected while in orbit. (Something like this could happen in the future.)
I believe NASA always seeks the "third alternative." What would it be? I'm guessing but would venture to say:

A. Do everything possible to prolong survival time on the shuttle. Ration everything.
B. Do everything possible on the ground to assist in prolonging survival time. (As they did with Apollo 13, with mockups based on what is available onboard the actual spacecraft, computer simulations, simulators, midnight oil, etc...)
C. Prepare and launch a second shuttle and crew on same orbit for rendezvous within the survival time window. This is getting into "science fiction" here but it is feasible that a second ship with an already trained crew could be positioned in orbit near the stricken shuttle, a tether could be devised with the astronauts hooking on it, and making their way from one ship to the other. Only preliminary testing of the concept would be possible due to time. It would be crowded, but the second shuttle could accommodate the rescued crew.

This could only be done under the mindset of acceptable, controlled desperation, that is, going forward accepting the fact that you could still loose lives. It is in essence a "wartime" mindset. (As when wartime designers build machines in a month, that would normally take years to develop in peacetime.) But in this case the "enemy" is the literal deadline at the end of the window of opportunity.

Eirik
2003-Feb-06, 01:34 AM
On 2003-02-05 18:38, sacrelicious wrote:

[much snipped]
(I imagine the horror could possibly lead to mutiny, since only some of the astronauts have had their self preservation instincts drummed out of them via military discipline)


I think mutiny is about the least likely outcome of anything that would likely go on up there because of a disaster or design flaw. These crews aren't thrown together at the last minute, they're highly trained and work together for years. I suppose that it's possible for the astronauts to override mission control, but I doubt it would be without good reason.

For example, if the choice had been made to stay in orbit until Atlantis could be launched, but either due to ground delay or some other factor the rescue ain't gonna happen. I could see the astronauts in orbit deciding to risk reentry instead of certain death in orbit, even if for some bizzare reason mission control ordered them to stay in orbit. That's about as close to a "mutiny" as I could possibly imagine.

g99
2003-Feb-06, 01:53 AM
I think that the best way to take this would be to preserve the human life. Humans are much better to have in the long run for surviving than a machine. For both technical, time, and moral reasons.

Humans take a long time (20+ years) to train and educate to grow to be a good astronaut. A spacecraft can be rebuilt in a year or so. Humans can do many things that a craft cannot. And lastly, humans are alive and precious, a shuttle is neither. To Risk looing the shuttle over a human life is in my opinion the best answer.

While it might mean loosing some productivity for a couple of years, at least someones husband/wife/father/mother is still alive.

DaveC
2003-Feb-06, 02:18 AM
I doubt there would be much possibility of the astronauts panicking (or mutinying). These are people who knew there was a possibility they wouldn't survive - as it has been with every astronaut since Yuri Gagarin. They surely hope it won't happen but fully accept that it might. I think the Apollo 13 retrieval shows how astronauts behave when they learn there is little chance to survive the mission - they throw themselves into doing whaatever needs to be done to maximize their odds.

Perhaps with Columbia there wasn't much they could have done other than power down, conserve resources and hope a rescue plan could be implemented. It's a certainty that that's exactly the scenario we would have seen had the failure of Columbia been sufficiently obvious to have been identified before it reached the point of no return.

Could NASA (or Russia) have launched a rescue mission in time? If it turns out they couldn't have, all the discussion of whether the defect might have been identified before re-entry is moot - at least isofar as saving the crew's lives goes. But I feel it would be better to get to them too late than not at all. What was the limiting resource on Columbia? I can think of only a few things that would be critical - air, water and battery power.

Does anyone have any idea if Atlantis could have been readied for launch within a week, or at least before the critical resource was depleted? The launch was scheduled for March 1 at the earliest. One would assume in order to move that up by three weeks, NASA would have to compromise a pile of prelaunch safety procedures. The rescue attempt couldn't be reckless. Do they even have an emergency launch procedure? (Imagine the agony of watching the crawler transporter making its 1 mile per hour trek to pad 39 under these conditions). Could they fly the shuttle with a crew of 1 or 2, and even if they did could it accommodate in reasonable safety an additional 7 passengers in the crew cabin? If not, could astronauts return to Earth in the cargo bay assuming seats and restraints could be readily installed?

Could the Russian supply ship that docked with the ISS have instead rendezvoused with Columbia had it still been in orbit? Could it have carried enough fuel to ferry the Astronauts to the ISS (assuming it had no capability to bring them all back to earth)? Could it have at least resupplied the shuttle, even if it involved some risky spacewalks, to allow it to stay in orbit until Atlantis could be safely launched?

I'm not sure if anyone has the answers to these questions at this point, but they are nagging at me, as I suspect they are at many people. It's probably human nature to think "What if . ., what if . . " when something like this happens.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: DaveC on 2003-02-05 21:22 ]</font>

Nanoda
2003-Feb-06, 10:26 AM
My posting history shows I seem to kill alot of threads, but I'd like to post anyhow. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_smile.gif

My answer is "It depends". In "Apollo 13" (and I can't recall if it happend IRL), someone at ground control mentions that the trajectory is not that great, but that they can't do anything about it. Since the crew is very busy, this is not something they need to know right then.

OTOH, time makes a lot of difference. I'm having problems imagining a scenario where you wouldn't want the crew to know something. Whether you knew a wing was gone or only likely to fail, there are so many opportunities for rescue I can't be fatalistic. (Rationing and re-supply by unmanned rocket seems possible quickly, and I'm sure that if called upon Russia would be only too happy to send the next Progress shuttleward.) As for catastrophic, uh-oh it's-only-a-matter-of-time situations, I'd tell.

I guess that my feelings are: if it's going to distract the crew from critical functions right now then save it. Otherwise inform them.

BTW, this reminds me alot of the "In Event of Moon Disaster" document for if astronauts were stranded on the moon. At some point it called for cutting off radio contact and having a clergyman perform a "burial at sea" type ceremony.
The thing I don't understand is whether they cut radio contact totally, just with Nixon, and whether they're still alive at that point. On the one hand I'd like to hear it, but on the other, it would be like I'd been written off a bit early.

kucharek
2003-Feb-06, 10:40 AM
No question, the crew has always to know about every mission critical thing.
Or can you imagine how you would feel on the next flight after a catastrophic flight failure where the crew wasn't told everything?
You would be in doubt, and that's a pretty bad condition. Teamwork is based on trust, if you violate trust, there is no teamwork left.

Harald

David Hall
2003-Feb-06, 12:20 PM
Columbia didn't carry a docking ring mechanism, so there's no way it could dock with the ISS or Progress modules. Perhaps something could be worked out with EVA missions, but that would be difficult and complex at best.

Waarthog
2003-Feb-06, 01:36 PM
I'd like to weigh in on the Panic subject. Panic is a very unlikely reaction due to the amount of training in all sorts of odd situations. I am a pilot and have some training in accident investigation and have studied several accidents where the crew knew there was little chance of a happy outcome to their predicament yet panic did not occur. I have no reason to suspect that it would be any different with a shuttle crew. From personal experience, I have been through 4 "emergency" experiences (2 later turned out to be the instructor messing with my head but were real enough as they happened). In all 4 panic was never a factor since I didn't really have time to think of being scared until it was all over. You get busy going through your memorized procedures and backing it up with the checklist. Those on the shuttle would have much more detailed things to go through and tasks to accomplish that their minds would be firmly on the task at hand.

Donnie B.
2003-Feb-06, 01:52 PM
On 2003-02-06 05:26, Nanoda wrote:
... In "Apollo 13" (and I can't recall if it happend IRL), someone at ground control mentions that the trajectory is not that great, but that they can't do anything about it.

I think you (or the filmmakers) may be confounding two different events during the A13 mission.

First, there was "shallowing". For reasons that were then mysterious, the trajectory of the returning spacecraft was changing -- drifting off course. This was potentially serious, but it was not withheld from the crew. In fact, they performed a course correction to compensate for it.

Second, there was the possibility of heat shield damage from the explosion. AFAIK, there was no communication from MSC to A13 along the lines of, "Hey, guys, you may burn up on reentry." It wasn't needed. As others have pointed out, the astronauts had seen the damage themselves and were all too aware of the potential problem, and of the fact that there was nothing that could be done except hope for the best.

By the way, the "shallowing" was eventually determined to have been caused by the tiny impulse imparted by water sublimation from the LM's cooling system (yes, it was running to keep the electronics cool, even though the cabin was very cold for human beings). It was a very small effect, and hadn't been noticed on earlier missions -- but on A13 the LM was attached for most of the homeward coast, and the effect added up over time.

Doodler
2003-Feb-06, 03:31 PM
If the Columbia crew had any inkling of what might happen to them, a good analogy here on Earth would be the way the United Airlines crew handled the crash in Iowa after they lost all hydraulic pressure. They were utterly and completely professional. They knew they were up the creek and simply fell back into their training and worked toward the best solution, knowing FULL well they were in a crippled aircraft. Heck, even the passengers seemed to hold it together knowing what was coming. I can bet there were a lot of them emotionally distraut individuals, but there were no "panic" attacks. I personally believe the mindset would be the same as the shuttle crew's, they may have known the risk was off the charts, but given that their training is more intense than airline pilots, I would be willing to bet they would have responded with the same professionalism.

DaveC
2003-Feb-06, 04:27 PM
On 2003-02-06 07:20, David Hall wrote:
Columbia didn't carry a docking ring mechanism, so there's no way it could dock with the ISS or Progress modules. Perhaps something could be worked out with EVA missions, but that would be difficult and complex at best.


But if a difficult and complex EVA is the only option, presumably you'd quickly work out some procedures in simulation and do it in the best way possible. Perhaps after Apollo 13 some of us are lulled into believing that a cobbled together solution can be made to work. It's probably not that certain. The risks would be huge, but even a tiny chance to save one or more of the astronauts without unduly risking additional lives would be better than no chance at all.

calliarcale
2003-Feb-06, 04:52 PM
I have been informed by a friend who works at KSC (a mid-level manager in Shuttle launch control, actually; he was on duty in the launch control room during the Challenger disaster and is providing engineering support for the Columbia debris recovery operations) that there was a remote possibility that a rescue mission could have been launched just barely in time. Although the supplies on board Columbia were not infinite, they may have had as much as two weeks if supplies were carefully rationed (particularily electrical supplies -- the fuel cell system is designed to dynamically adjust fuel consumption based on electrical demand). Since STS-114 is currently fully stacked in the VAB, it might be possible, though not easy at all, to carry out a rescue mission. Some safety rules would have to be waived in order to hasten processing, but it could have been done. The difficult part would have been figuring out how to outfit Atlantis to carry nine crewmembers (the normal limit is seven; the record is eight, carried on an early Challenger flight) and figuring out how to transfer the crew from Columbia to Atlantis. Another challenge would be that crew transfer would almost certainly involve an untethered EVA between the two vehicles, which would be stationkeeping -- and when two vehicles are stationkeeping, you have issues of propellant contamination on spacesuits. (There's only so long you could leave them in free drift.)

But even then, it would be a long shot. And this is not usually an option; there isn't always another vehicle already stacked, so it's not something the flight planners ever rely on.

And, of course, it's somewhat of a moot point -- nobody thought there was any reason to expect Columbia not to make a flawless touchdown at Kennedy Space Center. We have the benefit of hindsight, of course, but the mission planners didn't have that luxury at the time. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_frown.gif

Russ
2003-Feb-06, 06:25 PM
I have been holding myself out of the conversation in an effort to not interfere with the flow. I would like to thank everyone who has participated in this discussion so far. I think everyone has put forth good well reasoned thoughts. I agree with just about everything that has been said.

To summarize the discussion to date:

1) Tell the crew no matter what the problem.
2) Mount a rescue attempt no matter how thin the chances or close the schedule.
3) If the crew doesn't make it, leave the shuttle in space for recovery when the time and technique is available.

Since we are talking about a hypothetical situation, I'd like to know if anyone has an opposing position. Are there any arguments for not telling the crew, not attempting rescue, basically taking the alternative tack? If you can think of one, please respond even if you have posed a summary argument.

Thank you agian.

ToSeek
2003-Feb-06, 06:34 PM
As far as a rescue attempt goes, I think you'd have to weigh the odds of a successful rescue versus the odds of the problem detected being fatal. I mean, if analysis seems to show that there's a 10% chance of losing the shuttle versus a 25% chance of a successful rescue attempt, then you're better off continuing with the original plan.

I would agree that if the problem is clearly terminal, then you go with the rescue mission so long as there's any chance of success.

Doodler
2003-Feb-06, 06:45 PM
For not attempting a rescue, perhaps. Its a hard call to make to abandon ship. All Columbia had were the best guesses of the ground engineers to go on. In this particular case, rescue was not considered because the danger was underestimated. There would have been no way of determining the abandon ship order should have been given, because there was no way to diagnose the danger properly. We've covered in other threads how unbelievably complex an impromptu rescue effort would have been, and how prohibitively expensive a planned rescue would be. The fact is, at the end of the day, its an EXTREMELY dangerous job. People have worked without a net before, and people will work without a net in the future. Those who accept the mantle of space explorers accept with it the idea, that if things go wrong, there really is not much that can be done.



edited by Doodler- last line didn't sound right.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Doodler on 2003-02-06 13:49 ]</font>

aporetic_r
2003-Feb-06, 08:03 PM
1) They may be able to come up with ideas that the support crew hasn't thought of, or they may be able to try otherwise unnecessarily risky repairs.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston. We have data indicating you have a huge crack in the left wing and about half the heat sheild tiles are missing. Have you got any ideas on how to fix that before re-entry tomorrow?


Good point. The seriousness of the damage precludes the possibility of repair. There are two other potential possibilities here as well, though: 1) The crew could come up with ideas not relating to repair (such as, for example, ways of using the craft in unconventional but theoretically viable ways to approach the ISS [I know this was already discussed, and was not feasible given the fuel on board, etc.; I intend this as a class of example, rather than as accurate in itself]); 2) In situations in which the damage was less severe than your example indicated, the crew's ideas for repair could be useful.



3) They may be able to set up some sensors or other procedures by which ground control can gather valuable but usually unrecorded information from their inevitable demise.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston: We want you to go ahead and re-enter as scheduled. We are going to take some telemetry on what happens to the shuttle when a wing falls of during re-entry.


It probably seems very callous, but if they are going to die, their deaths should be of as much use as possible. Your example of gathering data during re-entry is a good one - as all spacecraft must re-enter the atmosphere, it is of the highest importance that as much data as possible be gathered from a doomed craft during that phase of its flight. While I find my own argument emotionally distasteful, it does seem practical and useful. And of course, if one wants to speak of 'dying in the way one lived', this would qualify.

Aporetic

darrel_2000
2003-Feb-06, 08:05 PM
On 2003-02-06 08:52, Donnie B. wrote:


On 2003-02-06 05:26, Nanoda wrote:
... In "Apollo 13" (and I can't recall if it happend IRL), someone at ground control mentions that the trajectory is not that great, but that they can't do anything about it.

I think you (or the filmmakers) may be confounding two different events during the A13 mission.

First, there was "shallowing". For reasons that were then mysterious, the trajectory of the returning spacecraft was changing -- drifting off course. This was potentially serious, but it was not withheld from the crew. In fact, they performed a course correction to compensate for it.

Second, there was the possibility of heat shield damage from the explosion. AFAIK, there was no communication from MSC to A13 along the lines of, "Hey, guys, you may burn up on reentry." It wasn't needed. As others have pointed out, the astronauts had seen the damage themselves and were all too aware of the potential problem, and of the fact that there was nothing that could be done except hope for the best.

By the way, the "shallowing" was eventually determined to have been caused by the tiny impulse imparted by water sublimation from the LM's cooling system (yes, it was running to keep the electronics cool, even though the cabin was very cold for human beings). It was a very small effect, and hadn't been noticed on earlier missions -- but on A13 the LM was attached for most of the homeward coast, and the effect added up over time.



The film did not confuse the two events, it showed both. The film depicted the shallowing, and had the crew perform the necessary course correction (over dramatized perhaps). But it also had the following conversation right before re-enty (quoting from memory)

Controller : Gene, they're still shallowing a bit in the reentry corridor, should we tell them.

Krantz : Is there anything we can do about it.

Controller: No

Krantz: Then they don't need to know, do they.

I believe that is what Nanoda was referring to. Does anyone know if this was fictional or actually happened. I have read the book Apollo 13, but it was several years ago.

<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: darrel_2000 on 2003-02-06 15:12 ]</font>

aporetic_r
2003-Feb-06, 08:11 PM
On 2003-02-06 05:40, kucharek wrote:
No question, the crew has always to know about every mission critical thing.
Or can you imagine how you would feel on the next flight after a catastrophic flight failure where the crew wasn't told everything?
You would be in doubt, and that's a pretty bad condition. Teamwork is based on trust, if you violate trust, there is no teamwork left.

Harald



This is a very important point that I had not previously thought of. Thanks for bringing it up.

Aporetic

Donnie B.
2003-Feb-06, 10:27 PM
On 2003-02-06 15:05, darrel_2000 wrote:
I believe that is what Nanoda was referring to. Does anyone know if this was fictional or actually happened. I have read the book Apollo 13, but it was several years ago.

I think that was a bit of Hollywoodization.

There was consideration of a second course correction for the shallowing problem, but after the LM was jettisoned the shallowing stopped, and they were within the reentry corridor, so no second burn was done.

I just had a thought, though. A13 had the longest blackout period during reentry of any of the lunar missions. Could it be that the shallowing produced a longer reentry interface than was typical? (Obviously it wasn't enough to put them very far from their target point.) Or, could there have been some minor heatshield damage that increased and/or prolonged the amount of ablation and therefore extended the blackout?

JayUtah
2003-Feb-07, 12:21 AM
Could it be that the shallowing produced a longer reentry interface than was typical?

That's exactly what happened.

johnwitts
2003-Feb-07, 12:44 AM
It was just to make sure everyone was still awake...

ToSeek
2003-Feb-07, 03:32 PM
On 2003-02-06 15:03, aporetic_r wrote:


1) They may be able to come up with ideas that the support crew hasn't thought of, or they may be able to try otherwise unnecessarily risky repairs.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston. We have data indicating you have a huge crack in the left wing and about half the heat sheild tiles are missing. Have you got any ideas on how to fix that before re-entry tomorrow?


Good point. The seriousness of the damage precludes the possibility of repair. There are two other potential possibilities here as well, though: 1) The crew could come up with ideas not relating to repair (such as, for example, ways of using the craft in unconventional but theoretically viable ways to approach the ISS [I know this was already discussed, and was not feasible given the fuel on board, etc.; I intend this as a class of example, rather than as accurate in itself]); 2) In situations in which the damage was less severe than your example indicated, the crew's ideas for repair could be useful.



3) They may be able to set up some sensors or other procedures by which ground control can gather valuable but usually unrecorded information from their inevitable demise.
HOUSTON: Columbia, Houston: We want you to go ahead and re-enter as scheduled. We are going to take some telemetry on what happens to the shuttle when a wing falls of during re-entry.


It probably seems very callous, but if they are going to die, their deaths should be of as much use as possible. Your example of gathering data during re-entry is a good one - as all spacecraft must re-enter the atmosphere, it is of the highest importance that as much data as possible be gathered from a doomed craft during that phase of its flight. While I find my own argument emotionally distasteful, it does seem practical and useful. And of course, if one wants to speak of 'dying in the way one lived', this would qualify.

Aporetic


Too, if they know the shuttle is going to break up and shower debris, presumably they'd re-enter over some unpopulated area, rather than Texas.

David Hall
2003-Feb-07, 05:56 PM
On 2003-02-07 10:32, ToSeek wrote:

Too, if they know the shuttle is going to break up and shower debris, presumably they'd re-enter over some unpopulated area, rather than Texas.


A little bit furher south and they'd come in over the water along the Gulf coast, assuming that's possible from the orbits they use. I was thinking about just that yesterday.

A.DIM
2003-Feb-07, 06:15 PM
I've enjoyed reading this thread for it's exceptional show of humanity. All of you have delivered creative, well informed ideas on how this tragedy might've been avoided. Sadly, NASA functions very much like corporate america, and what took place is essentially the only thing that could've happened.
Peace.

Russ
2003-Feb-07, 06:27 PM
On 2003-02-07 12:56, David Hall wrote:


On 2003-02-07 10:32, ToSeek wrote:

Too, if they know the shuttle is going to break up and shower debris, presumably they'd re-enter over some unpopulated area, rather than Texas.



A little bit furher south and they'd come in over the water along the Gulf coast, assuming that's possible from the orbits they use. I was thinking about just that yesterday.


I'd think they would not want to come in over water if they could avoid it because that would quadruple the difficulty of recovering the pieces. As if picking up the pieces from the ground was not difficult enough. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_frown.gif


<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Russ on 2003-02-07 13:29 ]</font>

ToSeek
2003-Feb-07, 06:34 PM
On 2003-02-07 13:27, Russ wrote:
I'd think they would not want to come in over water if they could avoid it because that would quadruple the difficulty of recovering the pieces. As if picking up the pieces from the ground was not difficult enough. /phpBB/images/smiles/icon_frown.gif


Admittedly, that's a problem, but I think the highest priority would be to eliminate the possibility of any pieces landing on someone.

David Hall
2003-Feb-07, 06:56 PM
It might even be easier to recover pieces from the sea bottom. The ocean floor is mostly a big expanse of nothing. Pieces would be easy to spot by sonar, by divers, and by dredgers. Such was the case with the TWA800 crash off of Long Island. I think they recovered more than 90% of the plane in that case.

Following the path of the gulf coast would keep most of the wreckage in fairly shallow water too.

But as ToSeek said, I think the danger to the people on the ground would outweigh the cleanup considerations.

aporetic_r
2003-Feb-07, 08:33 PM
Sadly, NASA functions very much like corporate america, and what took place is essentially the only thing that could've happened.
Peace.


I'd like to ask you to clarify your statement a bit. My concerns are as follows:

1) Most of us are speaking in a hypothetical manner about space disasters in general. It appears that your intention is to make a claim about the Columbia in particulat, rather than about NASA policy regarding predicted, inevitable, space flight disasters. Am I correct?

2) The phrase "corporate America" is an interesting one, with a colorful history on both sides of the proverbial aisle. In the case of your post, using it would seem to indicate that you consider American business to operate differently from business in other countries. In what substantive, topically-relevant ways does US business act differently than business in other countries?

3) Exactly how does NASA function "very much like corporate America?" One can certainly make this case, but one must be more specific.

Aporetic

A.DIM
2003-Feb-07, 09:02 PM
On 2003-02-07 15:33, aporetic_r wrote:


Sadly, NASA functions very much like corporate america, and what took place is essentially the only thing that could've happened.
Peace.


I'd like to ask you to clarify your statement a bit. My concerns are as follows:

1) Most of us are speaking in a hypothetical manner about space disasters in general. It appears that your intention is to make a claim about the Columbia in particulat, rather than about NASA policy regarding predicted, inevitable, space flight disasters. Am I correct?

2) The phrase "corporate America" is an interesting one, with a colorful history on both sides of the proverbial aisle. In the case of your post, using it would seem to indicate that you consider American business to operate differently from business in other countries. In what substantive, topically-relevant ways does US business act differently than business in other countries?

3) Exactly how does NASA function "very much like corporate America?" One can certainly make this case, but one must be more specific.

Aporetic



Sorry, didn't mean to sound insensitive.
I'm only referring to the "cost" factors involved. Bill O Reilly interviewed one of the safety engineers who was fired from NASA sometime last year after he and several peers brought up various safety concerns; none of which are related to the Columbia tragedy, mind you. Apparently, NASA didn't see this as constructive criticism, but as a threat to their semi-smooth operations. More costs were involved for necessary upgrades and precautionary measures, and their budget is already tight.
Perhaps I should've said NASA is run more like a corporation than a publicly held entity. Since I'm sure capitalistic societies everywhere experience this "cutting of corners."

Irishman
2003-Feb-08, 03:23 PM
I pretty much agree with Jay's comments.

The other day Dittimore said that NASA's policy is and always has been to fully inform the crew. The commander is the man on the scene, he's the one making the calls from that end, you don't want to shortchange him of information. I recall this from previous discussion within the community. This is NASA's policy.

Regarding the Apollo 13 reentry, I don't know if that is accurate or Hollywood. I can see some justification in that particular case. It was very time specific. The data point in question was essentially during reentry. They couldn't do anything about it. There was no time to worry about possible messages for loved ones, etc. There wasn't really much time to even tell them about it. In that particular case, there is nothing to be lost (not even later trust) and you gain increasing the stress on the crew even more (than they already are stressed out). However, under every other circumstance I imagine, you tell the crew and involve them in the discussions and decisions.

Regarding the panic issue, the astronauts train heavily for all sorts of problems during missions. The mission control crews train heavily for problems. In fact, the teams take great pride in devising evil scenarios more complex than you would imagine on your worst day. This is precisely to prepare the crews (on orbit and ground) for the unexpected, and how to react while keeping their heads and not freezing up and/or panicking. There's a glimpse of this in Apollo 13, I think.

sacrelicious said:

well, since the shuttle could have doubled the length of its mission, time is a luxery that was abundant to them.

Where do you get that assessment?


this means mission control could (and certainly WOULD if they thought it to be a problem) work on the problem themselves without worrying the crew, and then if they came up with nothing they could break the bad news to the astronauts and hope that they might think of something new (they'd certainly have the most incentive to figure out the problem), and all before the mission is even scheduled to end. at the very least, not giving them the opportunity to talk to their families is not something NASA would knowingly do.

No. NASA policy is to fully inform the crew from the get go.


anyway, what I would do (and most likely what NASA would do) is try to figure it out from the ground, and then only worry the crew with it when all other avenues have been exausted, or when they are needed to fix or examine something.

What justification that your opinion is what NASA would conclude? It is only logical from the viewpoint of treating the astronauts as children or mentally incompetent, not as if they are equal team members.

johnwitts said:

According to the technical press conference I saw, the Shuttle flys the 'gentlest' profile for descent that can be devised as it is. This is because they want to re use the vehicle, so they want as little stress as possible. You couldn't tell the crew to 'fly extra careful' because that's what they do anyway...

Norm Thagard (former astronaut) said on CNN that potentially they could evaluate some other flight profile that would lessen the heating by trading off. The profile is optimized between coming in to fast/steep and increasing surface temps/drag, and coming in slower and letting the time factor allow the heat to soak through the tiles. Perhaps (and this was off the cuff for him) you could find a slower profile and accept some heat soak through to the structure that would probably preclude the shuttle from ever being reused, but maybe allow the crew to survive.

I also have to wonder if the S curve profile induces asymmetric heating/drag due to the side to side motions, that alternately heat one wing and then the other. If so, a profile with a consistent attitude floating only to the strong side and protecting the damaged one might provide relief. Again, perhaps at the trade of sacrificing the orbiter for reuse.

Another thought off the top of my head - the deorbit burn is made to send them reentering on the first cycle. Would it be possible to use less of an OMS burn, and dip through the outter reaches on 2 or three orbits to slow before dropping into the atmosphere? Would that help at all, or just increase heat cycles and conserve prop but do nothing to improve the final reentry conditions? Thinking about it, I think the latter.

calliarcale, I agree. If they suspected early on the problem was too great to survive reentry, the only alternative is a rescue of some sort. Then they look at all options, including sending Atlantis and/or the resupply. Given the status, it is in the debatable category whether they could have rushed to launch or not. It was close enough that I put it in the margins, and an attempt would have been made if deemed the only solution (oops, you guys lost your left wing on ascent). It certainly would have required a lot of effort from a lot of people, not just the processing teams working all hands and overtime, but also flight profile teams, mass/cg evaluations, manifest issues, etc at JSC. It would have required a herculean effort, but no doubt everyone would have tried their hardest.


Another challenge would be that crew transfer would almost certainly involve an untethered EVA between the two vehicles, which would be stationkeeping -- and when two vehicles are stationkeeping, you have issues of propellant contamination on spacesuits. (There's only so long you could leave them in free drift.)

The first question is if there was an RMS grapple fixture anywhere on Spacehab or the orbiter. If so, the RMS of the rescue orbiter could grab ahold. If not, stationkeeping is the name of the game. I think I could devise some cobbled up transfer line between the two, assuming they held attitude and position. In fact, I'm almost certain they could come up with a grapple fixture attachment to carry up and attach somewhere to the Columbia sidewalls. Off the top of my head, maybe take a Gas Beam on a sidwall with a GF on it and then use the power tool to install it on Columbia. Hell, desperate measures, put the Manipulator Foot Restraint (MFR, a tool for holding the crew member on the RMS to work on Hubble) and grab Columbia's handrail by hand. Oh oh oh, take two bridge clamps, an active ORU grid on a jury-rigged adapter plate with hex probes, and an ISS work platform (can't recall precise name). The platform has a passive grid on the end. The platform goes on the end of the RMS, the bridge clamps go side by side on the bridge rail of Columbia, the adapter plate mounts the active half of the ORU grid to the sidewall, and then the passive grid on the workplatform mounts to the active half. Okay, I'm not sure about the loads. And that assumes a work platform can be found. Desperate measures, they'd pull out the ground training class III unit and fly it. The adapter plate would be the only custom hardware, and that could be cobbled up in 3 days tops. (They could do it in a day with no errors.) No time for testing, but it would be a try.

See, this is the type of effort that would go into the "ohmygod whatdowedo" scenario.

Russ, I can't disagree with summary 1 and 2, but there might be debate on whether to drop into the ocean or leave in orbit for future recovery. My fear on the latter, it takes a while to get your next orbiter launched, since you know you have a problem that needs resolving before launch is safe, and have a similar shutdown period to evaluate and solve the problem. In that time, the orbiter could fall out of the sky a la Skylab. Then you have uncontrolled reentry potentially over a populated area (LA? Mexico City? Hong Kong?). Do you really want to risk that? Versus controlled ditching into the ocean or the Mexican desert.

Incidently, one orbit later and the flight profile for Columbia would have been right over Houston. Wouldn't that have been a mess?

A.DIM said:

I'm only referring to the "cost" factors involved. Bill O Reilly interviewed one of the safety engineers who was fired from NASA sometime last year after he and several peers brought up various safety concerns; none of which are related to the Columbia tragedy, mind you. Apparently, NASA didn't see this as constructive criticism, but as a threat to their semi-smooth operations. More costs were involved for necessary upgrades and precautionary measures, and their budget is already tight.
Perhaps I should've said NASA is run more like a corporation than a publicly held entity. Since I'm sure capitalistic societies everywhere experience this "cutting of corners."

There are different sides to that situation. It remains to be seen what's what. As for NASA being run like a corporation, isn't that the mating call of the politician - "We should be running things like a business,"? That will likely come under strict congressional review. When it does, I wonder what will be said about the Congressional budgetary fights over the last 12 years or so regarding NASA's budget, including calls for upgrades to Shuttle systems that were not approved by Congress? Oh, sorry, politics leaking through again.

My point is we can point fingers and lay blame in a lot of directions right now. I think most of us would prefer to evaluate what the problem actually is before we fix it.