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May 31, 2008


Posted: 07:08 PM ET

Nice to hear from all the foamologists out there. For the record, at least five pieces of foam fell off the external fuel tank at about 3:30 after liftoff.

This is outside the zone of "aerodynamic concern" about foam. That is NASAese for the simple fact that stage of the ride uphill, the shuttle is in some very thin air indeed. The result: the foam does not accelerate significantly as it breaks free of the tank – and thus does not pose a serious risk of breaching the orbiter's thermal protection system. That said, engineers will be poring over that imagery, along with high resolution still images and video of the tank shot by the crew after it separates from the orbiter. Those images will tell the team much more about the size of the pieces that broke free. On docking day (Monday), Discovery will perform the now standard rotational pitch maneuver (RPM) – or back flip – to allow the station crew to snap some high resolution still images of the tiles. If there is any damage to the tiles, they will likely see it then. Later in the mission, they will attach an extension to the shuttle robot arm – and give the hard to see spots a good look-see. So bottom line here: unlikely the falling foam is a problem – and even if so, there is little doubt the shuttle team will see it. If there is damage, they will need to determine if it is serious enough to attempt some sort of repair.

Miles O'Brien/Space Correspondent

Filed under: NASA • Space

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Franko   June 1st, 2008 7:08 am ET

Is this astrogel ?
Maybe something bouncy or melt like frozen soap bubbles would work ?

Mike Smitreski   June 1st, 2008 9:00 am ET

Silly question: Why don't they apply the foam to the inside of the tank?
Missed the launch yesterday, and as I watched CNN throughout the evening one would think no other news was happening other than a bunch of democrats bitching at each other. Still another reason to go right to NASA's website and ignore watching CNN for any 'news'...

Old Bob   June 1st, 2008 12:26 pm ET

Mike, the foam is on the outside to prevent the formation of ice which could do far more damage than a piece of foam, were it to hit the orbiter. Putting the foam inside would not prevent ice formation on the outside due to the extremely cold fuel and oxidizer which are about -430ºF and -250ºF respectively.

JamFez   June 1st, 2008 1:09 pm ET

Good question about putting insulation on the inside of the tank. This would do an even better job of keeping the ice off of the outer surface of the tank because the supercold liquid propellants would be directly insulated from the metal tank. The problem that follows is that small particles of foam could possibly erode and get inside the turbomachinery of the engines. This could be very bad.

Astrogel? What is world is that about? I have heard of aerogel material which makes a very good insulation.

s callahan   June 1st, 2008 2:17 pm ET

If i understood this correctly..there is not too much concern with the lost foam? Wasn't this blamed for the cause of the failed mission a few years back?
Hope all is well

Mike Smitreski   June 2nd, 2008 7:28 am ET

It is my understanding there are two tanks (liquid oxygen and hydrogen) within the external tank? If the foam is inside the external tank I would think that would insulate just as well. The foam would not be in contact with the fuel and would not get into the engines.

Mark   June 4th, 2008 9:33 am ET

Mike-I think to put foam inside the tank is a cost issue. To engineer foam that would work inside would cost $$$. Remember we won't be flying the shuttle soon, so new RND on an old platform is something that powers that be don't wish to do very much.

Franko   June 8th, 2008 9:16 pm ET

Use very light Astrogel, held together by same material as women's stockings.

Design it layer by layer. Hire a Structural Engineer experienced in Maidenform Invisible Options design.

R E M   June 26th, 2008 9:09 pm ET

Nobody noticed the part about the foam "accelerating"? When the foam breaks off the tank, it decelerates by air resistance. It only appears to be "accelerating" from the viewpoint of the rest of the tank which is actually accelerating.

R E M   June 26th, 2008 9:13 pm ET

Can't we come up with an epoxy type spray coating for the exterior of the foam on the shuttle side? The weight would cut the payload, but there would be a better chance of the shuttle surviving.

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