Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Space Shuttle Launch

A good friend from Jacksonville, FL was in town two weeks ago. He is an executive with a major NASA contractor, so we talked about today's space shuttle launch over breakfast. He had visited the shuttle two days before we got together, so we had a pretty interesting conversation.

He was able to enter the orbiter during his visit, and he confirms it is a very tight space. He also said that there are seven baskets on zip lines right beside the shuttle, so the astronauts can escape to the ground in case of serious trouble right before a scheduled launch.

His company developed a system to pump one million gallons of water into the shuttle just before lift off. As the solid rocket booster fires, the water removes much of the heat by converting to steam, then their system evacuates all that steam just before the shuttle lifts off the launching pad. That is the white plume you see coming from the bottom of the shuttle. His company is also responsible for the launching pad and elevator/bridge that allows the astronauts to get in the shuttle.

He mentioned that the government's internal safety review was less than stellar, as NASA continues to allow many items deemed non-critical to vary from design. As I recall, NASA also previously deemed low temperatures in 1986 and a loss of foam insulation in 2003 non-critical.

I hope that today's scheduled launch sends these astronauts safely into space and that there return is just as smooth.


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