[last update?] Last week the launch of the STS-127 Endeavour (scheduled for June 13) was delayed four days (to June 17) due to a (clearly dangerous) LH2 leak while fueling the Shuttle ET, then, its launch has been again in doubt due to a storm with high risk of lightning under 5 mile away from the launch pad (you can easily understand HOW MUCH RISKY could be to have some lightning while refueling the ET with 740 tons of liquid propellents...) then, the LH2 leak happened again and the STS-127 launch has been delayed to the next launch window (in July 11) hoping the LH2 leak issue will be solved.
All that, already IS a very bad news for the Endeavour and the Shuttle missions (that are 1.5 year close to end and must accomplish 10 further missions before) but, probably, you haven't realized "HOW MUCH BAD" this BAD news is!!!
In fact, the STS-127 (delayed over four weeks due to a repeated and still unsolved LH2 leak) isn't (only) a "normal" Shuttle mission to the ISS, but actually IS the SAME Orbiter with the SAME external tank of the STS-400 planned to be the "rescue ship" of the STS-125 (aka Hubble SM4...) IF the Atlantis astronauts went in an issue that made impossible to come back to Earth with their Shuttle!
In other words, if the Shuttle Atlantis (that already had some risky problem with the Space junk) was gone in a further and unsolvable problem that needed the STS-400 rescue, the seven astronauts has been DEAD.
So, the Atlantis crew, has been VERY VERY LUCKY that everything has gone well, since if something gone wrong, the STS-125 was pretty close to become the 3rd and worst Shuttle disaster!!!
Of course, you can say (and I agree with you) that we can't be 100% sure that, the same problem, happened in the real STS-400 launch, but the facts say that a problem on the SAME vehicle of the STS-400 actually IS happened and the STS-127 launch has been slipped one month later (+other possible delays if the problem isn't solved in time) that is TWICE the life support time of a just launched Shuttle OR up to 25 DAYS MORE than the life support remained on the Atlantis (2-3 days max) when it landed at the Edwards base due to a storm at KSC, strong enough to avoid also an STS-400 rescue!
An astronaut can survive several weeks without food or several days without water or a few hours in a CO2-rich atmosphere, but only a few minutes when the Shuttle's energy ends and the crew cabin had a -150/+150 °C excursion or just a few seconds without the oxygen!
We must remember, also, that, the day of the landing, the Atlantis had a failure to the Aerosurface Servoamplifer [ASA] channel and that, one of the SSME, has been replaced in the Atlantis maintenance and processing for the upcoming STS-129 mission.
Of course, I know that, this kind of malfunction, isn't a problem for re-entry, since the Shuttle uses the OMS for the deorbit burn, however, ALL the (self-styled) "experts" on all the Space forum and blogs (and NASA too) have COMPLETELY IGNORED my warning (or are laughing) while saying as ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE that both, SM4 and rescue Shuttle, could go to have enough and contemporary problems to put one or both crews under serious risk of death (after a very long agony broadcasted in a NASA TV reality show!) but the reality of facts says that these problems happened and has been (both) NEW issues, NEVER happened before, completely unpredictable and not prevented by the experience and work made by the NASA engineers (especially after the Columbia accident) to make the Shuttle missions safer.[end?]
[no longer the last update] Just after the Shuttle Atlantis landed, I wrote this update to my article and, of course, I'm very pleased that all the astronauts of this mission have been safely returned back to Earth.
I am also very pleased that the repair of the Hubble telescope was successful, since, I've argued for years (when everyone said that the new telescopes on earth would have soon surpassed and made scientifically useless it) that the HST should be moved (using automatic vehicles) near the ISS to be updated and repaired (without risking the lives of seven+ astronauts) even up to 2020 and beyond (which is, among other things, now possible thanks to the passive LIDS docking system arranged below the Hubble by the astronauts).
But, certainly, I cannot change a comma of my views about the excessive risks to which NASA has subjected the Atlantis' crew, since, the fact that it is returned safely to Earth, does not change the realty that it was probably the most dangerous NASA's mission since the Apollo 11.
Just after landing, the Atlantis' commander Scott Altman said via radio: "It was a thrill from start to finish. We've had a great ride." ...and I must say that he is absolutely right!!!
After lift-off, the Atlantis have had only a little damage to the heat shield (but it could have been much higher) was hit by just a small piece of space junk to the carbon-carbon edge of a wing (but could have been larger) a piece of space junk has flown just two miles away from Atlantis, while it was connected to Hubble (but it could have been closer) then the Hubble has released the Hubble, but could have been not happen properly, etc.
Also, after Hubble has been released, the Atlantis was moved down to a lower orbit to reduce the risk of impact of the space junk, which means that, for ten days, the risk of impact near the Hubble was very high!!!
Another criticism about this mission (which, fortunately, will never be repeated again, since this is the last Shuttle mission with this high degree of risk) regards the claimed "security" of the Endeavour STS-400 rescue mission in case something has been gone wrong.
Well, this is one of the most absurd points of the story, because, if you need to save a ship, you absolutely did not do it with the same kind of vehicle, but only with a much safer vehicle (that does not exist) and, certainly, not with the Shuttle Endeavor!
In other words, if you need to save some survivors on board a dinghy, in the middle of the ocean, in a storm, you'll absolutely never use another dinghy (of the same size and with the same weakness) that can sink just as (and together) the dinghy in trouble (so that, both survivors and rescue crews could die) but you must use a (much more robust and powerful) Coast Guard boat!
Instead "if something had gone wrong" the rescue of the Atlantis crew was devoted to a vehicle as old as the Atlantis, as risky as the Atlantis, which could fail at launch, exactly like the Atlantis, be damaged (and did not come back) just like the Atlantis flying in same area with high risks of space junk impact (where it could have been impacted and be damaged as much as the Atlantis) so, ultimately, not launched to save the Atlantis but just to follow its same fate!
The absolutely worst thing of all this is that NASA has put seven astronauts under this (huge, enormous and unacceptable) risk, notwithstanding that (as explained in this article) much of these risks, was very easy to prevent with a different planning of the mission, putting more life-support things (food, water, oxygen) aboard the Atlantis, which, I hope, after reading my article (my website has had several visits from nearly all NASA's centers...) they could have increased it (at least in part) before the launch without saying anything to the Press, to not alarm the public opinion... :)
Just yesterday I saw three documentaries about the Apollo 11 (two on TV and one on DVD) and, in one of them, has been read the speech that Nixon should have read if the crew of the Apollo 11 failed to come back from the Moon surface... well, fortunately that message was never read, but it could have been, because the risk of the mission has been very great.
I do not know if a similar message has been prepared in case Atlantis (and Endeavour) crew(s) had remained in space without being able to return, but, surely, this mission was so dangerous that it can really end up bad as was Apollo 11.
Certainly, the astronauts do one of the most risky job existing (and the astronauts know and accept that very well) but, in my opinion, I think that NASA should NOT add to a mission excessive and unnecessary risks, especially if they can easily avoid them with a better planning and redundant hardware and life support time.
up to ELEVEN
Every spaceflight (with every spacecraft) always was/is/will be risky and the astronauts know/accept that (and are trained to accomplish their missions with confidence, allowing to reduce the risks to the minimum) but some missions are TOO RISKY also for the brave astronauts, that is unacceptable especially if a "too risky mission" is, also, USELESS.
In my STOP the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 now!!! article I've explained why that mission is TOO RISKY and USELESS while, in this new article, I try/want to explain and evaluate HOW MUCH RISKY IS that (clearly) "too risky" mission.
All the Shuttle launches always face a possible Challenger-like risk (that's not "exactly" the same Challenger's accident, but, simply, "everything BAD could happen between the lift-off and ISS docking") that actually IS an already BIG risk for the astronauts!
After the Shuttle is docked to the ISS the risks to the astronauts become (nearly) ZERO since the heat shield of the Shuttle is accurately verified, and, if it's too damaged to safely reentry in the atmosphere, the Shuttle's crew can remain months (or even years with some ISS re-supply) waiting the launch of a rescue Shuttle (or several Soyuz) with which the astronauts can return back to Earth safely!
Unfortunately, the Hubble flies on a different orbit, altitude and inclination than the ISS (that's several thousands miles away from the Hubble) then the ISS can't be used as "safe haven" for the crew if "something goes wrong"!
So, the Hubble SM4 can face also an Apollo13-like risk (that's not "exactly" the same Apollo 13 accident, but, simply, "everything BAD could happen while the Shuttle is in space") AND a Columbia-like risk (that's not "exactly" the same Columbia's accident, but, simply, "everything BAD could happen to the Space Shuttle at re-entry, with a damaged heat shield").
In other words, the risks of the Hubble SM4 could be AT LEAST THREE TIMES HIGHER than a (already very risky) ISS mission, as visually explains the image below!!!
Unfortunatley, "three times higher" is only a very OPTIMISTIC evaluation, since, the Hubble SM4 risks can be THOUSANDS TIMES HIGHER than the SUM of the Challenger, Apollo13 and Columbia accidents, because, the risks of the Atlantis "in space" could be very much higher than those of the Apollo13, since:
1. the Apollo13 heat shield was intact at re-entry, while, the Shuttle with a damaged shield will burn in the atmosphere,
2. the Apollo13 was not a single vehicle but made of two independent vehicles, the CSM and the LM, so, the latter helped the main vehicle when its engine and life support died, while, the crew of a Shuttle damaged in its engines or life support, can't survive nor re-enter, and
3. the Apollo13 was in an emergency status, but already in the correct Moon-Earth re-entry trajectory, while, the crew of a damaged Shuttle in orbit (but thousands miles away from the ISS) can't re-entry safely nor survive, but could remains for decades or centuries in space while waiting its orbit to decay!
Of course, someone can say that, while the Atlantis is in space the Endeavour will be ready to fly on the launch pad for a rescue mission... but, unfortunately, the Endeavour isn't a "new, better and more reliable vehicle", but just another old and dangerous Space Shuttle, so, only if BOTH crews will be VERY lucky the second Shuttle will fly in time, reach the Atlantis, save the crew and return back to Earth safely, that, remember, only if both crews will be very lucky... but, if they don't... the second Shuttle "could" have one+ (weather, ECO sensor, ET foam, LH2 valve, SSME malfunction, etc.) several weeks or months of delay (as already happened several times with the Shuttle) or a launch abort, so, the Atlantis crew could quickly end its life support system then die after a long agony followed on TV by billions peoples worldwide!!!
In the worst case, also the second Shuttle could have an heat shield and/or life support and/or an engines malfunction and/or reach a wrong orbit (or one of hundreds known and unknown possible problems) so that, the number of astronauts dead "live" on TV will be ELEVEN with two multi-billion$ vehicles lost!!!
I believe that NASA should avoid these risks since this kind of tragedy must be always prevented before and don't cry later when it happens!
That's why I suggest to delay indefinitely the Hubble SM4 waiting for a final political decision about the Shuttle retirement date.
Then, if the Shuttle retirement date will be shifted for (at least) two further years, they have enough time to study and develop a better and safer Hubble repair mission, while, if the Shuttle retirement date will be confirmed for 2010, the (very risky and useless) Hubble SM4 should be DELETED forever!
[update] In this article, about the SM4, I haven't published (so far) any calculations of risks of the mission because: a) it's always hard to do a "calculation" of a risk based on dozens (known and unknown) parameters (each of them able to influence the success or the fail of a mission) and b) because it seemed me SO CLEAR (just using the LOGIC and common sense) that this mission is TOO RISKY, to make entirely unnecessary give any "numbers" to support this truth!
However, some calculations of the risks can be done but the results can't make us happy nor confident, since, the Shuttle fleet already has a bad track record with two vehicles lost out of five and two lethal accident in 125 missions, that means one spaceplane's crash every 62.5 flights, that's like have 30 airlines' jets crashed every 1000 flights!
Based of these REAL FIGURES of the Shuttles missions, the "global" risk to fail (of the last 11 missions before its retirement) gives us a chilling 17.5% of risk per each mission!
But, as explained in this article the Hubble mission is at least THREE TIMES MORE RISKY than an ISS mission, so, the (already VERY HIGH) risk of every Shuttle launch, must be multiplied by three, that means up to 50% of risk to fail for the Hubble repair mission![update] Assuming the STS-400 rescue mission will fly "in time" to reach the STS-125 in orbit without delays (before the SM4's crew will end its life support) the mission itself will be unique, complex, untested (and NEVER accomplised before) so, it may fail due to one of several dozens unexpected problems that could happen while in orbit!
[update] After the recent collision in space between two satellites, one further and main concern about the SM4 is those regarding the "space junk" (running at very high speed in space, also nearly the ISS) that, according to NASA, "should" be a risk of "only 1 in 221" as reported in this Harwood's article on cnet.
Well, apart of the fact that an "1 in 221 risk" actually is VERY VERY HIGH (it's like say that, every day, 4525 out of 1,000,000 passengers of commercial flights will DIE in plane crash!!!) it's unclear HOW they have calculated the debris' collision risk of the SM4 then HOW they can be so SURE that it's "only" 1 in 221, rather than 1 in 500 or 150 or 63... especially after they revealed a report (reported in this Wired.Science.Blog article) about the TRUE (and VERY MUCH HIGHER than known before!!!) figures of the space junk's impacts in the past Shuttle missions: "In 54 missions, from STS-50 through STS-114, space junk and meteoroids hit the Shuttle’s windows 1,634 times necessitating 92 window replacements. In addition the Shuttle’s radiator was hit 317 times actually causing holes in the radiator’s facesheet 53 times."
Also, the space junk's risk can't be evaluated alone but together with the already very high basic risks of the mission, so, the "joined risk" to fail may reach the 70% figure!
[update] Last but not least, another problem (solved now) affects the Atlantis' radiator.
So, my question is: Would you send your sons on a journey, by plane or car, despite you know, before start travel, that they have one-two out of three chances to die?
Then, while I hope that everything goes well, of course, I must say that THIS actually IS the TRUE reality of facts about the upcoming (very risky and useless) Hubble mission!
So, HOW can we help the SM4 astronauts to save their lives or at least increase their (very low now) chances to survive to this risky mission, before they'll fly, next week?
Well, if we consider the (two-three months) average/standard delay of a Shuttle flight "when one or more problems occur", the only way to give more chances to survive to the Atlantis' astronauts, is to add NOW two-three months of extra-life support to the basic 16 days-only max life support of a Shuttle flight, that should be easy for food, water and (perhaps) oxygen, but not so easy for the extra-energy, since the Shuttle still uses fuel-cells (rather than solar panel) despite they have a special connector to gather energy from the ISS solar arrays.
Of course, also the Endeavour should have a six+ months extra-life support, to have enough time to assemble, move to the pad and launch the Shuttle Discovery (with a one-two years extra-life support aboard) in an effort/attempt to rescue the Atlantis and Endeavour crews... or to lose the third crew and the last Shuttle... :|
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