Don't kill another Shuttle crew!!!!!!!! The ET cracks might very likely cause a, never seen before, huge ET foam debris that may destroy the Shuttle before it reaches the orbit!!!!!!
idea that can save SEVEN
I'm a supporter of the Space Shuttle and FOUR YEARS AGO I've suggested to MODIFY the Shuttle fleet to fly CREWLESS and keep them in service in the next 5-15 years (to FILL the 7+ years "smart-cargo" GAP) and/or make it SAFER to fly with crews to FILL (also) the 7+ years manned US' spaceflights GAP between the Shuttle retirement (in 2010) and the first manned Orion launch (now...) scheduled for 2017 (or later).
However, I'm aware that it's an old and dangerous machine so, a third lethal accident could happen in each of the last flights planned, KILLING up to SEVEN more astronauts!
Despite years of research and billion$ spent after the Columbia accident, the ET "foam" STILL is a major issue of all Shuttle flights as happens now with the STS-128 Shuttle ET and that could/will happen with next/last SIX Shuttle flights before its retirement in 2010 (or, more likely, in 2011) with a BIG RISK for the 45+ astronauts that will fly in the last Shuttle missions (or even more bigger and for many other astronauts if the Shuttle fleet will be kept in service for two-five more years and used for 5-10 further missions).
This is the reason why I've developed and I propose here a very simple and low cost idea that could SOLVE entirely and forever the "ET foam issue" to allow much safer flights!
My idea (see image below) is to use one of the strongest and lightest materials available today (the fishing net's nylon) to cover entirely (or only on the Orbiter side) the ET and its foam, to avoid as much as possible any foam detachment or, if any, keep the pieces of the detached foam, INSIDE the nylon net, or allow the foam's debris to "flow down" between the ET and the net, then, to exit from the ET's bottom, so, the ET foam debris will NEVER HIT AGAIN NOR DAMAGE the Shuttle's Thermal Shield and/or the wings!!!
The weight of this nylon "ET-net" depends from the surface of the ET we want to cover (all its surface, or only the part of ET from where, a detached foam, can hit the Orbiter) and from the thickness of the naylon wire, the size of the net's mesh (tailored to hold firmly all the pieces of foam of dangerous size) but, my evaluation with about 800 sqm. of surface covered, is for an absolutely insignificant total weight under 200 kg. (using a 250 gr./sqm. medium-thickness wire nylon net) and a price of only $5000 or less!!!
Another suggestion to keep the nylon net more firmly joined to the ET also at the Max Q point of the flight is to join the nylon net to the ET surface (every 2-5 sqm.) also with a strong (but ET foam and nylon compatible) glue.
I've evaluated also the idea to use other materials (like a thin aluminum or plastic foil) but all them are several times heavier, hundreds times weakest and (much more) long, complex and expensive to apply to the ET compared with the simple, lighter, strong and very low cost (to buy and to apply) "fishing-like" nylon net!
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