Monday, June 04, 2007

---In Space News 

---Atlantis is scheduled to launch on an ISS assembly mission Friday, June 8.

FL Today: Space: "NASA lawyer in trouble for destroying DVDs"
From the Statement of Michael Wholley at House Hearing on NASA IG Investigation SpaceRef
“I concluded that these were not "records" for purposes of the FRA, but also concluded that if they were retained and filed they could become "records" by virtue of that retention. From my perspective, and as I stated to the subcommittee staff, I did not believe it wise to have these in any way become "records" subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act.”
My experience with the NASA legal department (at JSC) has fully prepared me for this. I am familiar with this legal entity which hires its members for their automated wllingness to perform information control, rather than any sort of quick-wittedness or sensitivity to basic moral or---heaven forbid---ethical consideration, or concern for-- or vision of the future for that matter. They are so accustomed to receiving deferential treatment from the judiciary and uninformedness from the general public, as a government agency and major employer, that brains aren’t high on the legal hiring priority list.
I am in no way even slightly surprised, let alone stunned or horrified, to learn that a prominent member of the NASA legal group--- NASA General Counsel Michael C. Wholley---reached a legal determination, based on a few moments of “research” into the Federal Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act, that records of a meeting involving Administrator Griffin which contained potentially damaging information were “not records” yet, and that they could be safely and legally pounded into oblivion and permanent non record-ness with a board from his bookshelf.
I did, however, manage a brief sigh of resignation when I read his justification for this action:
“My bad...pure heart, empty head.”
Well? How do you suppose he got his job, anyway? Is it ironic, as FLToday points out, that the records being destroyed involved a discussion about other troublesome records being destroyed? Sure. That’s sort of the problem here; I’m basically anesthetized to behavior from high-ranking NASA officials that would result in imprisonment or mandatory psychiatric care for anyone else but a former member of the Clinton administration.

The Flame Trench space blog by Florida Today:" NASA clears Atlantis' tank for rollout"
FL Today: Space: "Tank 'not pretty,' but should pass inspection"
The photos with this posting from the Flame Trench include my choice for the definitive snapshot of the whole hail-damage repair effort to get Atlantis’ ET ready for its June 8 flight: Two guys with something that looks oddly like a Brobdingnagian Gillette razor, shaving the damaged foam off the nose of the tank.
The response to this situation from NASA---expectation control: It won’t be “pretty”, but it will probably work.

The Flame Trench space blog by Florida Today:" NASA managers mull shuttle engine issue"
In the windup for the June 8 launch of Atlantis, engineers have flagged a potential corrosion problem with the bolts which hold some of the STS main engine turbopumps in their assembly. Putting some rather hysterical responses to the post aside, the issue has probably been handled as well as can be expected. The bolts on Atlantis have been checked for corrosion and cleared.
It does show a serious overall weakness in the long-term use of what is arguably history’s most complex man-made “machine”. If you have something with a million pieces in it, the million-to-one sequences of failure that usually bring about major catastrophes become all too significant.

FL Today Space: "Orbiters feel pains of aging"
Yep, it’s 2007, and the large composite-reinforced flight-weight pressure vessels used to pressurize the STS maneuvering propulsion systems are---wheeze---almost ten years past the best-of-luck extended certification given them when the expected ten-year service life expired, at which point (about 1998), no attempt at re-certification was made. NASA is dodging the problem by keeping non essential personnel away from the Shuttle on the pad, and keeping the pressure at 85% until the last moment before launch, in the hope that no one will be injured or killed if one of them “lets go”. What such an explosion would do if it occurred in flight is a matter of wishful thinking and crossed fingers---It probably won’t happen this time.

NASA addresses fears about space fire hazard - Human Spaceflight - [Oberg]MSNBC.com
Meanwhile, on the ISS, a fire hazard has been identified that could cause oxygen lines which supply the U.S. airlock to catch fire and possibly rupture, causing serious damage to the airlock and possibly injury to the crew inside it. The fire hazard stems from the possibility that metal debris left in the line from production or assembly could be propelled down the lines with enough force to strike the lining and ignite in the pure oxygen environment. Leaving aside for the moment the profound stupidity of manufacturing lines for oxygen service with potentially lethal debris in them, and then leaving them in service anyway, engineers had “worked around” the problem by limiting the flow rate through the lines to reduce the energy of any sparklers in the lines. Unfortunately, the geometry of some connections in the lines could cause flow to unpredictably exceed the speed limit. The “work around” for the “work around”? Operate the valves slowly....

Solar system sails sideways through galaxy - Space.com – MSNBC.com
Okay, I’m not sure I know what’s going on here. Apparently, analysis of the shape of our Sun’s heliosphere, the boundary between the solar wind and the surrounding galactic environment, shows that our system is traveling through the Milky Way (come on, guys, can we get a real galactic name, here?) almost sideways, its axis of rotation almost perpendicular to the galactic plane.

JPL Catalog Page for PIA09211:"Coasts and Drowned Mountains"
On its 31st pass by Saturn’s enigmatic moon Titan, Cassini obtained SAR images of what appears to be a complex coastline and island chains formed by mountains submerged in an organic sea.


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