Liftoff From Disaster

May 6, 2011 by

Yeah, so, I’m sure you’ve heard that the space shuttle Endeavour’s launch was scrubbed until further notice.  It was something else seeing that astronaut van make a U-turn when it was so close…and that’s apparently a first for the NASA Tweetups.  As they say over there (after they said, “Well, we got you to fueling!”, since they’d filled the external fuel tank before they discovered that the problem that led to the scrub couldn’t be easily fixed), space is hard.

When the Endeavour does go up, though, a little…well, a very big something resurrected from damage in a time of great disaster will be helping it leave the Earth (thanks to @fofalex for the link):

At the time Katrina rampaged over the region, the tank was in Cell-A of (Michoud Assembly Facility)’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), where it was already undergoing return-to-flight modification work.

“It was in Cell A for those mods – we had taken off the old bipod ramps, we had started removing some of the PAL ramps, and various other little mods were in work,” added Lockheed Martin’s John DesForges, ET-122 project manager (also known as the tank’s “missile mother”).

“What happened was pieces of concrete panels came down from the roof of the building, bounced off the building structure and pieces hit the tank.”

After the hurricane passed, NASA and Lockheed Martin made initial assessments of the tank. Their early conclusions were dire, as extensive damage was observed on and around the hardware.

“The chief engineer and myself on the NASA side for the External Tank looked at this within a few days of its original damage and we weren’t sure it would ever fly,” Whipps noted. “The damage looked quite extensive and there was debris everywhere, there was water in places there shouldn’t be water, so it looked like it was in a rough shape.”

Following the inspections to assess the hurricane damage and to determine whether the tank could be flown, DesForges was made project manager and tasked with setting up a feasibility study on repairing the tank.

“My first duty, about three weeks after the hurricane, was to climb the stairs in the VAB to inspect the damage and from that point on I’ve been associated with it,” DesForges said. “I did the damage assessment, where we inspected the tank, documented all the damage, put together a repair plan, and presented that to the customer. We gave them a couple of options about how to proceed.

“We did a whole series of NDE (Non-Destructive Evaluations] – X-ray, ultrasonic inspection, penetrant inspection – and the tank was fine, not even a contour was changed.”

This “Katrina tank” is currently attached to the outside of Endeavour, ready to go when NASA says so…

…but when I got home from Florida’s Space Coast, I had survival news from a friend living near one of NASA’s key sites.  The tornadoes of last week hit much of northern Alabama very badly, and many are in need there.  Where are they ready to go? Down the long, hard road that is recovery from such horrible forces of nature.

Want to help? A big list of links just for that purpose can be found at the Alabama Possible site here.  Go. Peruse. Donate. Do what you can.  236 have been confirmed dead, and those numbers are rising.


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