S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Eyesore" tank and other NASA news*

(photo credit: NASA/Troy Cryder) The space shuttle Atlantis is back at the Kennedy Space Center launch pad at Cape Canaveral Florida. It is heartening to watch NASA bounce back time after time, disaster after disaster. This organization is in many ways just like the "energizer bunny, anything that continues endlessly." After a two months-long delay to repair its hail-damaged fuel tank, it is now ready for a June 8 launch, according to Tariq Malik at Quoting from the story,
The move is a major step towards launch for Atlantis and its STS-117 astronaut crew following a two and one-half-month delay that began on Feb. 26, when a freak storm over Pad 39A pelted the orbiter's foam-covered fuel tank with golf ball-sized hail. Of about 4,200 divots gouged into Atlantis' fuel tank insulation, engineers patched up all but 402 minor dings and invented a new portable sanding tool in one week to finish the job inside KSC's 52-story Vehicle Assembly Building, said John Chapman, NASA's external tank project manager.
"It's a real success story, almost bordering on an Apollo 13-type story to develop that in such a short time," Chapman said Friday, referring to NASA's Apollo 13 Moon shot in 1970, when engineers on Earth worked furiously to improvise fixes and return its three-astronaut crew home after an oxygen tank exploded. "I promise you, it is absolutely ready to go," he said of Atlantis' fuel tank.

A thing of beauty . . . or not? Over the years South by Southwest has often featured posts about NASA's space program. Characterizing myself as a "space junkie," I am fascinated by the agency and its triumphs and tragedies for several reasons. Created in 1958 it got much of its impetus and inspiration from my hero, President John F. Kennedy. Its Houston headquarters is named after President Lyndon Johnson. Many of the images I have in my head about NASA's saga are tragic or ugly; but many more are incredibly beautiful or heroic, such as the recent news of the death of astronaut Walter Shirra.
"Dark Matter Ring" is a lovely example of the incredibly beautiful.

The "eyesore" patched fuel tank could become a kind of metaphor for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency. Damaged by storms, patched, in the news - or on the back page, on a shoestring budget, behind schedule, safety conscious, the tank is now ready to get back to its incredibly challenging job, just like NASA. Irene Klotz, writing for Reuters, quoted fuel tank manager, John Chapman:
"We have total confidence in the integrity of the repairs but I'm telling you right now that your mind will have a hard time convincing your eyes."
Atlantis and a newly expanded crew of seven will be carrying a new set of solar power-producing wings for the space station. The extra crewmember, Clay Anderson, will be replacing station flight engineer Sunita Williams, who will return home aboard Atlantis.
The space station, a $100 billion project of 16 international partners, is about half finished. The shuttles are the only vehicles capable of hauling and assembling the outpost.
Astronaut Sunita Williams is the beautiful - inside and out - "bridging" crew member between ISS Expeditions 14 and 15 to the International Space Station.

Shown: Expedition 15 Commander Fyodor N. Yurchikhin (center), Flight Engineer Oleg V. Kotov (right) and Flight Engineer Sunita L. Williams. Photo credit: NASA

Seen as individual parts the utilitarian hardware making up the ISS is rather ugly. But as a whole the space station has become very beautiful.

*"This week at NASA" - 5/18/07 audio : what is currently happening with the space program at NASA. The NASA website is an excellent resource, divided into three very interesting sections: Life on Earth, Humans in Space, and Exploring the Universe.

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