Shouting 'Cross the Potomac

barstool philosopher,
backseat driver
but never a Monday morning quarterback

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Wednesday, August 27, 2003

'Twas the Foam From the Begin — 1981 That Is...

Tony Adragna
Glenn wonders whether there's discussion in the report supporting the theory that "an EPA mandate to reduce ozone-depleting chemicals released into the atmosphere"[my emphasis] contributed to Columbia's catastrophic failure — or, did the fact that the foam was environment friendly per se doom the shuttle?

Answer: NO!

Yes, the foam strike caused a breach in Columbia's wing, but foam was shedding from the external tank and causing damage to the orbiter prior to the reformulation

The shedding of External Tank foam — the physical cause of the Columbia accident — had a long history. Damage caused by debris has occurred on every Space Shuttle flight, and most missions have had insulating foam shed during ascent. This raises an obvious question: Why did NASA continue flying the Shuttle with a known problem that violated design requirements? It would seem that the longer the Shuttle Program allowed debris to continue striking the Orbiters, the more opportunity existed to detect the serious threat it posed. But this is not what happened. Although engineers have made numerous changes in foam design and application in the 25 years that the External Tank has been in production, the problem of foam-shedding has not been solved, nor has the Orbiter's ability to tolerate impacts from foam or other debris been significantly improved. [Columbia Accident Investigation Report Chapter 6, pg 121 (pdf, first page)]

The assumption that only tiny pieces of debris would strike the Orbiter was also built into original design requirements, which specified that the Thermal Protection System (the tiles and Reinforced Carbon-Carbon, or RCC, panels) would be built to withstand impacts with a kinetic energy less than 0.006 foot-pounds. Such a small tolerance leaves the Orbiter vulnerable to strikes from birds, ice, launch pad debris, and pieces of foam.

Despite the design requirement that the External Tank shed no debris, and that the Orbiter not be subjected to any significant debris hits, Columbia sustained damage from debris strikes on its inaugural 1981 flight. More than 300 tiles had to be replaced. Engineers stated that had they known in advance that the External Tank “was going to produce the debris shower that occurred” during launch, “they would have had a difficult time clearing Columbia for launch." [id, pg 122 (second page)]
NASA was going where test pilots dare not — outside the envelope. When they discovered that the system wasn't working as designed, they decided it wasn't a problem so long as the Orbiter kept going up & coming down.

Except, it was a problem known about since Columbia's first flight in '81, and her final crew paid the price for what "[o]ver the course of 113 missions... came to be regarded more as a turn around or maintenance issue, and less as a hazard to the vehicle and crew."

The panel's "findings" in this section start on the bottom of pg 130 (pg 10)...

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

Well, I've Got Nothin'...

Tony Adragna
An old Baltimore Sun editor, and a real mensch, once spoke, "[I]f you haven't any opinion, and if you don't want to take a line, don't print the editorial. You don't have to print it. " On the news of the past few days, I've no opinion not already expressed at one time or another, so I've taken Mr. Mencken's advice.

But, I do want to share some of Mencken's orts of wisdom
Nature abhors a moron.

Say what you will about the Ten Commandments, you must always come back to the pleasant fact that there are only ten of them.

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.

Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

It is the fundamental theory of all the more recent American law...that the average citizen is half-witted, and hence not to be trusted to either his own devices or his own thoughts.

It is inaccurate to say I hate everything. I am strongly in favor of common sense, common honesty, and common decency. This makes me forever ineligible for public office.

Demagogue: One who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots.

It is impossible to imagine the universe run by a wise, just and omnipotent God, but it is quite easy to imagine it run by a board of gods. If such a board actually exists it operates precisely like the board of a corporation that is losing money.

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule--and both commonly succeed, and are right... The United States has never developed an aristocracy really disinterested or an intelligentsia really intelligent. Its history is simply a record of vacillations between two gangs of frauds.
All those quotes are, I think, relevant to discussions we've recently had, or coulda had if we felt compelled to have something to say everyday...

Sunday, August 24, 2003
Updated 5:30 PM

Plebeian Punditry Purmutates Polisphere

Tony Adragna
Sorry, Will, but you know of my love for the alliteration...

That last quoted graf gets at my answer to Brian Lamb re "empowerment." We don't need rely on politicians or newspaper editors to get our viewpoints out into the public debate. Nor do we need the financial support of special interest goups or political machines to get our message out.

All we hafta do is login, type, and publish.

Some time ago, responding to a question put by another Brian, I wrote: "political blogs are 'value added' to the extent that they contribute to democratizing the debate -- that's the best future we can hope for..." Are we there yet?

I think so.

I think this also ties into our discussion on plabiscitary democracy, where Zathras writes
Anyone who has spent more than a week observing a legislature knows that it isn't just having a majority that counts; it's having the ability to decide which questions your majority answers. In a California plebiscite, the voters don't make those decisions any more than they do in states that have no initiative procedures in their constitutions. Interest groups and activists make the decisions for them. This doesn't mean that the end product will always be a bad one, but it does mean that's the way to bet.
Why is it that "voters don't make those decisions" about which questions get answered? We voters should get to make those decisions, at least indirectly through our representatives. Shouldn't we? If you respond that we do get to make such choices every two years or so at the ballot booth, I'll hafta go make sick — the partisan rhetoric, often devolving into polemics, is less about issues than about getting electetd, irrespective of whether the seat is truly contested.

OK, special interests can use the intiative process to bring their questions to the front. But so can regular citizens. And it's regular citizens who get to decide the answer, instead of leaving it to the political class.

There's still something missing from the plebiscitary democracy movement, though, and that's informed debate between regular citizens. It's great that politicians & jouranlists are reading blogs, but I'm more interested in the democratic nature of blogging. The Greeks went to the Agora to debate in public, unlike the Romans who debated within the Senate's confines — could blogging be the forum that breaks the hold that special interests, politicians, and the news media have long had on which questions get answered?

Stephen Farnsworth answers that question, correctly I think...

Update: Got a letter from Nico, who said some very gracious things [which I modestly won't post] then comments & asks
The problem with (and at the same time the power of) blogs is that they represent the single voice. If the politician/representative now wants to find out what the general opinion, say in a state (or even a big city), is, how would he do that?

Browsing blogs alone can't be the solution. (How can I browse thousands or even millions of blogs?) As a politician I probably could not even assume that the blogs represent a fair cross-section of society and a fair representation of people's opinions....

......personally I think that the only solution to this problem would be to localize government, but throwing the question back at you. What do you think would be the solution?
Well, politicians already have their ways — focus groups, town hall meetings, opinion polling. Politicians also have people working for them who shouldn't have any problem tuning into a good cross section of the blogosphere. As I said above, though, I'm mostly into how "regular citizens" can tune into each other's opinions, debate & learn from each other, and come to their own conclusions on important questions of the day.

The best blogs, in my opinion, include comments sections [I must pause here to do something I've not done in awhile — Express my profound gratitude to Kathy Kinsley]. I can always count on QP being not a "single voice," as those comments from our readers are just as much a part of the blog as are the entries by me & Will.

I think Will was right on during our C-SPAN appearance when he noted that anybody with internet access ought be able to do what those government folks in Virginia are doing. And it doesn't need the regular browsing of more than probably 10 or 20 blogs to get a good sense of what's going on, so long as your reading list isn't one-sided. And if there's a comment section, then jump right in...

Front Page Blogging

Will Vehrs
Hey Tony, we got a nice mention today on the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Pam Stallsmith has an effective summary of the blogging phenomenon and its impact from a Virginia perspective. I particularly liked this series of quotes she included:

The press office of Gov. Mark R. Warner, which monitors news coverage of the administration, keeps its eye on bloggers.

"We clip bloggers who know what's going on and their writing reflects that they know what's going on," Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said. "We want to know what people are saying about Virginia government or politics no matter where they're saying it."

That's "powerful evidence" of the growing influence of bloggers, said one political analyst.

"When Governor Warner's staff not only looks at the state's leading newspapers but Web sites without paid circulation, you can see how important to the discourse these people have become in very short order," said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political scientist at Mary Washington College who's an expert on the Internet and politics.

"In the old days, politicians and reporters basically controlled the political agenda," he said. "Now the opportunity exists to get stories out in the public domain in a much more direct way by individuals who want to push these topics."

If you're visiting QP based on Pam's story, a hearty welcome. Please check out The Refuge to comment and/or join--we'd love to hear from you.