Sunday, 30 January 2011

Oil Spill -(Control Ecology Damage - Not Politics) - Apply NASA's FRR System!

Two months after the deep-ocean oil spill in federal waters off Louisiana, the immensity of the catastrophe is still growing, as the mass media reluctantly, but inevitably, permits criticism of how president Obama is handling the crisis. For weeks, there was nothing but official statements of blaming BP (British Petroleum - "They will pay for everything!"); initially, a quick but unexplained firing of a woman, supposedly in charge of federal drilling regulations (some rumors of relaxed requirements for BP's mile-deep rig); then - after complaints that "cool" Obama was too unemotional, some presidential cuss-words to show frustration.
However, week after week - the oil still gushes, tragic pictures of oil-covered pelicans are in the news; also of the gigantic oil slick as it comes ever closer to the east coast - meanwhile no solution is forthcoming on how to plug the leak. However, at long last, there seems to be some beginning governmental effort to stem the potential oil damage. Desperate pleas by the Governor of Louisiana for federal support to mop up the oil and block the slick were apparently ignored for weeks (claims of federal equipment, e.g. "booms" being unavailable, and that concerns about lack of an "environmental impact study" precluded relief efforts). In June, television-show hosts Hannity and Huckabee began using their Fox News programs to publicize innovative methods of minimizing the oil damage as suggested by the public - all apparently ignored by the Administration.
The problem is - there are two problems - of equal essential and immediate importance: 1) plugging the leak (and learning and eliminating the cause); 2) minimizing the oil slick damage.
The time-honored method of attacking critical problems is to assemble many experts; provide a forum for presentation and debate; establish unemotional assessment by an experienced advisory panel; then decisions are made by qualified authority. NASA, coping with the extremes of both human experience and danger (plus enormous national pride and cost), has developed its system of "Flight Readiness Review" to best accomplish this. To add difficulty, the decision-maker (NASA Administrator - who reports to the President), while experienced and knowledgeable in many fields (perhaps an Air Force General), may lack the detailed scientific, arcane knowledge at issue in a risk-assessment decision - but he must make the decision.
The NASA mission in space is daunting, unforgiving of any error or oversight of human shortcomings: in engineering, design, manufacturing, Quality Control - or in predicting the effect of complex Nature - or in taking the "best shot" when probing the unknown. And the rule is that the NASA Administrator - whose areas of background expertise can hardly embrace all the varied technologies of risk and concern - is required to make all critical decisions. And since life-and-death, plus hundreds of millions of dollars in program hardware and costs are involved in every mission, how that is done is a unique approach to technical and management problem-solving.
In essence, before each flight, NASA conducts a Flight Readiness Review (really a tutorial) - taking several days, where-by every possible threat to a successful mission is thoroughly examined and reviewed - in technical, educational detail - presented by the best experts in industry and government - addressing the Administrator and his staff. The Administrator sits at the top center of a large "inverted U" table, Agency Directors at his sides; the major contractor Engineering officials sit along the legs, their staffs behind them; and, by video, hundreds of engineers at every involved NASA agency and contractor follow the proceedings. Every technical or scientific issue is reduced to its fundamentals - questions asked, debated and answered by the many experts in each field in the room - so the Administrator (often a "layman" in the specific arcane field) understands the risks as best an intelligent person can and makes the decision.
The presenter (at the podium on a large stage of the huge room) is either the NASA's or contractor's top engineer in the subject field; alongside the podium are three giant screens, on which are presented any required graphs and text. The problem presentation may take a half-day, leading to a recommendation - for the Administrator to accept (or reject; if so, with requests for more tests). The issue - a major mission threat - is one with which most of the audience has been deeply involved, perhaps for years. Discussions are often lively - human knowledge and technology are wrestling with the unknown.
Take the problem of "Re-entry" for the Space Shuttle. Early orbital flights and the Moon (Saturn) program handled the extremes and uncertainties of re-entry heat by employing very conservative thicknesses of ablative material on the underside of the re-entry capsule - which landed in the ocean. For the Space Shuttle, the concept was an airplane-type vehicle, which would land on land (although lacking engine propulsive power, like a glider). The re-entry heat problem was (theoretically) solved by the simple concept of "insulation vacuumized tiles" (six by six inches, thicknesses about an inch) - providing insulation via the ability of a vacuum to block heat transference.
The tiles, a development of NASA and Hughes Aircraft, were fabricated of fibrous quartz, filaments stuffed in the tile, double-vacuumed, and covered by a thin glass exterior. (Note: the inside of a tile looks like simple styrofoam.) The processing development was extremely difficult - as evidenced by the cost: each tile (there are 30,000 per Shuttle - photos of the Shuttle showing "black" on the underside of wing, fuselage, tail and the nose are these thousands of 6 x 6 tiles) - $10,000 each in 1981; after the latest Shuttle disaster, the newspapers cited the "volume-production" cost as $2300 per tile. While the costs are high and the tiles delicate, their function is phenomenal - although the exterior of the tiles are exposed to re-entry temperatures of up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (no man-made material can withstand such a temperature), inside the Shuttle - only an inch or so distant (thickness of the tile) is the aluminum floor of the Shuttle, upon which the astronauts walk (80 degrees).
Considering the complexity of the manufacturing process of the tiles, the large number of them, the fact that they made up most of the vehicle's aerodynamic and control surfaces' exterior, their fragility, repair techniques, and that the spaces between tiles sometimes required stuffing - the number of Flight Readiness Reviews, wherein tile problems were one of the major mission issues, can be imagined. However - the problems were solved - the various NASA Administrators during the decade or so of Shuttle development were each briefed (technically-educated occasionally) and made the proper decisions - the program becoming a tremendous success for the U.S. and humanity for almost thirty years.
The oil spill disaster, now nearing two months, seems no nearer to having a definitive management plan than at its beginning. Why does not the President designate someone (perhaps the NASA Administrator or a Navy Admiral) to convene a "problem review" symposium: the world's smartest and experienced people - one room - for as long as it takes - to present and debate ideas - and develop a plan-of-action?
Aaron Kolom qualifies as a "rocket scientist" with over 50 years aerospace engineering: Stress Analyst to Chief of Structural Sciences on numerous military aircraft, to Corp. Director Structures and Materials, Asst. Chief Engineer Space Shuttle Program through first three flights (awarded NASA Public Service Medal), Rockwell International Corp.; Program Manager Concorde SST, VP Engineering TRE Corp.; Aerospace Consultant.
Aaron L. Kolom - from Brainwashed* and Miracles**
* The Perceived Mind-Set of the Secular Elite re Darwin Evolutionism!
** To Believe in Them - Have Faith - In Science and Logic!