What is this, the SUN?
Come on. We expect some eye-catching headlines, but that's going too far.
A train carrying the solid rocket boosters used on space shuttles has crashed in Alabama, injuring six people. The accident happened when a bridge collapsed over boggy ground, according to reports. One of the people is reported to have been critically hurt. The twin boosters, which are 150 feet tall when fully assembled, were …
Many of the problems with the Shuttle lie in the decision to build the SRBs from segments rather than as a monolithic rocket. Rail transportation is cheap but it meant the boosters had to be made in pieces and assembled at Kennedy. Not only did this mean that the boosters come with joins that have to be sealed using vulnerable O-rings, but there is plenty of opportunity for the segments to be damaged or deformed in transit.
Before Challenger exploded (caused directly by the need for O-rings), NASA was having to forcibly reshape booster segments after the juddering, crunching journey over America's decrepit railway network.
Ironically, Aerojet, one of the contenders for the original Shuttle booster contract offered an SRB built in one piece with no vulnerable seals and filled at the assembly plant. Aerojet had plenty of experience with large SRBs having been contractor for the Polaris missile and a proposed SRB first stage for the Saturn V Moon rocket. The boosters would have been built and filled in Florida then have been barged to Kennedy for stacking in the VLB. In retrospect it was a no-brainer, simpler and safer from a company with a proven track record of designing big, reliable rockets.
But here's where things get murky. When tenders for the booster contract were announced Aerojet not only offered the safest booster, but the cheapest - $655 million in 1972. United Technologies came in at $710 million, Morton Thiokol at $710 million, and Lockheed at $714 million. A NASA panel awarded Aerojet the contract on grounds of cost and safety; however their decision was overturned by NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher who gave the contract to Morton Thiokol in Utah. Perhaps significantly, Fletcher had strong links to the state of Utah.
Aerojet appealed and the matter was eventually referred to the US government's General Accounting Office. They ruled that Fletcher was within his rights to make the final decision, but could not explain his choice, so asked for NASA to reconsider the booster contract.
They didn't, the final SRB contract went to Morton Thiokol and the inevitable happened; a seal between two of the segments failed to operate correctly, hot gas blasted through the join and Challenger was destroyed.
Tyson: "The headline ... was true..."
No, it was not. The shuttle did not crash in Alabama. A train carrying rocket boosters did. Those boosters are part of the launch system for the shuttle, not even part of the shuttle itself. The train was not carrying a shuttle.
Now is indeed a good time to start thinking.
There is a subtitle on the article that appears on both the main page and the article itself, and indeed even this page with the comments on it.
"It was on a train at the time".
Really, how sensitive must you be to be alarmed at the title of this article when directly underneath is a pretty big clue that we're not talking about a shuttle crash?
I'm reminded somewhat of Tweak from South Park - the kid who's so hopped up caffeine that he jumps at anything...
I love being pedantic. The SRBs are indeed "part of the shuttle". When people think of the Space Shuttle, they picture the black-and-white thingy that looks like a stubby aeroplane. However this, according to NASA, is the Orbiter. "The Shuttle" refers to the whole shebang: Solid Rocket Boosters, the External Tank and the Orbiter.
Because of this confusion, NASA has recently started referring to the vehicle as the "Space Shuttle system".
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