The Benefit of Succesive Iterations

The Shuttle backside looks good by all indications:
"'Overall, a really clean vehicle,' said NASA's John Shannon, deputy shuttle program manager, of Discovery during a mission briefing here at Johnson Space Center (JSC). 'We were looking for things to talk about at one point, it is so clean.' "
But that doesn't mean they were lacking in potential issues. They still have gap fillers jutting out of tiles and such. But at least they are paying attention to these things. The Shuttle, as I remind regular readers at naseum, had tile issues from the very first flight of the Shuttle. And, NASA determined in it's enlightement, that it was a reasonable risk.

What was once considered a reasonable risk is no longer one. But that's another story.

The real question is will NASA really benefit from all this newfound knowledge?

If NASA were to get a CEV built that uses tiles as the main re-entry protection for it's vehicle all of this knowledge would come in handy ahead of time to ensure a better designed vehicle, that is safer and more reliable.

I can imagine if NASA had to re-design the shuttle at this point, the first thing they would do is create an reliable shuttle tile detection system. They could easily monitor by magnetic sensors or other sensing methods every tile on the shuttle from lift-off to orbit. I can imagine that NASA, if it had to do it over again today would do something of that nature making all this imaging JPEG extravaganza all obsolete.

With such a detection system in place they could keep track of the presence of every single one of the shuttle's tiles. Instantaneously they would know if there was a critically missing tile or not.

It would be just another screen in front a mission controller's seat. A list of tiles, and a simple "detected"/"not detected" for each would do.

That's the benefit of successive re-iterations in the Engineering process I guess.

Of course, I'm sure that ideally NASA would have designed a great deal of other things on the Shuttle differently as well. Among them probably cutting the shuttle size in half, having the bird fly on top of the damned rocket eliminating any worry about debris strikes, and maybe getting rid 10,000 bolts or gizmos or whatever other useless nonsense they put on that flying brick.

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