Documents Detail Shuttle What-ifs
An in-depth NASA study concludes that while the crew of the Columbia might have been able to be saved had the true state of the shuttle been known in time, the shuttle itself was doomed.
Here’s a quote from the article I found especially disappointing:
)The inspection spacewalk itself would have been almost trivial, the NASA team discovered, requiring neither a risky free-flight by an untethered astronaut nor complicated lash-up ladders. The two trained spacewalkers aboard Columbia, Mike Anderson and David Brown, would have been able to do it with their hands.
And speaking of risky space walks, why hasn’t NASA developed any kind of remote controlled camera/mini robot system that astronauts could deploy to inspect the shuttle once they reach orbit? It wouldn’t have to be big, just a video camera (MiniDV size or less), control and transmission circuitry, a small gas tank, and some thrusters to direct where it goes. You could even attach a long light-weight cable to it and just reel it in (carefully) when you’re done. Is there any reason that this couldn’t be developed with cheap, off the shelf technology?
Update: Looks like NASA tested something called the AERcam on STS 87 back in 1997.
The AERCam Sprint free-flyer is a 14-inch diameter, 35-pound sphere that contains two television cameras, an avionics system and 12 small nitrogen gas-powered thrusters. The sphere, which looks like an oversized soccer ball, was released by Mission Specialist Winston Scott during the STS-87 spacewalk and flew freely in the forward cargo bay for about 30 minutes. The free-flyer was remotely controlled by Pilot Steve Lindsey from the Shuttle’s aft flight deck using a hand controller, two laptop computers and a window-mounted antenna.
That’s actually a bit bigger than I was thinking of, but obviously it was just a prototype. In light of the fragile tiles the round shape and padding is a logical improvement on what I was thinking of.
And here’s the official NASA AERCam site: aercam.nasa.gov. It looks like they’re also working on a much more practically sized Mini-AERCam
The nanosatellite-class spherical Mini AERCam free flyer is 7.5 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 10 pounds, yet it incorporates significant additional capabilities compared to the 35 pound, 14 inch AERCam Sprint free flyer that flew as a remotely piloted Shuttle flight experiment in 1997.
That sounds pretty promising. Now can we please make these little guys standard equipment on all future shuttle and space station missions?