Thursday, July 28, 2005

100 Million, American, Later

As readers here have undoubtedly surmised, I am no rocket scientist. Over the years though, I have seen one or two on TV, and increasingly in our world this passes for expertise.

So as I watched the "return to space" with all its incumbent "risk" and "danger" on our fine cable news channels, it was without reservation that I began to wonder just how much of a rat hole NASA really is. Think about it. Here we are 2 1/2 years and over 100 million dollars after the last shuttle disaster, and still NASA cannot figure out how to make foam stick to metal. I'm aware we're dealing with the extremes of physics, but it just seems to me that we ought to be able to send men and women into space without increasing the risk that is already inherently part of such a mission.

We have been told that we have the best scientists in the world working on the space program, and I believe that this is true. I wonder though, if it is possible that genius is prone to the same pitfalls of hubris and stilted logic that the rest of us mere mortals experience. I know in business that one of the greatest challenges I face is getting teams to think beyond their experience, and look for new solutions that are obvious once you escape the prison of your own structured logic. The over used phrase that describes this process in "thinking out of the box". It is a tremendously powerful solution building tool when executed successfully, and there are many team building tools available to facilitate the process. "The Six Hats" is just one for example.

I'd recommend that NASA begin doing this, and as a public service allow me to make an initial suggestion that seems obvious:

Instead of trying to get foam to withstand the physics of lift-off, why not invert the structure of the external fuel tank? The easiest way to do this, of course, would be to not have the foam as the external skin. Instead, add one final layer of an extruded, light weight metal that would fit over the foamed tank like a fuel tank condom. I suggest extruding the tank condom so that it will be seamless there by reducing drag, and eliminating any seams that might cause sections to fall off.

I realize this solution will add weight to the craft, but the reduction of drag on lift-off, plus a re-engineering of shuttle materials that were designed 30 years ago, to include more light weight metals out to be able to accommodate the solution.


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