Monday, January 17, 2011

Use of Asbestos Could Have Avert Challenger Disaster

The tragedy of the Challenger was that seven living representatives of the American pioneer tradition were smashed to earth by political cowardice and legal arrogance that destroyed the spaceship Challenger in the name of "Spaceship Earth."

Much has been written about the Challenger disaster and its causes.  Attention has focused on the aft (bottom) field joint of the right solid rocket booster.  The joint connected two sections of the booster; because they are joined after the fuel was added the joint could not be sealed or inspected from the inside.  Instead the joint was sealed by a rubber O-ring, and there was a secondary O-ring in case the first failed.  There were also a number of other components in the joint, including putty which was intended to protect the O-rings from direct contact with the hot exhaust gasses, and also act as a piston to pressurize the rings. 

Because of an EPA ban on the use of asbestos, a non-asbestos containing putty was substituted which didn't have the insulating fire-retardant powers of asbestos. What the public doesn't realize is that it is probably asbestos and the ban on asbestos that caused the Challenger disaster. It wasn't the O-rings themselves that failed. It was the putty that held the O-rings in place. Up until that time, the time of the Challenger, that putty had had asbestos in it to strengthen it and make it fire retardant. When the asbestos was removed, it was the putty that gave way.

The astronauts would have no way of knowing that a 1977 Consumer Product Safety Commission ruling banning asbestos in certain paint products would have a tragic effect on the flight.  NASA had used an "off the shelf" putty manufactured by the Fuller O'Brien Paint Company in San Francisco to help seal the field joints of the SRBs [solid rocket boosters] through the first ten missions.  Fuller O'Brien, fearful of legal action because of the ban, stopped manufacturing the asbestos-based putty.

An excessive concern over the possible danger of asbestos in personal hair dryers led directly to the crash of the space shuttle Challenger and the deaths of its seven crew members. A 1977 ban on asbestos in hair dryers triggered a series of decisions that made unavailable the asbestos putty which had safely sealed the spaceship engines, and led directly to the crash.

3 comments:

  1. This is a Crock. The shuttle asbestos was not replaced due to a ban and the replacements did contain asbestos. Asbestos kills because idiots like to put out BS to control people

    ReplyDelete
  2. The largest article of rubbish in many a long time. Perhaps you should lock up the mission controllers for proceeding with a launch in too cold weather.
    Maybe you're unfamiliar with the huge spectrum of tests required to achieve approval under MilSpecs (military specifications) or perhaps you just have no clue.
    Are you arguing that asbestos shouldn't e banned? Seven astronauts undertaking a hazardous mission versus the thousands of people per year dying because of exposure to that material - I'm not suggesting the astronauts didn't matter but I'm sure you'd agree the thousands times larger population shielded from harm are f more concern.
    Finally, the solution that was arrived at still didn't require asbestos - it took learnings from a failure and enabled a better design. Simple engineering.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The largest article of rubbish in many a long time. Perhaps you should lock up the mission controllers for proceeding with a launch in too cold weather.
    Maybe you're unfamiliar with the huge spectrum of tests required to achieve approval under MilSpecs (military specifications) or perhaps you just have no clue.
    Are you arguing that asbestos shouldn't e banned? Seven astronauts undertaking a hazardous mission versus the thousands of people per year dying because of exposure to that material - I'm not suggesting the astronauts didn't matter but I'm sure you'd agree the thousands times larger population shielded from harm are f more concern.
    Finally, the solution that was arrived at still didn't require asbestos - it took learnings from a failure and enabled a better design. Simple engineering.

    ReplyDelete