Words in Boxes

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Trouble with Tiles

Some dramatic photos of the damage to the space shuttle Endeavour:

Lacking sense of scale, the photos certainly make the damage look worse than it is, especially to untrained eyes. But what caught my eye is how each tile is individually numbered. I don't understand how anyone could ever approve a design involving over 31,000 unique tiles individually installed like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Fortunately, it does look like the damage may not be critical:

For the experiments, a duplicate of the Endeavour gouge was carved into a two-foot-wide array of heat tiles. That sample was then placed into a facility called an arc jet, essentially a room-size blowtorch that simulates the heat of reentry.

While the temperature at the surface of the undamaged tiles exceeded 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the bottom of the gouge peaked at only 340 degrees in the test, below the 350 degree limit set by NASA.

“That’s not a take-it-to-the-bank kind of answer,” said Steve Paulos, manager of the orbiter project office, in an interview today. “It’s not that simple. We have a lot of analysis to do.”

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

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