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Congrats on the Instalanche, Mike!


Excellent posting, Mike.

Keep on spreading the Good Noise!

Sissy Willis

I wish my comments and/or trackbacks would show up here. What gives?


Great post, scary thoughts indeed re the NASA mgt turning a blind eye for PC...

Sissy Willis

Hi, Mike --

Thanks for the nice mention. I see that my trackback and earlier comment did finally show up. Patience is not one of my virtues. :)


"But here is what no one seems to be talking about - the problems with foam peeling and breaking off the main fuel tank are relatively new. "

I disagree with this. Foam peeling off was not new at all. Not even new for STS-87. STS-1 had 300 tiles replaced (source CAIB figure 6.1-7). True, a change was made to the chemical make-up of the foam, but that began with STS-84. STS-87 just marked an unusual number of foam debris strikes. The problems on STS-87 were tracked to the change in foam, but that doesn't account for STS-7, STS-32R, STS-50, STS-52, and STS-62, which all had the same bipod ramp foam loss similar to that which doomed STS-107.

A lot of people at NASA have complained about the foam change. However, the facts do not support simply reverting to the old formula as a solution. The CAIB thoroughly investigated this issue. I linked to their report. If interested in reading about foam, start at page 121.

(Leland - thanks for the info. -Mike)

Steve Herr

I suggest that you read the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's report
on the accident, specifically chapter three:

"Most of the external tank is insulated with three types of spray-on foam
NCFI 24-124 is a polyisocyanurate applied with blowing agent HCFC 141b
hydrochloroflourocarbon, is used on most areas of the liquid hydrogen and
liquid oxygen tanks. NCFI 24-57, another polyisocyanurate foam applied with blowing agent HCFC 141b hydrochloroflourocarbon, is used on the lower liquid hydrogen tank dome. BX-250, a polyurethane foam applied with CFC-11
chlorofluorocarbon was used on domes, ramps, and areas where the foam is
applied by hand. The foam types used changed after External tank 93, which
was used on STS-107, but these changes were beyond the scope of this

see Scroll
down to page 51 (page numbering from the beginning of the report, not of the chapter), starting at the bottom of the left hand column and
continuing on to the top of the right hand column.

CFC-11 is one of the group of chemicals using the Freon trade name. And note that STS-107 was the Columbia's last flight, and that the foam chunk that hit the leading edge of the wing came off the left bipod ramp would have been the Freon-based foam.

Therefore, the facts run directly counter to the thesis of the claim here - it was a Freon based foam that caused the damage, not an inferior substitute.

Yes, tanks with reformulated foam were used starting with ET (external tank) #86 and ET #-87. ET#87 had significantly higher shedding than the average for the prior 40 or so tanks - the fabled "ten times worse" for dings on the bottom side tiles greater than 1". See and look on page 21 for a graph of the number of tile dings based on external tank number. I have read that the flight with tank #87 did what is referred to as the "heads-up roll" early on in the flight for the first time on any mission, and that changed the areas that were under significant air pressure during ascent. Also, be aware that when you look at the graph on page 21, that there is not an exact correlation between tank number and the type of foam used - tank #93 on the ill-fated Columbia mission had the old foam formula on it. Tanks 1-85(?) were original formula, tanks 86 through 100 were a mix of new and old, and tanks after #100 are probably all new formulations. From the graph, you can see that the later tanks with the new formulation that have flown (tanks 100-120) seem to cause less damage than the earlier tanks, as a rule. Thus, it would be incorrect to conclude that the freon-free foam causes more shedding than the freon-based formula, the correct conclusion is that on average, the new formulations cause fewer dings. It would be nice if NASA provided this graph and provided notes which tanks had what formulas and what flight configurations were used (ie, heads up roll).

Unless us armchair analysts have access to all the information about all the flights and become experts on foam formulations and their relative strengths, while we may be able to speculate, we shouldn't delude ourselves to thinking we can come to a conclusion about the causes of a complex accident like the Columbia tragedy. As the CAIB report said, even NASA does not know and understand all the factors involved in the foam shedding problem.

But to blame greenies for banning freon and thus causing teh Colubia tragedy is completely off-base and is not supported in any way by the facts.


I stumbled across your blog while I was doing some online research. I still have not forgotten the previous Shuttle tragedies and can only hope that NASA will, to the best of its ability, only put people up there that it feels confident it can bring back safely.


i hope all goes well with the NASA shuttel


i hope the shuttel takes off safely

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NASA grounds the Shuttle indefinitely - but no one wants to talk about the insulation

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