I visited recently. "Death by Environmentalism" was written by
William L. Anderson about how environmentalism had a role in both
shuttle disasters. Previous foam used to insulate Columbia's external
fuel tanks was CFC-based. NASA could have sought an exemption, but
instead chose to use an inferior substitute (what one writer Steve
Milloy called PC-foam (policically correct foam). A similar
substitution happened with the Challenger. The previous O-ring
material contained asbestos which was forbidden from being used by the
Wrong! The O-rings were made out of solid rubber. And the EPA did not ban
anything containing rubber until months after the Challenger disaster. And
read all of Anderson's message. NASA could have gotten an excemption from the
EPA to keep using the "old" foam.
I believe that I've represented the article correctly. Here is a
direct excerpt from that article:
"... That is all that the mainstream news?and NASA?have been willing
to report. What they have not said is that the particular foam that
was in use at the time was an environmental substitute replacing a
material that had worked well. However, the previous foam used to
insulate the Columbia's external fuel tanks contained Freon, which is
a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) that the EPA banned because of the ozone
As Steven Milloy reports, NASA could have sought an exemption. Freon,
after all, is inert and nontoxic, and its connection to ozone
depletion is tenuous at best. However, having been burned by the EPA
once before (as I will point out), NASA succumbed to what Milloy calls
"PC foam." He writes, "PC foam was an immediate problem. The first
mission with PC foam resulted in 11 times more damaged thermal tiles
on Columbia than the previous mission with Freon-based foam."[i]
Furthermore, the damage was obvious?and quite severe. Milloy writes
that following the 1997 Columbia mission, "more than 100 tiles were
damaged beyond repair, well over the normal count of 40."
I now examine the Challenger explosion, which occurred the week after
the Super Bowl in January 1986. As nearly everyone familiar with the
catastrophe knows, a set of O-rings that was supposed to keep hot
gases trapped in the rocket carrying the shuttle failed, the fuel
quickly leaking out and igniting into a fireball shortly after
It was an unusually cold morning at Cape Canaveral, too cold for the
O-rings to perform properly. That is well-known. What most people do
not know is that the material used to make the O-rings was a
substitute to replace a product that the Environmental Protection
Agency had banned because it contained asbestos.
The original O-rings used between the rocket joints came from an
over-the-counter putty that had been used safely and effectively for a
long time. However, in its war against the use of asbestos anywhere,
anytime, the EPA forbade NASA from using that product at all after the
space agency had sought an exemption. The EPA, not surprisingly,
refused that request, something that would ultimately lead to the next
disaster 17 years later. The new product, not surprisingly, failed and
we know the rest of the story.
In normal situations, this would be a scandal of epic proportions. A
government agency requires the use of unsafe materials that lead to
the very public deaths of 14 individuals. Had a private firm permitted
these kinds of unsafe working conditions, the situation would be
worthy of a New York Times investigative report. Instead, all we hear
is silence, interspersed with "the show must go on" comments about the
future of the space shuttle program. Even the news reports on the foam
disaster have ignored the reason why NASA used such an unsafe product;
in fact, mainstream reporters are not even asking the pertinent
That is nonsense. The O-rings are not made from putty. The O-rings are
made of rubber.
The O-ring is put in the joint to keep the hot gases in the booster
rocket from blowing the
putty out of the joints and in turn, the putty keeps the hot gases from
burning the O-ring.
In other words, they are two different things which are both used together.
In the Challenger accident, the O-rings were too cold to seal the joint
the booster was started, the pressure blew the putty past the O-ring.
Then, since there
was no putty to protect the O-ring, the hot gases burned through the
O-ring and through
the side of the booster itself. This caused the external fuel tank to
explode. End of story.