It’s Monday, and the government shutdown continues. But today would have been a holiday if we weren’t shut down. And Kathleen had the day off, too. So we made plans to ride the train to the science museum to go see the space shuttle on display there. I’d taken the Sunday morning bike club to see it being moved last year, so now we could see it in its new, albeit temporary, display hall. And then, since we were going to be near downtown, we planned on stopping off at the Wilshire-Figueroa building for some stair-climbing on the way home.
The train ride down was easy. It’s just so convenient. I can hardly remember what it was like when we had to drive everywhere. And since it’s a minor holiday, the museum wasn’t terribly crowded, and we didn’t have to reserve tickets to see the shuttle.
The exhibit is in two parts. The first has some background information about space flight and the shuttle, including the tires it landed on on its last flight, and the control center from Rocketdyne where they monitored the performance of the main engines during every launch. Then there was a short film about how the moved the shuttle from LAX to the museum. And then we went out to the building where it’s housed. There was a display around the outside of the room with a summary of each of the 135 shuttle flights. The two flights that ended badly had plaques with a black background. It’s interesting to note that in his addendum to the report on the Challenger disaster, Feynman estimates the overall probability of failure of the space shuttle:
“If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent (it is difficult to be more accurate).”
And he concludes as any good physicist would:
“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”
In any event, looking back now at two failures in 135 launches, it seems Feynman was pretty much right on target.
Still, we don’t want to dwell on failure. The shuttle is still an amazing machine, and that it worked as well as it did is still pretty remarkable.
After leaving the museum, we took the train back to the 7th St Metro station and headed over to the building. We got changed and ready to climb. My plan was to go up several times, and I was going to try and do the first two in close to 10 minutes each time. Kathleen headed into the stairs just behind me. I caught up with her near the top on my second ascent. My times were all right, but not great. After that, I went up one more time, just because it was there. And then we went home.
It was a fun little adventure.