FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 27th Through 31st 2018

Saying of the Day

In these days when each day we’re faced with remembering user IDs and passwords, I’ve simplified my on line security by having only one pin.  My pin is the last eight digits of pi.


Japan and France Plan Joint Naval Exercises In ‘Show of Strength’ Against China

In a move that supports US efforts and those of other countries in the region Asian Times is reporting Japanese government sources have told the Asahi Shimbun that Japan and France will conduct joint naval exercises in February in a “show of strength” against China’s activities in the South China Sea.  Asahi says an agreement on the maneuvers is expected to be made at a “two plus two” meeting of the Japanese and French foreign and defense ministers on January 26 in Tokyo. The two countries are said to be bolstering their security cooperation in the Pacific region due to China’s expanding naval presence and its policy toward the South China Sea.  The exercise between Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and the French Navy would involve the French frigate Vendemiaire, which is charged with patrolling France’s overseas territories, the sources said. But there’s no indication on where the exercise will be held.  The sources stressed that France views itself as a “Pacific nation,” given that it controls territories in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean, including New Caledonia and French Polynesia.  Japan reportedly wants to secure France’s support for its diplomatic strategy that seeks to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.”  The sources said the two nations are expected to issue a joint statement at the January 26 meeting that emphasizes the importance of freedom of navigation and other issues.  Japanese and French officials are also seeking a broad agreement on an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement for the exchange of supplies such as ammunition between the Japan’s Self-Defense Force and the French military.  They are further expected to confirm plans to begin joint research on mine detection technology.  Cooperation with France is the latest move by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government to nurture new military ties and alliances as the balance of global power shifts.  Japan and Britain agreed in December to conduct joint naval maneuvers in the Pacific this year as part of a military cooperation pact. The pact also includes jointly developing a new air-to-air missile for the US F-35 stealth fighter used by both countries.S


We Need A Better Strategy In The South China Sea

Voices other than mine are becoming concerned regarding China’s continuing aggressive stand in the South China Sea.  It is evident in their communications to the world China does not intend to back down and greater pressure will need to be imposed for China to view their current behavior as no longer in their best interests.  The National Interest is reporting the United States has significantly accelerated the pace of it freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the South China Sea. Last year it conducted four such operations in the span of five months. This contrasts with the four FONOPs conducted during President Barack Obama’s entire second term.  On January 17, the USS Hopper (DDG-70), a U.S. Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer, conducted the first FONOPs of 2018. This one occurred near Scarborough Shoal, much farther north than the previous operations. Like those earlier FONOPs, it rapidly drew a rebuke from the People’s Republic of China.  China’s Defense Ministry spokesman declared that the repeated “illegal” entry American warships to Chinese island groupings and maritime regions in the South China Sea endangered both sides. He condemned the operations as a threat to Chinese sovereignty and security and said they disrupted regional security and stability.  Scarborough Shoal has been a source of ongoing friction. Claimed by both China and the Philippines, it was the scene of a confrontation between Manila and Beijing in 2012. The United States brokered what was supposed to be a mutual withdrawal, but which saw the Chinese remain establishing effective control over the area. Thus far, however, Beijing has refrained from engaging in the kind of island reclamation or building at Scarborough that it has conducted in the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands.  But that restraint may be coming to a close. China’s state-run news agencies now openly acknowledge that the nation has, indeed, engaged in significant land reclamation and artificial island building in the South China Sea region. Chinese media have also unveiled a number of new dredges. This includes theTian Kun Ho, one of the most powerful excavation vessels in Asia (commented on in a previous edition of FOD).  The 140-meter-long vessel can reportedly dredge six thousand cubic meters per hour, and reach thirty-five meters below the ocean surface. Beijing appears to be warning that it can engage in rapid island development at any time—and Scarborough Shoal is potentially one of those sites.  The People’s Republic of China has long promulgated a map of the South China Sea that includes a “nine dash line” encompassing most of the region. Based upon a map initially published by the Republic of China, Beijing has been ambiguous over what exactly the nine-dash line represents. Is it a claim over the land features within it, including the Paracel Islands, Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal? Or is it an assertion that the entire region, including the waters, belongs to Beijing, essentially making the South China Sea its territorial waters? Its behavior, including repeatedly interfering with American warships and military aircraft transiting the region, would seem to suggest the latter. Beijing, however, has protested this view, arguing that it has never interfered with civilian ships on the sea lanes that traverse the area.  (Fireball note: But it could and by implication would if/when China were to see a restriction in free trade as a method to support its own interests and/or restrict other nation’s interests.)  In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruled on a complaint against China filed by the Philippines, as part of the binding arbitration applicable to signatories of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), to which both the Philippines and China are parties. The PCA ruled on a number of elements, in almost all cases finding in favor of Manila. This included a ruling that China’s claims to historic rights, or other sovereign rights or jurisdiction, within the area encompassed by the nine-dash line was contrary to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and without lawful effect.  But Beijing bluntly rejected the findings, often in very intemperate terms. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang described the PCA as a “law-abusing tribunal” engaging in a “farce.” China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, accused the tribunal of “professional incompetence” and “questionable integrity.” Indeed, since the ruling, Beijing has expanded its military presence, despite promises to President Obama not to “militarize” the South China Sea.  Meanwhile, Chinese actions have also increasingly worried Indonesia. Indonesian territory extends to Natuna Island and an associated array of natural gas fields in the southwestern portion of the South China Sea. Chinese fishing boats have steadily encroached on its waters—much like they had on Scarborough Shoal. More alarming, one Chinese fishing boat detained by Indonesian authorities for illegal fishing has been seized back by the China Coast Guard. China’s growing naval capabilities have therefore also raised concerns. Most worrisome, Indonesian requests to clarify whether Natuna Island (and the surrounding waters) are encompassed within the nine-dash line have not received official clarification from Beijing. Instead, the PRC has said that, while it recognizes Indonesian sovereignty over Natuna island, it still retains “overlapping claims to maritime rights and interests.”  These issues led Indonesia to expand military facilities near Natuna in 2016. This has included expanding the island’s runway and increasing the number of troops deployed there. In 2017, Djakarta announced that it would rename the area near Natuna, within its own Exclusive Economic Zone, the North Natuna Sea. The Chinese promptly rejected this move, warning that it would not be “conducive” to good relations. The name change has been implicitly endorsed by the United States, however. FOD likewise reported United States Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis used the term while visiting Indonesia,saying, “We can help maintain maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea, the North Natuna Sea. . . . This is something that we look forward to doing.”  There is no reason to think the Chinese will back away from their increasingly assertive stance toward the South China Sea. Far from opening to compromise, Beijing has steadily tightened its grip over the area, while its actions toward Indonesia suggest that its ambitions may extend even further. Beijing is clearly engaged in a long-term effort. It is essential, then, for the United States to have short-, medium-, and long-term responses.  In the short term, one of the great challenges has been China’s island construction. Literally moving earth and sea, Beijing has built entirely new islands, complete with airfields and military installations, and thereby changing the facts on the ground. The growing strength of all parts of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—including the PLA Navy, PLA Air Force, and the PLA Rocket Forces—makes challenging China an ever more dangerous proposition.  But China’s ability to build these islands rests upon certain companies, such as the state-owned China Communications Construction Company, and their attendant ability to build and maintain dredging capabilities. Insofar as their dredging equipment relies on imported parts, restricting the sale and supply of those parts can affect the pace of operations. The Tian Kun Hao’s predecessor, the Tianjing, clearly relies on imported equipment.  It is also possible to restrict the operations of some companies engaged in Beijing’s dredging operations. Not all are state-owned enterprises. Some are commercial entities, based in China and Hong Kong. Denying them the ability to bid on commercial contracts in the United States (and, ideally, Japan, Australia and Europe), would compel them to assess whether South China Sea operations are worth the price. State-owned enterprises, too, can be vulnerable to sanctions. Even though they are less vulnerable to sanctions, China would nonetheless like to expand their global footprint. By publicizing their role in South China Sea activities, and imposing sanctions on their operations, it may be possible to limit their international presence, or at least affect perceptions of them.  In the mid-term it should be noted that perhaps the greatest political challenge to limiting Chinese action is the lack of coordinated responses among the other claimants. In the Spratly Islands, it is not a matter of ASEAN states versus China, but rather an array of mutually challenging claims. Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines all claim at least parts of the Spratly Islands. For there to be any hope for balancing the Chinese political push, the local states must first reach a common negotiating stance among themselves. The United States needs to play an active role in helping broker such a stance among Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Hanoi.  Similarly, any kind of common Southeast Asian response to China must eventually include Indonesia, the most populous of the ASEAN members. ASEAN is unlikely to assume a direct military-security role, but enhancing the members’ mutual information-sharing, maritime domain awareness, and general situational awareness would facilitate intra-ASEAN confidence. The inability to determine the fate of Malaysian Airlines MH17 underscores the general utility such improved information sharing could have, regardless of Chinese claims in the region.  Improving local coordination will also require rehabilitating relations with Thailand. Within ASEAN, Thailand is the fourth most populous nation, boasting the second largest GDP (in nominal terms) and one of the largest militaries. It is also a U.S. ally and has been a key partner in many U.S. military interventions in the post–Cold War era. It is also centrally located as part of the “Indo-Pacific” region.  But Thailand’s 2014 coup and the regime’s subsequent suppression of public dissent are inconsistent with American sensibilities, severely complicating Washington’s relations with Bangkok. The United States should certainly not approve of such moves, and should strive to shift Thailand back on a path to civilian rule and orderly civil-military relations. But just as the United States nonetheless maintained coordination and interaction with the Egyptian military in the wake of its toppling of Mohammed Morsi, strategic calculations should be integrated into our handling of Thailand.  And in the long term it can be seen that at the end of the day, these moves underscore that the United States cannot, by itself, manage, much less resolve, the South China Sea issue. But as President Trump indicated at the recent World Economic Forum, “America first” is not the same as America alone. Similarly, while there are many things that America can do to help balance China, more can be achieved in conjunction with other states.  The nascent “quad” of the United States, Japan, Australia and India offers a potential new path for addressing some of the South China Sea issues. When officials from the four states met during President Trump’s November circuit of Asia, it gave new life to the concept, which has hibernated for nearly a decade.  The “quad” is not—and should not be—an effort at creating a regional-alliance structure. The four states have very divergent views on security, as well as national constraints on their ability to interoperate. But facilitating political and diplomatic coordination among these states, and perhaps advancing certain economic and political policies jointly, can provide a significant underpinning for individual- and bilateral-security moves.  For example, making clear that all four states believe in freedom of the seas and reject the idiosyncratic Chinese interpretation is a political, not a military, move, which could then be buttressed by individual national naval activities. Simply having all four nations maintain a steadfast position on the importance of keeping the region’s sea lanes open is likely to have salutary effects.  At the same time, should China choose to adjust its approach and refrain from further destabilizing the region with its artificial island construction efforts, an informal “quad” is far better placed to respond positively than a formal alliance which presupposes incipient hostilities.  The Trump administration continues to be a work-in-progress. For that matter, so is Xi Jinping’s administration. We have yet to fully understand the impact of the personnel changes announced in the 19th Party Congress, including the elevation of Yang Jiechi to the Chinese Communist Party Politburo and Wang Huning to the Politburo Standing Committee. The next several years may see a mutual focus on domestic economic development, and, if so, then there will be a significant likelihood of cooperation.  But the past decade suggests that there is growing friction in the South China Sea, and recent events give us little reason to believe that trend is changing. What will follow in the wake of the USS Hopper FONremains to be seen, but it might be best to batten the hatches.


National Kazoo Day  28 January 2018

National Kazoo Day, which celebrates kazoos, was founded by Chaplin William Rahn, who formed and was part of the Joyful Noise Kazoo Band at the Homewood Retirement Home in Williamsport, Maryland. A kazoo is a tubelike musical instrument with uncovered ends; one end is flattened and the other end has a small circular opening. About two-thirds of the way down from the circular opening there is another circular opening; it has a chamber where there is a wax-membrane that is able to vibrate. Kazoos are made of plastic or metal and can be various sizes. Soprano kazoos are the standard sized kazoo, and there are also alto, tenor, and kaboom kazoos, which are larger and have lower pitches. Noise can be made with kazoos by singing or speaking through them, but not by simply blowing through them. They make a humming nasally sound that can be varied by partially or completely covering the membrane.  Kazoos are classified as a type of instrument with vibrating membranes called mirlitons. Kazoos are based off of the African horn-mirliton, which was made from the horn of a cow, and was used to distort voices at African tribal gatherings. The first mirlitons in Europe were eunuch flutes, and they came about in the seventeenth century. In the nineteenth century, instruments similar to the kazoo that were based off the African mirlitons were used for folk music in America.  Modern kazoos were invented in the 1840s by Alabama Vest of Macon, Georgia, along with Thaddeus Von Clegg, a German clock maker. They were first presented at the Georgia State Fair, in 1852, and were called “Down South Submarines.” Years later, a traveling salesman named Emil Sorg came across them, and began commercially producing them in Western New York in 1912, after joining up with Michael McIntyre. The next year, McIntyre teamed up with Harry Richardson, who owned a big metal factory. They began mass producing them in 1914. In 1916, they renamed their company The Original American Kazoo Company; it is still in operation today, and there is also now a museum next door. They received a patent for their kazoo in 1923. Over the years kazoos have been used in some popular music, such as jazz, blues, and rock and roll, but they have usually been relegated to being a children’s toy, and today are usually used in silly songs.  More can be learned about kazoos by watching “A Brief History of the Kazoo,” which is presented by some talking kazoos, or by listening to “Down South Submarine” by the Dexter Street Stompers.  National Kazoo Day is being observed today! It has been observed annually on January 28th since 1983.


National Hot Chocolate Day

No, I don’t know why or its origin, but January 31 is National Hot Chocolate Day.  So have a nice cup of hot chocolate, particularly if you’re cold and think about how wonderful, simple and tasty hot chocolate can be.


National Scotch Tape Day

In the early 1920s, Richard Gurley Drew worked at the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, now known as 3M, which at the time made sandpaper. Drew delivered sandpaper samples to auto body shops, and saw the frustration that car painters had when painting two-tone color cars. Surgical adhesive tape, library pastes, and homemade glues were used to hold newspapers on cars when painting, and as the papers were removed, sticking residues often remained, that ripped off some of the paint when they were peeled off.  Drew invented masking tape, and created it with crêpe paper, cabinetmaker’s glue, and glycerin. It adhered well to cars when painting, and also came off easily afterwards without taking paint away. It was marketed as Scotch Masking Tape in 1925. The name “Scotch” stems from an ethnic stereotype that said Scottish people were stingy. Some stories claim that the tape didn’t adhere well at first, or didn’t have adhesive in the middle of it. The stories purport that Drew was told to go back to his “Scotch” bosses and to tell them to add more adhesive, or that they asked him why he was being so “Scotch” with the adhesive. It is unclear if Drew actually had these conversations, but nonetheless, the name stuck, as did the final version of the tape.  In 1929, Drew came up with the idea of using DuPont’s recently invented cellophane to make tape. Cellophane was moisture proof and was used to wrap baked goods and grocery items. He wanted to invent a tape made of cellophane that would seal cellophane packaging while blending in, so as to not be seen. The machinery that had been used for applying adhesive to masking tape didn’t work with the cellophane tape, and the glue that was used in masking tape didn’t look good on the transparent tape. New machines were made, and a new, clear adhesive made of oil, rubber, and resins helped create a successful clear cellophane tape. It was originally given the name Scotch Cellulose Tape, and later became Scotch Transparent Tape. It was revealed and began being marketed on January 31, 1930, and its patent was published on May 27 of the same year.  At first it did not seem that the new tape would be needed. Dupont had come up with a cellophane that could be sealed with heat, so the new tape was no longer needed to seal packages. The Great Depression also was beginning, which did not seem like the best time to begin marketing a new product. But in an era when being thrifty was a necessity, Scotch tapes’ wide range of applicability made it popular. It was perfect for making simple repairs around the house. It could be used to mend books, curtains, sheet music, clothing, fingernails, cracked eggs, cracked ceiling plaster, and for many other things. It eventually was used as an “anti-corrosive shield” in the Goodyear Blimps. As the company prospered and was one of the few that didn’t lay off workers during the Great Depression, they continued to innovate. A dispenser with a cutter blade was marketed in 1932, and in 1939 the now popular snail-shaped handheld tape dispenser was created.  In the 1950s, the new company mascot “Scotty McTape” appeared. He was declared a member of the Clan Wallace—the clan that William Wallace, who was also known as Braveheart was from. Scotty began wearing red tartan, as well as Wallace Hunting green plaid. Scotty McTape was jettisoned in early 1970s, but today the green plaid can still be seen on Scotch labels. Richard Gurley Drew is now in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Today many manufacturers make transparent adhesive tape, but most people call it “Scotch tape.” It is believed that transparent tape is now used in 90 percent of homes.  Scotch Tape Day is being observed today! It has always been observed annually on January 31st. 


Boeing Loses in Dispute With Bombardier

Delivering a big defeat to Boeing, a U.S. trade panel ruled Friday that the U.S. aircraft giant was not harmed by competition from Canada’s Bombardier.  The 4-0 decision by the independent International Trade Commission effectively blocks the Trump administration from slapping 292 percent tariffs on Bombardier. The Commerce Department ruled last year that the Canadian firm had unfairly received government subsidies and sold its C Series planes at artificially low prices in the United States. The trade panel disagreed.  The case threatened to raise tension between Washington and U.S. allies Canada and Britain, which has a Bombardier plant in Northern Ireland.  Bombardier immediately praised the ruling as a “victory for innovation, competition, and the rule of law.”  Boeing said it was “disappointed” and vowed to continue to document the damage from “illegal subsidies and dumped pricing.”  Boeing had charged that Bombardier sold Delta Air Lines 75 CS100 aircraft for less than it cost to build them. But Delta said Boeing didn’t even make the medium-size jets it needed.  On Friday, Delta said it was “pleased by the ITC’s ruling rejecting Boeing’s anticompetitive attempt to deny U.S. airlines and the U.S. traveling public access to the state-of-the-art 110-seat CS100 aircraft.”  The Trump administration has repeatedly clashed with Canada over trade, including Canadian softwood lumber imports. It has launched contentious talks to renegotiate the 24-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico — a pact that President Donald Trump has called a job-killing disaster.  Last October, Bombardier sold a majority stake in the C Series program to Europe’s Airbus for no cost. The C Series headquarters was slated to stay in the Montreal area, but a second assembly line for the 100- to 150-seat plane is scheduled to be set up at Airbus’ plant in Mobile, Alabama.

EEP-3 Aries ‘Thumped’ By Russian SU-27 Over Black Sea

Some of you may have seen video footage of a Russian Sukhoi Su-27  (NATO reporting name: Flanker) flying very close to a Navy EP-3 Aries in international waters over the Black Sea.

Navy  Times reports one Russian Su-27 came within five feet of an EP-3 Aries before crossing through the U.S. aircraft’s flight path, forcing it to fly through the Su-27’s flight wash, according to a statement from U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa.  A similar incident occurred in late November, when a P-8A Poseidon was left in another Russian jet’s afterburners, causing the Poseidon to roll 15 degrees and experience “violent turbulence.” Monday’s incident happened while the Aries was flying in international airspace, and lasted about two hours and 40 minutes, the Navy said.  The Aries, used for intelligence and reconnaissance, did not provoke a Russian response, according to the statement.  “The Russian military is within its right to operate within international airspace, but they must behave with international standards set to ensure safety and prevent incidents,” the Navy statement said. “Unsafe actions increase the risk of miscalculation and midair collisions.”


A-10s To Be Included in Super Bowl Flyover

The A-10 has had an interesting journey the last few years.  First the USAF tried to get rid of this vintage airframe and then after continual support for the A-10 from Congress and from the A-10 community has resulted in the Air Force backtracking on the decision to get rid of the Warthog. With a variety of upgrades and wing replacements, the A-10’s service life may be extended to 2040.  Now the Warthog will participate in the Super Bowl Flyover!  The Wings of the North Air Museum’s P-51D Mustang Sierra Sue II (photo below) will lead the U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight over U.S. Bank Stadium at Super Bowl LII on February 4th, 2018.  Military Times reports U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight is scheduled to perform the flyover at the start of the game Sunday. The Heritage Flight will consist of one F-16 Fighting Falcon, two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, and one P-51 Mustang flying in formation over U.S. Bank Stadium.  This is the first time the Heritage Flight team will conduct a flyover for a Super Bowl, and it will be broadcast live on NBC and in U.S. Bank Stadium from multiple vantage points, including from a camera mounted on the P-51 Mustang.  The teams in the flyover for the game will be the F-16 Viper demonstration team from Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina; the A-10 Thunderbolt demonstration team from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona; and a vintage P-51 Mustang from the Air Force Heritage Flight Foundation in California.


From Annapolis to Congress

And this from the New York Times.  Elaine Luria commanded an assault ship with a crew of 400 that patrolled the Persian Gulf for hostile Iranian vessels. Amy McGrath was the first female Marine Weapons Systems Officer in the F/A-18 aircraft  to fly in combat, dropping bombs over Afghanistan and Iraq. Mikie Sherrill was certified as a Navy helicopter pilot only after passing an underwater crash simulation in which she was blindfolded, turned upside down, and forced to find the sole exit door.  (Fireball note:  Wait a second – all naval aviators do this every four years and I got to do it twice as a civilian flying military aircraft – no extra points Mikie). (But she did fly helos for 10 years in the Navy).  Their military journeys began at the United States Naval Academy, where Ms. Luria and Ms. McGrath (USNA ’97) were plebes together when Ms. Sherrill was a senior (USNA ’94).  Now they are on a mission that no female Annapolis graduate has accomplished: to win seats in Congress.  A powerful wave of political activism is animating women in the era of President Trump, stoked by women’s marches and the movement to expose sexual misconduct. More than 390 women are running for Congress, a record number, and they are overwhelmingly Democrats.  But the three Naval Academy graduates, all Democrats themselves, are offering something that breaks through — the kind of military credentials and academy service that have propelled men to office since the founding of the country. And they are running in swing districts where military service is likely to resonate and where Democrats must win to wrest control of the House from Republicans.


Thomas Crapper Day

January 27 was the day to give some a crap and celebrate Thomas Crapper Day.  (I forgot to mention Crapper’s crappers in the last edition of FOD) He is credited as the inventor of the flush toilet.  Crapper was a shrewd businessman, salesman and self-publicist (he didn’t have a blog however).  He held many patents and helped modernize indoor plumbing and his company Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd. Is still producing reproductions of his original designs.





Vince Lombardi Signs With Green Bay Packers

On 28 January 1959, the Green Bay Packers signed Vince Lombardi to a five year contract.  Lombardi is best known for his coaching accomplishments during the 1960’s when he lead the Packers to three straight and five total NFL Championships in seven years, including the first two Super Bowls.  The NFL’s Super Bowl trophy is named in his honorHe was the right guard in the Seven Blocks of Granite, at  Fordham University, in 1936 and was later an assistant coach at the US Military Academy.  In fact when Army lost its coach after the 1962 season, President John F. Kennedy, a Navy fan to be sure, asked Lombardi if he would accept a position as Army’s head coach because he wanted to ensure Army had a good coach moving forward – Lombardi declined.  And the rest is history …


Space Shuttle Challenger Remembered

Another one of those days when we can each recall where we were and what we were doing when we first heard the news of January 28, 1986 – the Space Shuttle Challenger is gone.  I was just returning from a great flight in the F-14 against several Top Gun adversaries, when I learned the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger (OV-099) (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members, which included five NASA astronauts and two Payload Specialists. Challenger’s STS-51-L crew: Michael J. Smith CDR, USN, Dick ScobeeRonald McNair; Ellison OnizukaChrista McAuliffeGregory JarvisJudith Resnik.  Disintegration of the vehicle began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The O-ring was not designed to fly under unusually cold conditions as in this launch. Its failure caused a breach in the SRB joint it sealed, allowing pressurized burning gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB aft field joint attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-hand SRB’s aft field joint attachment and the structural failure of the external tank. Aerodynamic forces broke up the orbiter.  An examination of all the evidence available points out that review of launch film showed that at T+0.678, strong puffs of dark gray smoke were emitted from the right-hand SRB near the aft strut that attaches the booster to the ET. The last smoke puff occurred at about T+2.733. The last view of smoke around the strut was at T+3.375. It was later determined that these smoke puffs were caused by the opening and closing of the aft field joint of the right-hand SRB. The booster’s casing had ballooned under the stress of ignition. As a result of this ballooning, the metal parts of the casing bent away from each other, opening a gap through which hot gases—above 2,760 °C (5,000 °F)—leaked. This had occurred in previous launches, but each time the primary O-ring had shifted out of its groove and formed a seal. Although the SRB was not designed to function this way, it appeared to work well enough, and Morton-Thiokol changed the design specs to accommodate this process, known as extrusion.  While extrusion was taking place, hot gases leaked past (a process called “blow-by”), damaging the O-rings until a seal was made. Investigations by Morton-Thiokol engineers determined that the amount of damage to the O-rings was directly related to the time it took for extrusion to occur, and that cold weather, by causing the O-rings to harden, lengthened the time of extrusion. (The redesigned SRB field joint used subsequent to the Challenger accident used an additional interlocking mortise and tang with a third O-ring, mitigating blow-by.)  On the morning of the disaster, the primary O-ring had become so hard due to the cold that it could not seal in time. The temperature had dropped below the glass transition temperature of the O-rings. Above the glass transition temperature, the O-rings display properties of elasticity and flexibility, while below the glass transition temperature, they become rigid and brittle. The secondary O-ring was not in its seated position due to the metal bending. There was now no barrier to the gases, and both O-rings were vaporized across 70 degrees of arc. Aluminum oxides from the burned solid propellant sealed the damaged joint, temporarily replacing the O-ring seal before flame passed through the joint.  As the vehicle cleared the tower, the SSMEs were operating at 104% of their rated maximum thrust, and control switched from the Launch Control Center (LCC) at Kennedy to the Mission Control Center (MCC) at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. To prevent aerodynamic forces from structurally overloading the orbiter, at T+28 the SSMEs began throttling down to limit the velocity of the shuttle in the dense lower atmosphere, per normal operating procedure. At T+35.379, the SSMEs throttled back further to the planned 65%. Five seconds later, at about 19,000 feet, Challenger passed through Mach 1.  At about T+37 and for 27 seconds, the shuttle experienced a series of wind shear events that were stronger than on any previous flight.  At T+58.788, a tracking film camera captured the beginnings of a plume near the aft attach strut on the right SRB. Unknown to those on Challenger or in Houston, hot gas had begun to leak through a growing hole in one of the right-hand SRBs joints. The force of the wind shear shattered the temporary oxide seal that had taken the place of the damaged O-rings, removing the last barrier to flame passing through the joint. Had it not been for the wind shear, the fortuitous oxide seal might have held through booster burnout, which was almost complete at the time of failure.  Within a second, the plume became well defined and intense. Internal pressure in the right SRB began to drop because of the rapidly enlarging hole in the failed joint, and at T+60.238 there was visual evidence of flame burning through the joint and impinging on the external tank.  At T+64.660, the plume suddenly changed shape, indicating that a leak had begun in the liquid hydrogen (LH2) tank, located in the aft portion of the external tank. The nozzles of the main engines pivoted under computer control to compensate for the unbalanced thrust produced by the booster burn-through. The pressure in the shuttle’s external LH2 tank began to drop at T+66.764, indicating the effect of the leak.  At this stage the situation still seemed normal both to the crew and to flight controllers. At T+68, the CAPCOM Richard O. Covey informed the crew that they were “go at throttle up”, and Commander Dick Scobee confirmed, “Roger, go at throttle up”; this was the last communication from Challenger on the air-to-ground loop.  At T+72.284, the right SRB pulled away from the aft strut attaching it to the external tank. Later analysis of telemetry data showed a sudden lateral acceleration to the right at T+72.525, which may have been felt by the crew. The last statement captured by the crew cabin recorder came just half a second after this acceleration, when Pilot CDR Michael J. Smith said “Uh-oh.”  Smith may also have been responding to onboard indications of main engine performance, or to falling pressures in the external fuel tank.  At T+73.124, the aft dome of the liquid hydrogen tank failed, producing a propulsive force that rammed the hydrogen tank into the LOX tank in the forward part of the ET. At the same time, the right SRB rotated about the forward attach strut, and struck the intertank structure. The external tank at this point suffered a complete structural failure, the LH2 and LOX tanks rupturing, mixing, and igniting, creating a fireball that enveloped the whole stack.  The breakup of the vehicle began at T+73.162 seconds and at an altitude of 48,000 feet.  With the external tank disintegrating (and with the semi-detached right SRB contributing its thrust on an anomalous vector), Challenger veered from its correct attitude with respect to the local airflow, resulting in a load factor of up to 20 (or 20 g), well over its design limit of 5 g and was quickly ripped apart by abnormal aerodynamic forces (contrary to popular belief, the orbiter did not explode as the force of the external tank breakup was well within its structural limits). The two SRBs, which could withstand greater aerodynamic loads, separated from the ET and continued in uncontrolled powered flight. The SRB casings were made of half-inch (12.7 mm) thick steel and were much stronger than the orbiter and ET; thus, both SRBs survived the breakup of the space shuttle stack, even though the right SRB was still suffering the effects of the joint burn-through that had set the destruction of Challenger in motion.  (see photo of SRB below with hold burn through) The more robustly constructed crew cabin also survived the breakup of the launch vehicle, as it was designed to survive 20 psi while the estimated pressure it had been subjected to during orbiter breakup was only about 4–5 psi.; while the SRBs were subsequently destroyed remotely by the Range Safety Officer, the detached cabin continued along a ballistic trajectory and was observed exiting the cloud of gases at T+75.237.  Twenty-five seconds after the breakup of the vehicle, the altitude of the crew compartment peaked at a height of 65,000 feet. (see arrow in photo below right)  The cabin was stabilized during descent by the large mass of electrical wires trailing behind it.  The crew cabin, made of reinforced aluminum, was a particularly robust section of the orbiter.  During vehicle breakup, it detached in one piece and slowly tumbled into a ballistic arc. NASA estimated the load factor at separation to be between 12 and 20 g; within two seconds it had already dropped to below 4 g and within 10 seconds the cabin was in free fall. The forces involved at this stage were probably insufficient to cause major injury.  At least some of the crew were probably alive and at least briefly conscious after the breakup, as three of the four recovered Personal Egress Air Packs (PEAPs) on the flight deck were found to have been activated.  Investigators found their remaining unused air supply consistent with the expected consumption during the 2 minute 45 second post-breakup trajectory.  While analyzing the wreckage, investigators discovered that several electrical system switches on Pilot Mike Smith‘s right-hand panel had been moved from their usual launch positions. Fellow astronaut Richard Mullane wrote, “These switches were protected with lever locks that required them to be pulled outward against a spring force before they could be moved to a new position.” Later tests established that neither force of the explosion nor the impact with the ocean could have moved them, indicating that Smith made the switch changes, presumably in a futile attempt to restore electrical power to the cockpit after the crew cabin detached from the rest of the orbiter.  The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were eventually recovered from the ocean floor after a lengthy search and recovery operation. The shuttle had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.  The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program and the formation of the Rogers Commission, a special commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan to investigate the accident. The Rogers Commission found NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes had been key contributing factors to the accident, with the agency violating its own safety rules. NASA managers had known since 1977 that contractor Morton Thiokol‘s design of the SRBs contained a potentially catastrophic flaw in the O-rings, but they had failed to address this problem properly. NASA managers also disregarded warnings (an example of “go fever“) from engineers about the dangers of launching posed by the low temperatures on that morning, and failed to adequately report these technical concerns to their superiors.  There was also a rush to make the space shuttle an operational vehicle as opposed to an experimental vehicle with many limitations imposed by both its design and its environment.  The Challenger accident is frequently used as a case study evaluating engineering safety, the ethics of whistle-blowing, communications, group decision-making, and the dangers of groupthink.


Also on January 28:

1777 British plan to isolate New England

1917 U.S. ends search for Pancho Villa

1985 American recording artists gather to record “We Are the World”


Then On January 29:

1936 U.S. Baseball Hall of Fame elects first members

1964 Dr. Strangelove premieres

1845 “The Raven” is published

1915 German lieutenant Erwin Rommel leads daring mission in France


On To January 30:

1948 Gandhi assassinated

1649 King Charles I executed for treason

1968 Tet Offensive begins


Explorer One Launched

Explorer 1 was the first satellite of the United States, launched as part of its participation in the International Geophysical Year. The mission followed the first two satellites the previous year; the Soviet Union‘s Sputnik 1 and 2, beginning the Cold War Space Race between the two nations.  Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 at 22:48 Eastern Time (February 1, 03:48 UTC) atop the first Juno booster from LC-26 at the Cape Canaveral Missile Annex, Florida. It was the first spacecraft to detect the Van Allen radiation belt,[2] returning data until its batteries were exhausted after nearly four months. It remained in orbit until 1970, and has been followed by more than 90 scientific spacecraft in the Explorer series.  Explorer 1 was designed and built by the California Institute of Technology‘s JPL under the direction of Dr. William H. Pickering. It was the second satellite to carry a mission payload (Sputnik 2 was the first).  The total mass of the satellite was 13.37 kilograms (30.80 lb), of which 8.3 kg (18.3 lb) were instrumentation. In comparison, the mass of the first Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 was 83.6 kg (184 lb). The instrument section at the front end of the satellite and the empty scaled-down fourth-stage rocket casing orbited as a single unit, spinning around its long axis at 750 revolutions per minute.  The original expected lifetime of the satellite before orbital decay was three years.  Mercury batteries powered the high-power transmitter for 31 days and the low-power transmitter for 105 days. Explorer 1 stopped transmission of data on May 23, 1958 when its batteries died, but remained in orbit for more than 12 years. It reentered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean on March 31, 1970 after more than 58,000 orbits.  Explorer 1 changed rotation axis after launch. The elongated body of the spacecraft had been designed to spin about its long (least-inertia) axis but refused to do so, and instead started precessing due to energy dissipation from flexible structural elements. Later it was understood that on general grounds, the body ends up in the spin state that minimizes the kinetic rotational energy for a fixed angular momentum (this being the maximal-inertia axis). This motivated the first further development of the Eulerian theory of rigid body dynamics after nearly 200 years—to address this kind of momentum-preserving energy dissipation.  I’ve been waiting for some time to briefly discuss this recently development in Eulerian theory as the opportunities just don’t arise that often in daily discourse.


Apollo 14 Remembered

Apollo 14 was the eighth manned mission in the United States Apollo program, and the third to land on the Moon. It was the last of the “H missions,” targeted landings with two-day stays on the Moon with two lunar EVAs, or moonwalks.  Commander Alan ShepardCommand Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell launched on their nine-day mission on January 31, 1971 at 4:04:02 p.m. local time after a 40-minute, 2 second delay due to launch site weather restrictions, the first such delay in the Apollo program.  Shepard and Mitchell made their lunar landing on February 5 in the Fra Mauro formation – originally the target of the aborted Apollo 13 mission. During the two lunar EVAs, 42.80 kilograms (94.35 lb) of Moon rocks were collected, and several scientific experiments were performed. Shepard hit two golf balls on the lunar surface with a makeshift club he had brought with him. Shepard and Mitchell spent 33½ hours on the Moon, with almost 9½ hours of EVA.  In the aftermath of Apollo 13, several modifications had been made to the Service Module electrical power system to prevent a repeat of that accident, including a redesign of the oxygen tanks and the addition of a third tank.  While Shepard and Mitchell were on the surface, Roosa remained in lunar orbit aboard the Command/Service Module Kitty Hawk, performing scientific experiments and photographing the Moon, including the landing site of the future Apollo 16 mission. He took several hundred seeds on the mission, many of which were germinated on return, resulting in the so-called Moon trees. Shepard, Roosa, and Mitchell landed in the Pacific Ocean on February 9.


Other Events From January 31:

1950 Truman announces development of H-bomb

2007 names most memorable TV cars

1945 The execution of Pvt. Slovik

1 thought on “FOD Fireball’s Observations of the Day January 27th Through 31st 2018”

  1. Fireball – as always, simply outstanding work reminding us not only of the heroic actions in the past, but of the continued need for heroism among this nation’s people going forward in this “law of the jungle” world.

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