More on the Columbia

The NYT reports that it appears that the foam insulation’s mechanical properties did have some thermal dependence. The article mentions that when the insulating foam gets very cold (such as in the range of liquid gasses) the foam gets 5-15 times harder and stronger, increasing the damage it could do when breaking off. It turns out that in 1999, NASA had catastrophic failure of the liquid hydrogen tank for an X-33 due to foam peeling off.

This is slightly a diferent dependency than I suspected, but I’d keep watching. I’m now especially curious about the thermal tile toughness vs. temperature relationship. If the tiles are more brittle at low temperatures, that could also increase the damage done by an impact.

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