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Vulnerability of Space Shuttle to Impact by Meteor

  1. Apr 18, 2010 #1
    I have wondered how vulnerable is the Space Shuttle to an impact by a small meteor. If a golf ball sized or even a marble sized meteor struck the shuttle, isn't there a very strong possibility of puncturing the shuttle? Would a small hole in the shuttle be catastrophic, causing all the air to escape? Are the astronauts equipped to handle such an emergency?
    I don't want to hear that the probability of an event like this is low. If you are up there long enough, it will happen.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 18, 2010 #2

    russ_watters

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    Staff: Mentor

    A golf ball sized meteor on a head-on collision course would utterly destroy the space shuttle if it hit anything dense enough to slow it down on the way through. Otherwise, rapid decompression would on its own be catastrophic and it would be unlikely that the astronauts could react fast enough to save themselves... and even if they did, a space shuttle with a shattered windshield couldn't possibly survive re-entry.
     
  4. Apr 18, 2010 #3
    I think I would be more worried about the International Space Station(ISS)
    In any event, I know for a fact that the ISS has emergency portable respirators and I would assume that the Space Shuttle does as well.

    As far as how catastrophic a small hole would be to the shuttle I don't know. Too many variable factors(location, size, penetration)
    And again, as an assumption, I could envision the the shuttle has some type of "emergency patches" that can be internally applied. But not sure.

    Good question though.
     
  5. Apr 18, 2010 #4

    russ_watters

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    A golf ball sized chunk of iron with a mass of 280g in a head-on collision at 60,000 km/hr carries a kinetic energy of 34 megajoules, equivalent to about 8 tons of tnt.
     
  6. Apr 19, 2010 #5
    Wow. I would call that catastrophic indeed!
     
  7. Apr 19, 2010 #6
    I am sorry. I didn't mean to destroy the whole shuttle, I just wanted to create a hole for an air leak. So lets stick with marble- sized or BB-sized iron meteors. Traveling at 60 000 km/hour, is it a given that a direct hit at a 90 degree angle would penetrate the metallic part of a shuttle. I know that a light weight is an important factor in putting these things in orbit, so they are not armored. Its skin must be pretty thin.
     
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