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Advanced Engineering 2019

First Columbia Debris Loaned For Research

12 July 2004

The first pieces of Space Shuttle Columbia debris, loaned to a non-governmental agency for testing and research, are on their way from NASA's Kennedy Space Center to The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, California.

The Aerospace Corporation requested and will receive graphite/epoxy honeycomb skins from an Orbital Maneuvering System pod, Main Propulsion System Helium tanks, a Reaction Control System Helium tank and a Power Reactant Storage Distribution system tank. The company will use the parts to study re-entry effects on composite materials. NASA notified the Columbia crew's families about the loan before releasing the items for study.

Earlier this year, Dr. Gary Steckel, senior scientist in the Materials Science Department in the Space Materials Laboratory at The Aerospace Corporation, viewed the items. "We believe these items are representative of the structural composite materials flown on Columbia. They will enable us to successfully meet our objective of calibrating analytical models for predicting reentry behavior of composite structures," Steckel said.

Researchers believe the testing will show how materials are expected to respond to various heating and loads' environments. The findings will help calibrate tools and models used to predict hazards to people and property from reentering hardware. The Aerospace Corporation will have the debris for one year to perform analyses to estimate maximum temperatures during reentry based upon the geometry and mass of the recovered composite.

"NASA's mission includes the development of technologies that improve the safety and reliability of access to space," said NASA's Deputy Administrator Fred Gregory. "By allowing the scientific community to study Columbia debris, researchers will have the opportunity to gain unprecedented knowledge about the effects of reentry."

The request from The Aerospace Corporation was one of several "Request for Information" applications NASA received to study Columbia debris. The eight pieces of hardware were inventoried inside the KSC Vehicle Assembly Building, where Columbia's debris is stored and prepared for shipment.

"The idea of studying pieces of Columbia came to me in the debris hangar soon after the accident," said Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach. "It was clear to me we could learn a lot from it, and that we shouldn’t bury the debris as we did with Challenger's."

"To see the plan come together is personally rewarding," Leinbach said. "I hope the technical community will learn as much as possible and put that knowledge to use to improve spacecraft and flight crew system designs in the future," he said.





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