Fighting the 'Silent Menace'
While NASA engineers and scientists must constantly concern themselves with the challenges humans face living in the harsh environment of space, one of the harsh environmental effects of life on Earth is the focus of a group at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The spaceport's location near the Atlantic Ocean presents numerous opportunities to both study and attempt to solve the destructive effects of corrosion.
"Kennedy Space Center has the most aggressive corrosion environment among all government facilities for which data is available except for ships at sea," explained Luz Marina Calle, founder and technical lead for the space center's Corrosion Technology Laboratory. "The naturally corrosive conditions at Kennedy are exacerbated at the launch pads by the exhaust of the solid rocket boosters.
"NASA's Corrosion Technology Laboratory at Kennedy has the facilities and staff to perform corrosion testing -- accelerated, as well as long-term -- and to develop new corrosion control and prediction technologies," said Calle.
Far from being a unique problem besetting the space center and coastal communities, the effect of corrosion on equipment, facilities and infrastructure is a worldwide problem being confronted by experts from around the globe under the banner of NACE International. Originally the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, NACE International draws on expertise from its more than 30,000 members in nearly 100 countries. At a recent conference in Orlando, Fla., the organization honored Calle's efforts in the field by recognizing her technical achievements and for establishing the corrosion technology laboratory and continuing to lead its work.
Calle was presented with the NACE International Fellow Honor, an award given in recognition of distinguished contributions in the fields of corrosion and its prevention. She joins other recipients who form a broad-based forum of technical and professional leaders to serve as advisors to the association.
While the average person may only be confronted by the corrosion problem on a small scale around the home, everyone is affected by the larger problem in the form of deteriorated highways and bridges, power plants, pipelines, military assets and installations, and many other public and private resources. The costs of repair and replacement of these facilities are carried by taxpayers and consumers. The worldwide costs of corrosion have been estimated at $1.4 trillion annually. In 2010, the Department of Defense estimated that corrosion costs them over $22.9 billion annually. Finding new and better ways to head off or treat the problem becomes the more cost-effective approach.
"Current technology development efforts in the corrosion technology laboratory target the development of smart coatings for corrosion detection and control, and the development of a new accelerated corrosion test method that correlates with long-term corrosion test methods," said Calle.
Kennedy's corrosion laboratory also recently played a role in the new Orlando Science Center exhibition, "Corrosion: The Silent Menace," that opened in March. The lab provided a case study from the space center for students to examine. The exhibit presents "The Case of the Cracked Crawler Treads," using issues NASA faced involving deterioration of the "shoes" on the crawler-transporters -- the mechanical giants that were used to carry the Apollo Saturn V rockets and the space shuttles to the launch pad.
The lab also provided samples of six forms of corrosion to be hidden around the display to help students understand the different types of corrosion. The exhibit includes a video in which Calle and other professionals in the field describe their experiences and how they were inspired to join the effort to fight the corrosion problem.
"The interactive exhibit is geared toward children to introduce them to the field of corrosion," explained Calle. "Being a contributor to the exhibit furthers NASA’s commitment to educational outreach activities."
Get additional information on NASA's Corrosion Technology Laboratory
and the Orlando Science Center's exhibit, Corrosion: The Silent Menace
Cheryl L. Mansfield
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center