Langley Research Center
    Key Player in Shuttle Return to Flight Effort

    NASA's Langley Research Center contributed key engineering support to the agency's massive Space Shuttle Return to Flight (RTF) effort, which will peak with the successful launch of Discovery on STS-114 in the summer of 2005 and Atlantis on STS-121 later in the year.

    Engineer places tape on a shuttle model to simulate the heating effects of a plug repair
    Image above: A Langley engineer uses tape to simulate the effect of patching the leading edge of the Space Shuttle wings during a wind tunnel test. Credit: NASA

    Langley, one of four NASA research centers, played an important role in the development of the Space Shuttle from the 1960s to the early 1980s, including a series of last-minute tests of the glue that holds the heat-shielding tiles to the surface of the Orbiter in the months leading up to the first Shuttle flight.

    After the Columbia tragedy in February 2003, Langley offered its expertise to help the NASA Space Shuttle Program Office understand what happened to Columbia and how to avoid a similar tragedy in the future. Langley wind tunnel and computer-based studies of Orbiter aerothermodynamics were especially helpful to understand the condition of Columbia during its reentry.

    Langley's efforts to find the cause of the Columbia accident naturally flowed into helping return the Shuttle to flight which, by that time, had become the agency's top priority. In some cases, the same Langley people and facilities simply continued their work. In other cases, totally new efforts were begun. In all, more than 200 Langley personnel have contributed to the agency's Shuttle Return to Flight effort.

    During the Mission

    A team of Langley engineers will monitor Discovery's launch and flight. Additional Langley personnel will be at the Johnson Space Center during the STS-114 mission to offer their expertise, if needed.