Ashley Edwards/Grey Hautaluoma
H. Keith Henry
Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
Leadership of Launch Abort System Project Nets Engineer of Year Award
HAMPTON, Va. -- The NASA engineer who worked behind the scenes to ensure a successful test of an astronaut escape system has been named the 2010 Engineer of the Year by the American Institute of Astronautics and Aeronautics (AIAA).
Michael G. Gilbert led the technical planning and execution of the NASA Max Launch Abort System (MLAS) flight demonstration which occurred July 8, 2009. Gilbert served as the Chief Engineer for MLAS and is a principal engineer in the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, located at NASA's Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.
The successful MLAS flight test demonstrated an alternate launch abort approach that can be used by any future crewed spacecraft. Launch abort systems are needed to safely propel a space capsule and its crew away from a problem on the launch pad or during ascent. The unpiloted, bullet-shaped MLAS vehicle - which represents the tip of an expendable rocket -- was propelled by four solid rocket abort motors to a height of about a mile from the launch complex at Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va., before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean. The 33-foot tall vehicle carried a full-scale crew capsule simulator.
The flight demonstration proved that the nose of the vehicle, which carried the crew capsule, could be successfully separated from the rest of the vehicle and glide in a stable trajectory to properly orient the capsule for a series of parachute deployments.
Gilbert's nomination cited his technical leadership of the MLAS project from concept and hardware development to fabrication and assembly. The entire project took less than 24 months from official go-ahead to flight test, a nearly-unheard-of performance for a project of its complexity.
"I'm accepting this award on behalf of the entire MLAS team. We had a lot of very talented people working on this project," he said.
Noteworthy was his technical leadership of the widely disparate MLAS team, ranging from young "resident engineers" to specialized experts from around the country to Apollo Program veterans.
Gilbert will be presented his award at an AIAA conference in Toronto in August.
The NESC is an independently funded NASA program that draws on technical experts from across all NASA centers to provide objective engineering and safety assessments of critical, high risk projects.
AIAA is the world's largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. For more information, visit: www.aiaa.org
For more information about NASA's people and programs, visit: www.nasa.gov
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