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Columbia Debris on Loan
06.09.04
 
With sights set on the future of space flight, NASA is releasing the first pieces of Space Shuttle Columbia debris to the aerospace industry for research.

Columbia debris on display in the storage area on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building.The agency believes permitting access to the debris will allow companies to design and build safer, more reliable components for future spacecraft.

Image to right: The Columbia debris on display on the 16th floor of Kennedy Space Center's Vehicle
Assembly Building. Credit: NASA.


"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 access to the Columbia debris, researchers will have the opportunity to gain unprecedented knowledge
about the effects of reentry."

The first company outside of the Agency to receive portions of Columbia is The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif. The Aerospace Corporation is one of 20 organizations to express interest in borrowing the debris. The company will spend the next year studying eight components associated with Columbia's propulsion system. The parts are made of a graphite/epoxy composite and range in size from a large beach ball to the length of a couch.

Company researchers are interested in seeing how the skins weathered the Shuttle's superheated passage through the Earth's atmosphere. Specifically, the researchers will try to estimate Columbia's maximum temperature by factoring in the weight, shape and recovery location of the components. The information they learn will be applied to calibrate tools and models used to predict how composite materials and spacecraft will behave during reentry.

This is the first time Space Shuttle debris has ever been released to non-NASA researchers. The foresight to make the debris available came from Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach.

Pieces of Columbia debris being packed up for shipment to The Aerospace Corporation."The idea of studying the pieces of Columbia came to me in the debris hangar soon after the accident" said Leinbach. "It was clear to me we could learn a lot from it." NASA officials agreed with Leinbach's recommendation and announced that Columbia debris would be released for research.

Image to left: United Space Alliance workers J.C. Harrison and Amy Mangiacapra pack pieces of Columbia debris for transfer to the shipping facility for travel to The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, Calif. Credit: NASA.

In the months following the accident, approximately 38% of Columbia was recovered. This debris is currently stored inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

In time, more pieces of Columbia are expected to be loaned for testing and used to expand our understanding of the rigors of space flight. The mission of Space Shuttle Columbia continues today by shedding light on the reentry process and helping to create a foundation for the spacecraft of tomorrow.

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Charlie Plain
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center