Man With a Mission
Kelly Carney doesn't remember a time that he wasn't interested in aviation, astronomy, or the space program. This was probably due to a combination of growing up near an airport, having an older brother who had a telescope, and becoming aware of the world during the Apollo missions to the Moon.
More so than the televised launch, space rendezvous, and lunar walks, Apollo 13 had the greatest impact on his future career choice as it made Carney aware of all that was going on behind the scenes. It was then that he realized the excitement involved in engineering work. Becoming a NASA engineer was a dream job, something that Carney could barely hope for, especially since by that time the space program was losing much of its initial public support.
For over fifteen years, Carney worked as a structural dynamist on a variety of space projects, including Galileo, the Space Station, and Cassini. At the same time, he continued his education, obtaining his Ph.D. from Case Western University. After transferring to a group performing aircraft engine safety research, Carney became involved in the analysis of impacts.
Image Left: Kelly Carney at NASA Glenn's Research Center laboratory. Image credit: NASA
Carney began to use LS-Dyna, a software program originally created to model nuclear explosions, but which is now being used to simulate everything from car crashes to metal forming. Through this activity, he discovered that modeling of materials, usually metals involved in engine impacts, is a critical element in an accurate analysis.
Carney now is part of the ballistic impact lab team at NASA Glenn's Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. On the day of the Columbia accident, Carney and the team began discussing ways their work could contribute to the investigation of the cause of the accident. As part of an inter-center analysis team formed by the Shuttle project, the impact lab team began to work on a material model of the external tank foam that was seen on videotape impacting the leading edge of Columbia's wing.
Initially there were a number of analytical groups volunteering to aid in the Columbia investigation. In order to have a tightly controlled team, Shuttle management used the first full-scale test as a metric, and a number of groups were working on the same impact problem. The groups that came closest to predicting the results of that test used the foam model that Carney had developed at Glenn. So Glenn's ballistic impact team, this part led by Carney, was tasked with creating material models of all the potential debris and the Shuttle leading edge material, the Reinforced Carbon Carbon.
Carney was able to create materials models that are being used in the Space Shuttle re-certification efforts for the RCC, the ablators (materials that prevent Shuttle hardware from being damaged due to aero-heating on launch), and for ice. Ice was a particular challenge since no existing materials model was adequate to model it and fundamental research had to be done on an extremely demanding time schedule. To know the results of Carney's work is being used for the Return to Flight effort has made the long hours and time away from his family worthwhile. His life-long dream has paid off in getting humans back in space.
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center and Glenn Research Center