The ballistic impact testing conducted at Glenn Research Center in the wake of the Columbia accident provided new insights about the accident and the vulnerabilities of the space shuttle system, according to structural engineer Matt Melis.">
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Foam strike testing of fiberglass paneling conducted at a Southwest Research Institute facility. Photo Credit: CAIB ReportFor over five years, Melis has been presenting the story of the Columbia accident and the work done at the Glenn Ballistic Impact Laboratory as part of NASA's Return to Flight efforts. He traveled to NASA Headquarters in October 2009 to share his experience with the Office of the Chief Engineer and the Academy of Program/Project & Engineering Leadership.
Impact hole in Panel 8 of RCC material from foam strike. Photo Credit: CAIB ReportFrame after frame, cylinders of foam, weighing no more than a sheet of paper, moving at speeds of 500 mph (200 mph less than the calculated speeds for Columbia) splintered RCC-panels with surprising ease. These moving images animated the well-known still-shots from the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report, reinforcing an important lesson learned for all engineers: you never know all of the design flaws lurking in your system, so be vigilant.