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STS-114: Space Shuttle Return to Flight
NASA'S Alberto Duarte a 'Safety Net' for Shuttle Safety
June Malone
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
(Phone: 256.544.0034)
News release: 05-077

Alberto Duarte Growing up in Colombia, Alberto Duarte never dreamed he'd someday work for NASA and play a vital role in ensuring the safety of the Space Shuttle. But today, he's doing just that.

As a member of the Safety and Engineering Risk Review Panel at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Duarte is part of a team of NASA engineers responsible for safely returning the Shuttle to space.

"One of our most important tasks for the immediate future of NASA is Return to Flight for the Space Shuttle," Duarte says. "Our objective is to work closely with our folks here at Marshall and with the other NASA Centers to ensure the Shuttle's systems technology is ready to fly.

"The safety of the mission is our top priority, from the workers and the procedures they follow, to the hardware design, assembly and testing, to the Shuttle crew members themselves," Duarte adds.

Duarte and other panel representatives are responsible for the review and approval of Space Shuttle main propulsion system safety reports and systems performance analysis, including subsystems and component parts -- basically, to the nuts and bolts of a system. These vehicle systems reports help determine a Shuttle's flight readiness.

The Marshall panel is one of four NASA Safety and Engineering Review panels representing the Space Shuttle NASA Centers: Marshall, Johnson Space Center in Houston and Kennedy Space Center, Fla. A fifth, also at the Johnson Center, handles the integration of reports.

A native of Bogota, Colombia, Duarte graduated from the National University of Colombia in Bogota in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. He went to work as a combustion engineer for Acerias Paz del Rio, a steel manufacturer in Bogota, overseeing setup and control of blast furnaces and other equipment.

He later served as national director of the Underground Safety and Hygiene Office of IFI Concesion de Salinas, a Colombian salt mining and processing company. There, he was responsible for the safety engineering and hygiene of underground and sea-level salt mines.

Looking to get back to his engineering roots, Duarte took a position in 1983 in the Systems Safety Office at Martin Marietta Aerospace in New Orleans -- and was introduced to the Space Shuttle and the world of space exploration. As lead engineer at the Mission Assembly Facility, he oversaw the design, fabrication and testing of the Shuttle's External Tank, a large cylindrical container, 27.6-feet wide and 154-feet tall, that is attached to the orbiter and feeds liquid propellant to the Shuttle's main engines.

Duarte's newfound love of space -- and of his adopted country -- led him to become a U.S. citizen in 1986. A year later, he moved to Huntsville to become lead engineer for the Systems Safety, Reliability and Quality Engineering Office of Boeing Aerospace. As part of the Shuttle support contract, his job entailed analyzing system and subsystem component functions for the Solid Rocket Booster and Space Shuttle Main Engine projects. The Shuttle's two reusable Solid Rocket Boosters are attached to the External Tank and provide 80 percent of the thrust for the Shuttle. The three Shuttle Main Engines are reusable, high-performance rocket engines attached to the aft, or tail end, of the Orbiter and operate during launch to power the Shuttle into space.

In 1988, Duarte joined NASA as a lead systems safety engineer for the Space Shuttle Main Engine in the Marshall Center's Safety and Mission Assurance Office.

Duarte has held numerous managerial and leadership positions, including advanced development program manager for the Space Transportation Main Engine Program Office from 1992 to 1994, and propulsion chief engineer for the X-33 flight demonstrator project from 1994 to 1999. In 2000, he was named special assistant to the director of the Space Transportation Directorate at Marshall. He became manager in 2003 of the Integration Office in the Space Transportation Directorate, providing management and operational support across the organization.

Duarte earned a master's degree in chemical engineering in 1994 from Tulane University in New Orleans. In 2003, he received his master's degree in systems engineering and engineering management from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He enjoys volunteering through his church for several local and overseas mission tasks. He also volunteers as a translator for Huntsville Hospital and for Huntsville Municipal Court, and teaches free Spanish lessons to anyone who wants to learn the language.

As for improving space travel, Duarte is focused on making sure NASA achieves its goals. "What we do today sets the foundation for the future of space exploration," he says. "We're paving the way for the generations of explorers to come, and inspiring them to move forward with the Vision for Space Exploration." The Vision for Space Exploration calls for the safe return of the Space Shuttle to flight to complete the International Space Station, and human and robotic exploration of the Solar System.

For more information about NASA's mission and the Vision for Space Exploration, visit:

For more information about the STS-114 mission and America's return to spaceflight, visit:

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