Front Page
Boeing Frontiers
March 2004
Volume 02, Issue 10
Boeing Frontiers
Integrated Defense Systems


For NASA Systems employees, Shuttle return to flight is a personal mission

Feb. 1, 2004, marked the one-year anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The incident touched millions around the world, yet was particularly traumatic to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems employees involved in human space flight. Many worked closely with Columbia crew members throughout their flight preparation and eventual 16-day space journey.

Others were actively involved in the preparation and performance of the orbiter and payload contents.

Now, as NASA positions its Space Shuttle fleet to resume missions, possibly as soon as September, Boeing employees face critical deadlines to ensure the orbiters and crews are ready for a safe return to flight.

The following articles provide a glimpse into tasks under way at Boeing. From the engineer at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., who inspects for cracks in the orbiter hardware to the team in Palmdale, Calif., that produces 3,000 orbiter tiles, Boeing people play an important role in the continuation of human space travel.

Toward a safer, more reliable engine

Mike Stokes reviews plans with Robert McGuiganMike Stokes, Boeing Integrated Defense System manager of the Controller Software Laboratory for the Space Shuttle Main Engine program in Huntsville, Ala., said he and his team have been looking forward to flying again since the day Space Shuttle Columbia was lost.

Stokes and the Controller Software Laboratory team develop the Space Shuttle Main Engine Controller software, which controls engine operation during flight. A computer mounted on each of the three Space Shuttle Main Engines monitors almost 90 sensors-including engine pressures, temperatures, propellant flow rates, vibrations and speed-as well as dozens of other engine indications, he said. "The sensors are monitored 50 times per second for the duration of ascent, and this information is then used to control the engine, make assessments of its health, and take any necessary action to keep the astronauts and orbiter safe," he added.


Tests helping to solve riddle of tile damage

Shawn Sorenson and Freeman Bertrand looking at a section of Space Shuttle landing gear tileThe vivid images of foam coming off the external tanks of Space Shuttle Columbia during ascent reminded the world that human space flight can be dangerous. As NASA and its team of contractors get ready for return to flight this fall, one of their priorities is to understand better the impact of debris on the Space Shuttle tiles.

Shawn Sorenson, Boeing IDS tile-testing project engineer and coordinator, sees the results of tile testing every day at the foam test center at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. One of the recommendations of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board investigation was to improve the capability to assess what damage debris such as ice or insulating foam from the external tank could inflict on the orbiter.


Back in the Space Shuttle tile business

Doug Hollabaugh, Ruth Hoard and Robert Guzman standing over an Orbiter Debris/Damage Assessment Test panelBoeing Integrated Defense Systems employees in Palmdale, Calif., once thought that their tile production days were over when the company decided to move the Orbiter Maintenance and Modification process to United Space Alliance facilities in Florida. But today, Boeing engineers and technicians in Palmdale are back in the business of manufacturing tiles for the Space Shuttle.

That's because the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and subsequent tile impact testing recommended by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board have created a requirement for the manufacture of large amounts of tile. In these tests, various substances, such as foam and ice, are being shot from compressed air guns at different angles and speeds onto new tile "targets." Structural and thermal engineering communities are using data from the tests to improve their damage prediction capabilities.


Long hours searching for clues and cracks

Dave Lubas shows the panel that was tested for cracks before installation on Space Shuttle AtlantisDave Lubas, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems materials and process engineer, was at home preparing to celebrate his son's birthday on Feb. 1, 2003. He had an ear cocked for the familiar sonic boom that would signal Space Shuttle Columbia's reentry into the atmosphere over Florida. But the boom never came, and Lubas knew something was wrong. A telephone call shortly after 9 a.m. confirmed his worst suspicions: Columbia and its crew had been lost.

The 12-year Boeing employee immediately volunteered to help with debris identification. Pieces of Columbia strewn across vast areas of Texas were being trucked into the Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Lubas was assigned to the team that was reconstructing the leading edge of Columbia's left wing, where investigators believed a fatal breach permitted hot gases to enter the orbiter at the start of the crew's re-entry.



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