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

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 reentry.

Lubas and his team began 12-hour days and worked every other weekend to confirm the origins of the Columbia accident. "There was a dedicated effort by everybody-a good team effort," Lubas said. "It brought many people closer together. Everybody wanted to help fix it so we could fly again."

Five weeks later, Lubas shifted over from the NASA debris hangar to the Orbiter Processing Facility and joined a team that was repairing the previously discovered Ball Strut Tie Rod Assembly cracks in the three remaining orbiters, Atlantis, Endeavor and Discovery. He returned to the wing leading edge analysis following the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report last summer.

Looking for cracks in the metallic hardware that attaches the Reinforced Carbon-Carbon panels to the orbiter wing leading edge is a critical step before NASA can return its space shuttle fleet to space this fall. In addition to a visual inspection, the team uses a fluorescent dye penetrant to reveal the cracks. Lubas remains upbeat about the progress the team has made.

"With respect to this hardware, we have come a long way. We're ahead of schedule and have completed 85 percent of what's expected," he said. "It's worth the long hours and the hard work so that we can send the orbiter out to the pad and prove once again we have a strong space program."

-Susan Wells


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