Seven students at The University of Texas at El Paso have seen things few people have seen and participated in work in which few researchers have had the opportunity to take part.
Seven students – both graduate and undergraduate – are part of UTEP’s Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR). The multidisciplinary center is focused on risk reduction research to make commercial spaceflight safe and successful.
Since August 2013, CASSMAR research has primarily focused on analyzing pieces of debris recovered from Space Shuttle Columbia after it was destroyed during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003.
On Aug. 19 and 20, the students will present the results from the nondestructive evaluation phase of their research to subject matter experts at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. During this Technical Interchange Meeting, the students also will propose to perform more advanced analysis techniques on selected components to further their understanding of how spacecraft materials respond to the aggressive conditions of re-entry.
According to Darren Cone, CASSMAR executive director, only a half dozen other universities have been selected to receive materials for analysis through the Columbia Debris Loan program. UTEP’s research involves the largest pieces of debris analyzed by a university.
“It’s a unique opportunity for the students to present their research and participate in open discussion with the leading subject matter experts at NASA about how the Columbia debris research that’s being undertaken by UTEP can advance the state of knowledge to benefit future use of manned spacecraft,” Cone said.
The students also will tour materials engineering labs at the facility, see the next-generation Orion spacecraft being prepared for launch in December, and examine Space Shuttle Atlantis alongside the NASA experts. They also will view the Columbia Research and Preservation Office, which is where all of the recovered vehicle components are stored on the 16th floor of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
“Very few people who are not associated with NASA actually get the opportunity to go into that room and see the debris firsthand,” Cone said.
NOTE: Cone and the CASSMAR students are available for interviews prior to and after their presentations at Kennedy Space Center.