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Transitioning from the Space Shuttle to the Constellation System

04/15/2009 3:00 PM 4"370
William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Space Operations

Description: William Gerstenmaier knows the U.S. space program inside out -- both literally and figuratively. As a 30"plus year veteran of NASA, Gerstenmaier has managed the operational dimensions of the space shuttle, international space station, and other space flight missions. For this talk, he dissects a problem that recently grounded the shuttle, coming at it from the perspective of both an engineer, and a top"level manager with responsibility to the highest levels of government.

Gerstenmaier presents his case "as it unfolded," for a behind"the"scenes view of how NASA keeps its aging shuttles aloft. His account begins in 2008, after a shuttle flight revealed something wrong with flow control valves essential to the shuttle's hydrogen system. These valves are connected in a closed loop to the main engines, via a 170"foot length of pipe, through all manner of twists and turns, and frequently subjected to very high pressures. Gerstenmaier describes the series of tests his engineering teams performed, over long days, weekends and holidays, to determine what precisely had gone wrong, and the risks posed by potentially faulty equipment.

NASA engineers ruled out wiring problems, but discovered during an "x"ray of the plumbing" a chunk missing from one of the valves. They examined the problem from a structural dynamics standpoint: could the "flow through the plumbing" have made the valves vibrate violently? The same valves had been in use since 1981, but perhaps a "failure associated with an extremely resonant condition that could occur periodically" was responsible.

Gerstenmaier's team shot particles through a simulated piping system and then used a scanning electron microscope to detect valve damage. They also analyzed historical failure data, which suggested that valve cracks might be a "high cycle fatigue problem," and could therefore possibly occur during any flight. Gerstenmaier felt bound to "ground the fleet," until engineers figured out a way of screening for damage in the valves pre flight.

A flash of unorthodox thinking led engineers (unbeknownst to Gerstenmaier) to buy a common bolt tester, which permitted them to get a comprehensive picture of the valves in working shuttles without removing or damaging them. After running numbers around flight risk, and many discussions with his engineers, Gerstenmaier felt they'd arrived at a rationale to resume flying. Says Gerstenmaier, "I can tell you, I wasn't looking out the window in Florida. At the shuttle launch, I was looking at data of the flow control valves and watching the pressures I knew what I needed to look at in terms of the data. An engineer's tendency comes through."

About the Speaker(s): William H. Gerstenmaier directs NASA's human exploration of space. He also has programmatic oversight for the international space station, space shuttle, space communications and space launch vehicles. Formerly Gerstenmaier was the program manager of the International Space Station Office at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In 1977, Gerstenmaier began his NASA career at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, performing aeronautical research. He was involved with the wind tunnel tests that were used to develop the calibration curves for the air data probes used during entry on the space shuttle.

Beginning in 1988, Gerstenmaier headed the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (OMV) Operations Office, Systems Division at Johnson Space Center, where he was responsible for all aspects of OMV operations. Subsequently, he headed Space Shuttle/Space Station Freedom Assembly Operations Office, Operations Division and was Chief, Projects and Facilities Branch, Flight Design and Dynamics Division.

Gerstenmaier also served as Shuttle/Mir Program Operations Manager from 1995 to 1997. During this time he was the primary liaison to the Russian Space Agency for operational issues and negotiated all protocols used in support of operations during the Shuttle/Mir missions. In addition, he supported NASA 2 operations from Russia, January"September 1996.

In 1998, Gerstenmaier became manager of Space Shuttle Program Integration, where he was responsible for the overall management, integration, and operations. In December 2000, he was named deputy manager of the International Space Station Program. Gerstenmaier received a B.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University in 1977 and an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Toledo in 1981. In 1992 and 1993, he completed course work for a doctorate in dynamics and control with emphasis in propulsion at Purdue University.

Gerstenmaier is the recipient of numerous awards, including three NASA Certificates of Commendation, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, a Senior NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executives. He also was honored with an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award from Purdue University. Additionally, he was twice honored by Aviation Week and Space for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Space.

Host(s): School of Engineering, Massachusetts Space Grant Consortium

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

Category: Events | Updated over 2 years ago

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