Lehigh University
Lehigh University


An out-of-this-world sabbatical

Arnold Marder found the space center "jaw-dropping."

Arnold Marder was a college freshman in October 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth.

Sputnik triggered the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union and altered the course of history.

It also inspired Marder to earn a B.S. and an M.S. in metallurgical engineering from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn, and a Ph.D. in the field from Lehigh.

Marder, now the R.D. Stout Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Lehigh, returned recently from a semester-long sabbatical at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which oversees manned space flights. He served as a visiting scientist with the center’s Spaceport Research and Technology Institute, and also worked with NASA engineers on NASA’s Return To Flight Program, on the accident that destroyed the Columbia space shuttle last year, and on problems with the upcoming Discovery space shuttle.

He is no longer the young man who was fired up by Sputnik, Marder admits, but he was still awed by the Kennedy Space Center.

“The space center is jaw-dropping,” Marder says. “You can’t walk around that place and not be excited. Just driving through the entrance gate, you see the buildings and launch pads and you realize the historical aspect. You go into the main building and walk past a bust of President Kennedy containing his quote exhorting America to put a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s.”

Studying the Crawler

Arlan Benscoter, left, and Marder are dwarfed by the massive Crawler.

Marder, who conducts research at Lehigh’s ATLSS (Advanced Technology for Large Structural Systems) Research Center, has a contract with the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) to study the welding and mechanical properties of stainless-steel materials and to determine the susceptibility of those materials to corrosion. ONR is seeking to build a stainless-steel “stealth ship,” which, being non-magnetic, would not trigger or attract magnetic mines.

Because of its location, the Kennedy Space Center has an outstanding corrosion laboratory to study the effects of the saltwater environment on all materials related to the launch facilities. The corrosion group of electrochemists at the Kennedy Space Center invited Marder to study and work in their labs.

As a result, the trip to Florida gave Marder an opportunity to study saltwater corrosion and their effects on stainless-steel welds. He also learned more about electrochemical corrosion techniques that are used to predict how various filler materials help welds withstand corrosion.

In addition, at the NASA failure-analysis lab, Marder joined a metallurgist studying the treads of the Crawler, a massive mobile platform that transports shuttles from the vehicle-assembly building to the launching pad. Each of the Crawler’s four treads, or shoes, is made of a steel casting and weighs about a ton. The tank travels so slowly that it takes hours to transport the shuttle and booster rocket to the launch pad.

“The Crawler shoes were severely cracked and full of casting defects that could easily have allowed the Crawler to fail, ultimately causing the shuttle and booster to topple,” Marder said.

Marder arranged for Arlan Benscoter, a research engineer in the department of materials science and engineering, to visit the NASA lab and share his expertise. Benscoter has taught short courses in metallography – the art of using light optical microscopy to take photographs of the surfaces of materials – around the U.S. for almost a quarter-century. He and Marder helped NASA develop a new alloy for the Crawler treads.

Marder also consulted with the head of the Space Port Research and Technology Institute over the accident that caused the Columbia Space Shuttle to explode over Texas on Feb. 1, 2003, killing seven astronauts. Marder wrote a proposal to evaluate the effect of age and exposure on the reinforced carbon composite that made up the leading edge wing component that was most responsible for the Columbia’s failure. He wrote a second proposal to have seniors in his failure analysis class examine failed shuttle parts. Both proposals are pending.

Lehigh grad students Ken Adams, left, and Suzanna Klingensmith visited for a week.

Two graduate students in materials science and engineering, Suzanna Klingensmith and Ken Adams, visited Marder for a week to consult with NASA officials about corrosion. Klingensmith, who has completed her M.S. and written a thesis about corrosion in friction-stir welding, now works for Carpenter Technology in Reading. Adams is doing a research project for ONR that requires salt-water corrosion testing.

“This was just a wonderful experience for both of them,” Marder says. “We made a lot of good contacts with people who want to continue to work with us.”

As a result of Marder’s sabbatical, Lehigh has been invited to become a member university of the Spaceport Research and Technology Institute.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Thursday, October 28, 2004

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