Angela Capece '05 examines a piece of tile from the backside of the shuttle.
It's rare for a non-materials science and engineering student to take the failure analysis course. Then again, it's rare to find a mechanical engineering major with NASA experience.
Meet Angela Capece '05, a mechanical engineering major who joined 14 materials science and engineering students in analyzing Columbia debris.
Capece spent eight months as an intern working at NASA's Kennedy Space Center studying the explosion of Columbia, specifically helping to tabulate the number and size of foam impacts on all 113 shuttle flights.
Capece recalls walking through the hanger at NASA where all the Columbia debris was laid out as being a "sad, somber" experience. "Knowing what all those pieces were supposed to look like and seeing them all distorted was like walking through a graveyard," she says.
So when she heard some of these precious pieces were coming to Lehigh to be analyzed, she wanted in on the action. Capece was given a piece of a tile from the backside of the shuttle to study and through a careful analysis, she determined that it was burned from the back and failed as a result of the excess heat.
"Angela walked into a procedure that was completely foreign to her," says Ryan Deacon, the teaching assistant for the failure analysis class. "But she really wanted her own sample, and she did just as well with it as the other students in the class."
Capece says she learned a great deal working on the Columbia project.
"I hope I was able to give NASA some new insight into the current space shuttle designs, and along the way, I personally uncovered a deeper understanding of the accident and how it specifically influenced the failure of my debris piece."
Capece says she tried to stay positive throughout the somber experience by reminding herself of how much she was learning. "Sometimes it takes a catastrophe like the Columbia explosion to discover inadequacies in the design or manufacture of a piece of hardware," she says.
Eventually, Capece says, she would like to work in the aerospace industry and help design spacecraft systems similar to the one she and her classmates analyzed. In the meantime, she recently accepted a job at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in Pittsburgh, where she will help design a nuclear reactor for spaceflight.
In The Columbia Disaster: What went wrong?, you'll learn why NASA chose Lehigh students to help analyze Columbia debris and how their findings may make future spaceflight safer.
Lehigh Alumni Bulletin