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"Lehigh-NASA symposium" set for April 12, 14

The undergraduate engineering students who are analyzing debris from the Columbia space shuttle will present their findings to NASA officials and hear a presentation by a NASA astronaut at a two-day "Lehigh University-NASA Symposium" in April.

The 15 seniors in the materials science and engineering department's failure-analysis class will meet with NASA officials in Sinclair Auditorium from 1 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, and Thursday, April 14. The events on April 12 are closed to the public; those on April 14 are open.

Col. Pam Melroy, an astronaut who has piloted space shuttle flights, will give a talk titled "Human Spaceflight - Shuttle, Space Station and Beyond" at 4 p.m. on April 14.

On April 12, Rick Russell of NASA's Orbiter Project Support Office will discuss "Materials and Process Engineering's Role in the Reconstruction and Failure Analysis of the Space Shuttle Columbia."

Jon Cowart of the Orbiter Project Support Office will discuss "Space Shuttle Processing at NASA's Kennedy Space Center" on April 14 at 1:10 p.m. Scott Thurston of the Kennedy Space Center will discuss the "Columbia Preservation Project" at 1:35 p.m. on April 14.

The failure-analysis class, one of the few university courses of its kind offered in the U.S., is taught by Arnold Marder, the R.D. Stout Distinguished Professor of materials science and engineering. Marder served as an adviser to the Kennedy Space Center during a sabbatical in 2004.

The class is also taught by Ryan Deacon, a Ph.D. candidate in materials science and engineering, who will give a talk on "The Columbia Failure Analysis Debris Program at Lehigh" at 2 p.m. on April 14.

The students' presentations will run from 2 to 4 p.m. on April 12 and from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on April 14.

The Columbia space shuttle exploded over the southern U.S. on Feb. 1, 2003, when it was re-entering the atmosphere on its return to Earth. All seven astronauts aboard were killed.

More than 83,000 pieces of the shuttle were recovered by U.S. Forest Service employees and volunteers walking in the woods of Texas and Louisiana. The pieces were catalogued and sealed in plastic bags by NASA workers. NASA has sent 50 pieces to Lehigh to be analyzed.

The students in Marder's class are each analyzing one piece of debris, using light and electron microscopy.

NASA has determined that the explosion that destroyed the Columbia was caused when a piece of insulating foam spalled, or broke away from the fuel tank during launch and struck the shuttle's wing panel. The impact damaged the panel's thermal protection system, exposing the panel to deadly heat when the shuttle re-entered the Earth's atmosphere.

Lehigh is the first university NASA has asked to analyze debris from the Columbia.

Posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2005

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