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June 15, 2017

Engineering Physics professors join NASA oversight committee

Written By: Will Cushman


Engineering Physics professors Matt Allen and Dan Kammer were recently named to NASA’s National Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) Loads and Dynamics Technical Discipline Team.

Allen and Kammer’s role is to help provide oversight for, among other projects, NASA’s new space launch system, which is scheduled for its first unmanned test launch in late 2018. NASA formed NESC and its oversight panels of non-NASA research scientists and engineers following the Challenger accident.

Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after its January 28, 1986, launch, killing the seven crew members onboard. The investigation that followed found that an O-ring had failed during liftoff causing a catastrophic structural failure of an external fuel tank. NASA engineers had not designed the O-ring to perform in cold conditions such as those that day. The high profile accident—one of the worst in NASA’s history—led NASA to seek outside oversight via NESC.

Allen and Kammer’s role on NESC’s Loads and Dynamics Technical Discipline team will be to review NASA engineers’ work and to potentially propose alternative solutions to problems based on their own research and expertise. One area where they are currently focusing is on improving NASA’s computer models to better understand the loading that the vehicle will experience during launch; the millions of pounds of thrust required to lift the vehicle into orbit can shake the vehicle apart if it is not designed carefully. They regularly travel to NASA sites such as the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to attend team meetings and review NASA’s work.