Soaring Innovation: the Shuttle and Glenn
On April 12, 1981, the first space shuttle launched. Carrying two astronauts and the dreams of an entire country, the shuttle ushered in a new era of space travel as it ascended the skies. In the 30 years since that first launch, hundreds of astronauts have embarked upon a total 135 space shuttle missions, travelling millions of miles through space.
The Space Shuttle Program stretched the boundaries of what humanity could accomplish in space, from the very first mission to the very last.
Every one of NASA's centers has made countless contributions to the Space Shuttle Program. Developing technology, testing new innovations, launching spacecraft, conducting microgravity experiments, managing communications—all of NASA's centers worked together to create and sustain the Space Shuttle Program
NASA's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland has provided a panoply of contributions to the Space Shuttle Program. From helping develop the Space Shuttle Main Engine to ensuring the safety of shuttle launches, Glenn's contributions to the shuttle
have been far-reaching in scope and essential to the program's successes.
Highlights of Glenn's Contributions to the Space Shuttle Program
First Shuttle Flight: STS-1
Developing the technology to make the Space Shuttle Program a reality was a joint effort among all of the NASA centers. Glenn contributed to the first STS mission—STS-1, where space shuttle Columbia first traveled to space—in myriad ways, from testing components in Glenn wind tunnels to calibrating landing systems.
Glenn's contributions began in the 1940s through the 1960s with the development of a powerful and lightweight propellant combination. Combining liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen
proved to create an excellent propellant combination. Glenn solved key issues with liquid hydrogen, including combustion instability, sloshing, pumping and chilldown.
This propellant combination would be used for the first time in the Centaur rocket
(also a program managed by Glenn), the Saturn upper stages
and the Space Shuttle Main Engine
Glenn contributed to the Space Shuttle Main Engine, rocket ignition technology, the Auxiliary Power Unit, Space Shuttle Main Engine Pumps, and many other areas of the space shuttle design.
Learn more about STS-1
Learn more about Space Shuttle Main Engine
Ohio's Shuttle Astronauts
Of the many astronauts who participated in the Space Shuttle Program, 20 have called Ohio home:
Kenneth Cameron, Nancy Curie, Michael Foreman, Michael Gernhardt, John Glenn, Michael Good, Gregory Harbaugh, Karl Henize, Thomas Hennen, Terence Henricks, G. David Low, Robert Overmyer, Ronald Parise, Judith Resnik, Ronald Sega, Robert Springer, Donald Thomas, Carl Walz, Mary Weber, Sunita Williams.
John H. Glenn, a former senator, the first American to orbit Earth and the namesake of NASA's Glenn Research Center, flew in space shuttle Discovery during STS-95.
In total, there have been 24 astronauts from Ohio; 20 of these were part of the Space Shuttle Program, and the other 4 participated in earlier missions.
Learn more about Ohio astronauts
Hundreds of experiments have been designed and developed by Glenn and carried into space by the space shuttles. Many experiments and instruments were delivered to the International Space Station, and many experiments were performed on the space shuttle itself. Once the space shuttle is flying in low Earth orbit, it is possible to conduct experiments that require a reduced gravity environment. The shuttle itself becomes an orbiting laboratory for microgravity research.
NASA's Spacelab Program
enabled experiments to occur on space shuttle missions from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Glenn was a major contributor to the Spacelab Program. Glenn's Microgravity Program
developed numerous microgravity experiments that investigated fluid physics, combustion science, materials science, fundamental physics and acceleration environment characterization.
The first microgravity experiment sponsored by Glenn that was conducted on the shuttle was the Alloy Undercooling Experiment. Co-sponsored by NASA's Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Ala., this experiment was flown on STS-61C in January of 1986. It investigated how metal reacts in different temperatures in reduced gravity. After this initial experiment, more than 150 payloads were developed by Glenn and carried on the space shuttle.
The Space Acceleration Measurement System, which monitored and recorded the low-gravity acceleration environment on the shuttle, was designed and developed at Glenn. It flew on more than 20 shuttle missions.
Since 2001, most Glenn-developed microgravity experiments and experiment-specific hardware have been delivered to the International Space Station by the space shuttles. These experiments include major facilities like the Combustion Integrated Rack (CIR)
and the Fluids Integrated Rack (FIR)
, which together comprise the Fluids and Combustion Facility (FCF)
. These facilities still operate on the space station.
The space shuttle has also delivered Glenn-designed exercise countermeasures
and medical device experiments
that are part of the Human Research Program
. These advanced technology demonstration payloads have broadened the understanding of health in microgravity environments.
The experiments that were conducted on the space shuttle, or carried by the shuttle to be conducted in the space station, have helped increase the knowledge of science in the microgravity environment of space.
Learn more about shuttle experiments
Columbia Accident Investigation
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia experienced a catastrophic failure during reentry into Earth's atmosphere. The shuttle was destroyed, and the crew aboard Columbia perished.
Following the loss of Columbia and her crew, NASA established the Columbia Accident Investigation Board
, which led an intensive seven-month inquiry into the causes of the Columbia accident.
The debris from the wrecked shuttle were meticulously gathered, documented and analyzed. Some of the samples were sent to the Glenn Ballistics Impact Laboratory, where the Glenn team investigated how foam reacts with reinforced carbon.
After much in-depth research, it was discovered that the insulating foam that fell from the body of the shuttle and hit the wing caused the damage which would take down Columbia. The contributions of Glenn researchers helped NASA create new in-flight safety procedures that inspect the shuttle thoroughly before any attempted reentry. This knowledge, and these policies, contributed to the safety of future space travel.
Learn more about the Columbia Accident Investigation
Learn more about the Glenn Ballistics Impact Laboratory
Return to Flight
For two years after the loss of Columbia, NASA initiated an extensive program of testing and analyzing. Centers across the country investigated different areas of spaceflight, to help ensure the safety of future shuttle missions and space exploration.
Glenn's Ballistics Impact Laboratory performed extensive research into debris materials, ice, foam, secondary debris and other materials, and how they might interact with the reinforced carbon of the shuttle. They also performed testing on the wing leading edge and the nose cap of the shuttle.
Testing at Glenn also focused on mechanisms, gears, lubrication, high-temperature materials, impact testing and modeling. Additional testing was performed in Glenn's 8’ x 6’ Supersonic Wind Tunnel
During the Return to Flight mission STS-114, space shuttle Discovery successfully launched on July 26, 2005 and safely landed on August 9, 2005.
Learn more about Return to Flight
Learn more about Glenn and Return to Flight
Learn more about Glenn ballistics testing for Return to Flight
Stress, Loads and Dynamics
Many thorough safety analyses take place before and during every space shuttle mission. One of the key personnel insuring safe shuttle safe operations is Kelly Carney from Glenn, who serves as the Stress, Loads and Dynamics NASA subsystem engineer and a member of the Debris and Damage Assessment Team.
Before each shuttle launch, Carney and his team carefully review analyses to ensure the safety of the shuttle through the upcoming flight. During launch, Carney is located in the Mission Evaluation and Debris Assessment Room in Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. Throughout launch and the mission, he and his team monitor the shuttle for impacts, assess all damages, and assist in fixing any damage if required. On STS-117, his team helped repair damage to the shuttle's thermal blanket, which helped allow space shuttle Atlantis to safely return to Earth.
Learn more about Stress, Loads and Dynamics
Purge, Vent and Drain
The Purge, Vent and Drain Subsystem on the space shuttle keeps the pressure and temperature of the space shuttle stable. During the launch and the landing of each shuttle mission, these functions are monitored by Diana Centeno-Gomez from Glenn, who is the Purge, Vent and Drain Subsystems engineer.
Centeno-Gomez and her team manage the processes by which the shuttle is purged of hazardous chemicals, vented to control depressurization and re-pressurization, and drained if the shuttle is rained upon. During launches, Centeno-Gomez and her team are located in the Mission Evaluation Room at Johnson, coordinating the complex systems to ensure the safety of the launch.
Learn more about Purge, Vent and Drain
-Tori Woods, SGT Inc.
NASA's Glenn Research Center