Jadaan Gives Columbia Orbiter Presentation

March 7, 2003

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2003_03_07.jpgPLATTEVILLE - At 9 a.m., on Feb. 1, the world lost seven great heroes to a very tragic space accident. A NASA space shuttle, the Columbia Orbiter, exploded just minutes from home, leaving NASA and so many others devastated and confused as to what had happened.

On March 4, at noon, in the Wisconsin Room of the Pioneer Student Center at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, general engineering professor Osama Jadaan gave a presentation called "The Columbia Orbiter Tragedy: A Brief Look into the Shuttle's Thermal Protection System."

Jadaan grew up in Qatar and moved to the United States in 1979 to attend Pennsylvania State University. He earned his bachelor's of science and master's degree in civil engineering. He also earned a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics. He moved to Platteville in 1990 and has been teaching general engineering at UWP for the past 13 years.

For 12 summers, Jadaan has been working at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a researcher through the NASA Faculty Fellowship Program. This program is for full-time engineering and science educators at colleges and universities all over the U.S. These educators spend 10 weeks working with professional peers on engineering and science research.

Jadaan has been conducting research on the reliability of brittle materials of ceramics and ceramic composites similar to the ceramic tiles covering the space shuttles. These tiles are otherwise known as the thermal protection system (TPS). TPS is used to protect space shuttles upon their return to Earth. Air friction can cause surface temperatures of a shuttle re-entering the Earth's atmosphere to rise as high as 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, well over the melting point of steel. To protect the shuttle, special thermal barriers are needed. These barriers are Jadaan's specialty.

Jadaan's presentation was composed of three parts. The first part was an overview of the Orbiter, solid rocket boosters and the external fuel tank. The second segment was a minute-by-minute account of what happened up until the Orbiter's fatal moment. The third portion of the presentation was about the design of the thermal ceramic tiles, which make up the bulk of the Orbiter's TPS.

By the time Jadaan began his presentation, every seat in the room was taken and with little room, people had to stand along the outside walls. Students, engineers and even pilots came to hear Jadaan speak. He used a Powerpoint presentation to show photographs, electron micrographs and drawings of the Orbiter and the TPS.

In the first part of the presentation, Jadaan reviewed the basic components of the Orbiter. He explained that solid rocket boosters (SRBs) are the first part of the Orbiter assembly process. SRBs are the long rocket-looking objects on each side of the Orbiter. They are 149 feet long and 12 feet in diameter. They are used primarily for launch and steering control and are detached from the Orbiter approximately two minutes into the launch or 24 miles high. The SRBs are then recovered at sea and brought back to be disassembled, refurbished and reloaded with solid propellant for the next launch.

Next, the external fuel tank is connected to the SRBs. The tank is 154 feet long and 28.6 feet in diameter with 1.6 million pounds of liquid propellants consisting of oxygen and hydrogen.

"This [external fuel tank] could be a culprit in this disaster," says Jadaan.

"Part of the thermal insulation foam broke off and hit the left wing of the shuttle during the launch." The investigation is still in progress.

Jadaan then went through a minute-by-minute scenario of what happened before the Orbiter disintegrated, counting down from 5:30 a.m. to 8:59 a.m.

"At 9 a.m., Mission Control lost contact with Columbia, 39 miles over Texas, as a meteoric streak rained smoking debris over hundreds of miles of countryside," Jadaan read from his presentation. "All seven astronauts died."

The final part of Jadaan's presentation was based on the TPS and its role in the Orbiter disaster.

On Jan. 16, a piece of the external fuel tank's thermal insulation broke off and hit the left wing of the Orbiter during the launch, possibly damaging the shuttle's thermal protection tiles. This damage could have caused extreme temperatures to seep under the tiles into the shuttle's wing, creating an explosion as the shuttle re-entered the Earth's atmosphere. NASA is doing further investigation.

These tiles have certain requirements before being attached to the shuttle.

"They [thermal protection tiles] are light in weight, are thermal-insulators against extreme temperature fluctuation, and they can withstand thermal shock," Jadaan explained. "The tiles should be able to withstand any stresses and vibrations experienced during a launch."

The presentation concluded with questions and short discussions on different topics ranging from the experiments on board the shuttle to the exact cause of the explosion.

When asked why he wanted to present this topic to the public, Jadaan stated, "This was a national tragedy. People want to know why and how it happened. The heroes that died would have wanted everyone to become more educated because of it."

More information about the Columbia Orbiter can be found at www.nasa.gov.

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