National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research Center

Matt Melis

Since the Space Shuttle program began at NASA, there have been two major loses in Space flight: Columbia and Challenger. On August 8, 2012, Mr. Matt Melis discussed “The Space Shuttle, Thirty Years of Flight, 30 Years of Lesson Learned,” the reasons that led up to the Columbia accident as well as the lessons learned from the situation. A piece of foam had come off of the external fuel tank and had hit the leading edge of the left wing of the orbiter, damaging the Shuttle’s thermal protection system (TPS). He began by explaining the three main components of a space shuttle, the Orbiter, the solid rocket boosters and the external fuel tank. After explaining each component and how they are used in a shuttle launch, Mr. Melis explained the lessons learned from the Columbia accident. He highlighted a quote by Henry Petrosku. “Colossal disasters that do occur are ultimately failures of design, but the lessons learned from these disasters can do more to advance engineering knowledge than all the successful machines and structures in the world.” Without the Columbia accident, we would not have known there was a design flaw in the structure of the external fuel tank and sooner or later this accident would have happened. If not for engineering imagery, the failure would have gone unnoticed and there may not have been a way to understand why the crash occurred. With this accident, came a redesign of certain areas of the shuttle and rigorous testing of debris hitting the shuttle. It was from this accident that a better design was created to prevent future incidents such as the Columbia accident.