Friday, September 16, 2011

Air & Space Magazine 2009-03

THE APOLLO 11 COMMAND module Columbia is clearly one of the National Air and Space Museum's crown jewels. Displayed in the Milestones of Flight gallery, Columbia is surrounded by Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager's Bell X-l, and the North American Aviation X-15. While these aircraft hang high out of reach, Columbia is at ground level, and you can inspect every detail on the heat shield from just a nose away. That's precisely what NASA engineers need to do as they plan a similar carbon-based heat shield, but one about four feet wider, for the new Orion crew exploration vehicle, which will take astronauts back to the moon. The engineers would like to handle old, proven material, and even rough some up in the lab. The heat shield on Columbia and those of all the manned Apollo craft are off limits, as these vehicles, displayed in museums around the country, are national treasures. But, as Betsy Pugel suspected, the Smithsonian doesn't throw things away. Pugel, one of the scientists on the Orion heat shield project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and currently detailed to NASA Ames, doubles as a liaison between NASA and the Museum. Last spring she asked if there might be any Apollo heat shield material stored at the Paul E. Garber facility, the Museum's warehouse in Suit)and, Maryland.