NASA shuttle commander thanks TEES/Texas A&M wind tunnel team
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Marine Col. Rick Sturckow, commander of the STS-117 mission aboard the space shuttle Atlantis in June 2007, visited the Oran W. Nicks Low Speed Wind Tunnel team Jan. 31 to thank the team for supporting the repair design and validation for a torn thermal blanket on the space shuttle. During his presentation, Sturckow showed actual footage and described the mission to the International Space Station. He also presented Jorge L. Martinez, director of the wind tunnel, with a framed miniature Texas flag flown on board Atlantis and autographed pictures of the crew. On June 9, 2007, a four-inch piece of Thermal Protection System blanket was found protruding out of the port Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pod by the crew during routine inspection of the space shuttle. With the help of the wind tunnel team, NASA engineers conducted ground tests at Texas A&M. Together they quickly developed a solution for repairing the torn blanket and ensuring the shuttle would survive reentry into Earth's atmosphere. After the repair, Atlantis was allowed to return home, but not before taking one last lap around the world to divert to Edwards Air Force Base for a successful landing. "First thing we wanted to look at was your OMS pod," Sturckow said, recalling his first moments after debarking the Orbiter. "There were a few stitches, but it held great." The wind tunnel is a joint facility of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station (TEES) and the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M. The 10 foot-wide, 7 foot-high tunnel test section is capable of producing wind velocities up to 290 feet per second at approximately atmospheric static pressure. Department Head Helen Reed said Sturckow's presentation was particularly meaningful and memorable for the wind tunnel crew given that 50 years ago on the same date — Jan. 31 — the United States successfully launched its first satellite, Explorer 1, into orbit.