Monday, February 25, 2013

Remembrance: Columbia (Part 1)

by Stephanie Osborn

You may remember that I started my career as a payload flight controller for first Shuttle, and then Station. And that I had a friend aboard Columbia during her final flight. For those who have read my all-too-painfully prescient book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, you know I dedicated that book to my friend Kalpana Chawla, her crewmates, and all those who have died in pursuit of space. "Ad astra, per ardua." ("To the stars, through struggle/adversity.")

We've just passed through a period of time of which most people are unaware. You see, all of the major space disasters that America has experienced all occurred within a 2-3 week span on the calendar. And interestingly, they occurred in chronological order on the calendar.

Apollo 1 Fire - January 27

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster - January 28

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster - February 1


Columbia - What happened?

On February 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia experienced a catastrophic malfunction during re-entry. This was a result of damage sustained during lift-off 17 days earlier, on 16 January. Debris – specifically, a briefcase-sized piece of insulating foam from the external tank (ET) penetrated the leading edge of the port wing, and gouged a groove the length of the wing, possibly dislodging and at least damaging the flashing surrounding the port landing gear, and driving part of the carbon-carbon composite heat shielding on the leading edge into the wing’s interior.

The combination resulted in softening the wing struts, shearing off the wing when hydraulic pressure failed, resulting in a loss of control.

The resulting total loss of aerodynamic stability as well as wing loss caused a failure of structural integrity of the vessel, which broke apart around the crew at ~Mach17 or higher.

Kalpana Chawla, my friend, was a crew member.

But why did all this happen? Why did the foam turn loose? How could FOAM damage the wing?

First of all, remember when we talked about the Challenger disaster, how the SRBs (solid rocket boosters) had to be cast in segments like concrete? It's sorta like that for the external tank, too. Oh, it doesn't have to be done in segments, but it's next to impossible not to, because the thing is so durn big. So you spray your container for as far as it'll go, then you get another and pick up where you left off. That still results in a kind of segmentation, because there's a slight discontinuity in the uniformity of the foam at the point where you stopped and switched to a fresh container. At that discontinuity, you can get tiny cracks, you can get bubbling, you can get ice crystal formation, especially given the ET's function of holding cryogenic fuels. Unfortunately there's just no other way to do it with current technology. And while it had been noticed in several previous Shuttle missions that bits of foam would spall, nothing serious had ever come of it.

Until Columbia's last voyage, of course.

So how the blazes (pardon the rather dark pun) did a hunk of foam do this?


The foam is largely composed of a variety of dichlorofluoroethane. That stuff has a density of 1.25g/cc at 20°C. For a suitcase-sized piece, we'll assume dimensions of roughly 3in x 12in x 15in – this just happens to be the size of one of my laptop cases, and a reasonable approximation. That translates to 7.62cm x 30.48cm x 38.10cm. This yields a volume of 8849cc. This gives a mass for that little chunk of foam of just a smidge over 11kg (24lb and change)! At the time it detached, the Shuttle was moving at a little under Mach 2.5, about 840m/s or 1,870mph. Engineers estimated the impact occurred with a closing speed of ~530mph (~883km/hr or 245m/s) Therefore the kinetic energy of the impact was ½mv2, which is 0.5 x 11kg x (245m/s)2, which comes to roughly 330,000J. Put a simpler way, over a falling distance of about one meter, that is the equivalent of about 37 tons of force.

Not exactly a light tap.

So, at T + 82s, a chunk of foam fell off the left bipod foam ramp, hit the leading edge of the wing – one of the most crucial areas, as the only thing to take more friction heat during re-entry is the nose – and punched a hole in it, and according to the information I had, may also have gouged a scratch down the bottom of the wing.

During the mission, something was observed floating away from Columbia's underside on orbit. It is still not known for certain if this was a piece of the reinforced carbon-carbon heat shielding, or if it was a piece of flashing from the landing gear bay door, or something else. Also during the mission, the ground reviewed footage of the launch, specifically that from the camera which had become routine only 2 launches prior, to look for evidence of possible damage due to foam spalling. Concern was raised, but NASA management refused despite multiple requests for DOD viewing assistane from the engineers and scientists who worked on the heat management system. In this respect, the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) reached the same conclusions that the Rogers Commission reached after Challenger – a difference in the views of management and the working engineers and scientists. To quote Richard Feynman from the Rogers Commission, "It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of agreement? … we could properly ask, 'What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?'"

But that is precisely what happened. Per the blog of Wayne Hale, one of the Flight Directors on that mission, JSC's Director of Mission Operations, John Harpold, told him, “You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS. If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?” []

Unfortunately, according to Hale, the Astronaut Office agreed. Everyone in charge agreed. And so nothing was done, no attempt was even made to find out if there was anything seriously wrong.

At the point in time when management decided to let the crew fly blind, the end game was set.

Next week we'll chronicle Columbia's final moments.

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, February 18, 2013

Remembrance: Challenger

by Stephanie Osborn

You may remember that I started my career as a payload flight controller for first Shuttle, and then Station. And that I had a friend aboard Columbia during her final flight. For those who have read my all-too-painfully prescient book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, you know I dedicated that book to my friend Kalpana Chawla, her crewmates, and all those who have died in pursuit of space. "Ad astra, per ardua." ("To the stars, through struggle/adversity.")

We've just passed through a period of time of which most people are unaware. You see, all of the major space disasters that America has experienced all occurred within a 2-3 week span on the calendar. And interestingly, they occurred in chronological order on the calendar.

Apollo 1 Fire - January 27

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster - January 28

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster - February 1

Challenger - What Happened?

On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger launched on mission STS-51L. It carried the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, as well as astronauts Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnick. At MET (Mission Elapsed Time) 00/00:01:13 (T+73sec), Challenger exploded. There were no survivors.

Some personal background

On January 28, 1986, I was about a month and a half into my first full-time job post-graduate school. I was the resident astronomer on a defense project that was in Phase 1 R&D. (I can't tell you much more than that, 'cuz then I'd have to kill ya. *jk* But you get the picture.) Phase 2 was to have been prototype development and testing, including prototype flight and testing aboard the Shuttle. They needed a payload specialist for that flight. My hat was in the ring and I was a likely candidate.

The Challenger disaster grounded the fleet indefinitely. This was a factor in the cancellation of Phase 2 of my project. So my PS candidacy dream exploded with that shuttle.

I ended up transferring over to the space programs division of my company and working for many years as a payload flight controller, scheduling activities for Shuttle missions, and even training astronauts (more about that next week). I fit in an entire career between two of only three major space disasters that NASA has had in its existence.

I remember the day clearly. I was sitting in my cubicle working when my friend from grad school and coworker, Jim, leaned over the top of the partition (Jim is really tall).

"Steph? Steph!"

"Yeah, Jim? What's up?"

"The Shuttle just blew up."

"Ha. Ha. Very funny."

"I'm serious."

It wasn't until he said that, that I truly diverted my full attention from my work and looked him in the face. And I knew. He really WAS serious.

I flung my pen at the desk, shoved my chair back, and rounded the cubicle partitions at a full sprint. Our boss had a small TV in his office, and when I got there, most of the branch was crammed in his office watching. There was nothing else on - everyone was covering it. We all sat in silence and watched the reports come in, and the replays of the explosion. To this day I can't stand to watch footage of that explosion anymore.

Later I went down the hall on some errand, and across the building to the cafeteria for lunch. All the halls were empty except for offices that had TVs, where people spilled out into the hall trying to watch said TV. One or two doors were closed and I thought I heard the sounds of weeping from behind them - or else similar sounds from behind restroom doors. It was not something I'll ever forget. Sometimes I wish I could.

So what happened?

This is something I know a fair amount about, because I used the Challenger disaster information as part of my research for writing my first book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281.

The gist of it is that the entire vehicle is only certified to to 40F, and they launched in 18F temperatures. Management felt it was a high profile mission with McAuliffe aboard, and ignored all warnings from the scientists and engineers who knew better.

What many do not know is that equipment on the launch pad also failed, possibly due to the cold. In the end, those were ruled out as part of the cause of the accident, but they so easily COULD have been, that it is worth mentioning. Now, on to what actually happened.

It had been discovered in previous flights that SRB ignition caused the first segment of the SRBs to warp, the casings ballooning out from the stress, and opening the joint between it and the next segment.

Wait. Back up, I hear you say. Why is the SRB in segments in the first place? Because the solid propellant has to be poured, cast, and cured like concrete. And just like concrete, if you pour too big a slab, it will crack during the curing process. This crack will act as a fuse for the fuel burn to travel along, and cause not only uneven thrust (a significant danger in a craft whose thrust must remain balanced on each side), but also a burn-through of the casing. So it's cast in segments, and those segments stacked.

Ok. So the joint opened up. Regularly. It was found, however, that the primary O-ring tended to shift, compensating for the warp and sealing the opening. This took a certain amount of time, but it was generally short enough to prevent anything but hot gases from escaping - no actual flame ever got past. Now granted, the hot gas was around 5000F, but it still wasn't flame, and it was only for fractions of a second, maybe a half-second at most, and all within 3-4 seconds of liftoff, so that was considered more or less okay. This behavior actually ended up being retroactively added into the specs.

However, the flexibility of the O-rings, as we all know now, is temperature-dependent. The colder the temperature, the less flexible the rings, and the longer it takes for them to shift into position to block the blow-by, as the escaping gas was termed. Turns out that 18F pretty much "de-flexed" the O-rings into rigidity. The primary O-ring didn't flex into the "new" position - evidently at all - and the secondary O-ring was unseated by the warping of the casing. There was nothing to stop the blow-by until the aluminum oxide components from the solid propellant essentially clogged the opening. By that time the O-rings had been burned away for nearly a quarter of the circumference of the starboard SRB. But the metal oxides had sealed the hole. No problem.

Not quite.

From approximately T+37sec (launch plus 37 sec) to T+74sec, the Shuttle encountered a layer of heavy wind shear, stronger than ever encountered before. This wind shear broke open the aluminum oxide seal that was holding the starboard SRB closed. A plume of exhaust immediately formed and became well defined as blow-by resumed. This in turn ate away at the casing, enlarging the hole and allowing for more and more blow-by. The thrust of the SRB began to drop, as part of it was being redirected out the hole in the side.
A recovered piece of the starboard SRB, showing the hole and blow-by scorching.

Soon the plume struck the external tank (ET) and began eating into it. (Hot gas and plasma has a way of doing that.)

The plume develops on the side of the SRB, near the ET.

It didn't take long (~T+66sec, two seconds after the ET plume formed) before the liquid hydrogen tank began leaking fuel, adding to the whole mess by burning as it entered the plasma exhaust stream. This led to two additional problems. One, the pressure in the LH2 tank was dropping steadily, which would cause problems in operation of the Shuttle main engines (SSMEs or Space Shuttle Main Engines). Two, this would cause an additional thrust vector - and remember what I said earlier about needing to have balanced thrust? Different thrust angles means that there are now torques (twisting forces) being applied to the Shuttle "stack" that it's never experienced, and is not designed to experience.

At this point neither the crew nor the flight controllers have registered that the drops in pressure are due to something other than normal ascent; the Shuttle is passing through "Max Q," the segment of the trajectory that experiences the maximum stress from the atmosphere, and breaks Mach 1. Once it has done this, the aerodynamic forces drop (the SSMEs have throttled back to about 65% for this, to minimize stress), and at T+68, CapCom Dick Covey called, "Challenger, you are go at throttle-up."

Commander Dick Scobee replied, "Roger, go at throttle-up," indicating that they would increase the SSME operations back to 104%. It would be the last words heard on the Air-to-Ground loop from Challenger.

At ~T+72, the rear strut attaching the starboard SRB to the ET... broke, pulled loose, whatever...and the inevitable accelerated into its awful climax. The craft slammed to the right, and the onboard black box recorder caught Pilot Mike Smith remarking, "Uh-oh." This appears to have been the first indication the crew had that anything was amiss. It was far too late.

At fractions of a second past T+73, the rear of the LH2 tank ruptured and the spilling LH2 apparently ignited, causing the tank to act like a rocket. It slammed forward into the rear of the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank. At the same time the starboard SRB pivoted on its remaining strut, slamming into the ET. The ET failed (aka "busted open") and the LH2 and LOX mingled, igniting and producing a huge cloud of water vapor. Everything went to hell in a handbasket as the Shuttle veered off course, experiencing forces far beyond its specs (20G as opposed to 5G), and it essentially shattered.

Interestingly, this did not indicate demise of the crew, only the Orbiter and stack. (The ET had already broken up, and once the Range Safety Officer determined the SRBs were in free, uncontrolled flight, he initiated detonation to protect ocean vessels and land inhabitants.) There is some debate about whether or not the mid-deck crew survived the breakup, as that area caught a considerable amount of force during the devastating disintegration. It is beyond doubt, however, that the flight deck did in fact emerge intact. Three of the four emergency oxygen systems for the flight crew were found activated, with sufficient oxygen used to just equate to the free fall. For the commander and pilot to be wearing them, it was necessary for the mission specialists to don theirs, unstrap, put on the masks for the CDR and PLT, then sit back down and strap in - they were found masked and strapped in. Also instrument settings on the console had been changed, and could only have been changed by the pilot in an effort to reaquire cabin electricity.

The crew cabin during free-fall.

However, the emergency oxygen system was not pressurized, and at that altitude unconsciousness would have occurred quickly. This is probably merciful because the impact on the ocean surface generated forces in excess of 200G, which neither the crew nor the remains of the cabin could survive.


The Shuttle Fleet was grounded for a significant period of time, approximately three years. During this time, investigations into exactly what happened and why were extensive. So were redesigns, including a new joint design for the SRB segments, which included a mortise and tang design that was significantly reinforced with thick layers of steel. A new bailout procedure and equipment was developed; this was actually depicted in the movie, Space Cowboys (but it would not have saved the crew of Challenger). A new abort procedure was developed, known as Return To Launch Site, or RTLS (which would also not have saved the Challenger crew). The Office of Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance was created within NASA. The crew returned to wearing pressure suits for ascent and re-entry. Numerous other changes were made within the organization of NASA, to foster a different attitude in the management. Those of us who worked the actual missions took it very seriously.

Unfortunately, as we'll see next week, NASA management failed to remember the lesssons learned from this catastrophe.

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, February 11, 2013

Remembrance: Apollo 1

by Stephanie Osborn

You may remember that I started my career as a payload flight controller for first Shuttle, and then Station. And that I had a friend aboard Columbia during her final flight. For those who have read my all-too-painfully prescient book, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281, you know I dedicated that book to my friend Kalpana Chawla, her crewmates, and all those who have died in pursuit of space. "Ad astra, per ardua." ("To the stars, through struggle/adversity.")

We've just passed through a period of time of which most people are unaware. You see, all of the major space disasters that America has experienced all occurred within a 2-3 week span on the calendar. And interestingly, they occurred in chronological order on the calendar.

Apollo 1 Fire - January 27

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster - January 28

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster - February 1


So what happened?

The Apollo 1 Fire

Apollo 1, originally designated Apollo/Saturn-204, was to have been the first manned mission of the Apollo program. It was scheduled to launch on February 21, 1967 with the crew component of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Frayed insulation allowed a spark from a cable to jump to flammable material in the cabin's pure oxygen atmosphere during a countdown checklist test. Velcro was a new product and the crew and especially the ground crew it seems, went crazy in using it inside the cabin to place things within easy reach. Unfortunately it is highly flammable, and in the pure oxygen atmosphere, went up like a blowtorch. The additional design modification of having an inward-opening inner hatch after the near-catastrophe of Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 flight, rendered it impossible to open the hatch for escape. The crew was trapped inside and died in the fire, which created interior pressures so great that the capsule ruptured, sending flames outward and igniting part of the surrounding superstructure.

The timeline: at 6:30:54 (23:30:54 GMT) during a T-10min hold, a voltage transient was recorded. This was likely the initiating spark. At 6:31:04 (ten seconds later), Chaffee exclaimed, "Hey." The voice recorder picked up scuffling sounds, then Commander Grissom reported the fire. At 6:31:12 Chaffee officially reported, "We've got a fire in the cockpit." White responded. Twelve seconds later, Chaffee began urging his colleagues to get out.

Per Wikipedia's entry, "Some witnesses said they saw White on the television monitors, reaching for the inner hatch release handle as flames in the cabin spread from left to right and licked the window." There was also this official report: "Witnesses monitoring the television showing the hatch window reported that flames spread from the left to the right side of the command module and shortly thereafter covered the entire visible area." [Apollo 1: The Fire,]

The last voice transmission was garbled and was variously interpreted by flight control witnesses to be, "They’re fighting a bad fire—let's get out. Open 'er up," "I'm reporting a bad fire. I'm getting out," or possibly, "We've got a bad fire—let's get out. We're burning up."

Transmission ceased suddenly at 6:31:21. Some witnesses "believe there was one sharp cry of pain. Loss of radio signal occurred a few seconds later." [NASA Memorandum, Report on Apollo 204 Review Board Discussions,]

"The oxygen supply to the astronaut suits, which had been holding nearly constant pressure and temperature, started to fluctuate at the time of signal loss. At 6:31:17 or 14 seconds after the fire was first detected, the cabin pressure reached a level of approximately 29 psi and the cabin ruptured." [NASA Memorandum, Report on Apollo 204 Review Board Discussions,]

Once the capsule ruptured, a kind of backdraft ensued and the fire expanded outside the cabin, setting various components of the superstructure afire. "Throughout this period, other pad personnel were fighting secondary fires on level A-8. There was considerable fear that the launch escape tower, mounted above the command module, would be ignited by the fires below and destroy much of the launch complex." [Apollo 1: The Fire,] By the time the interior cabin could be safely reached, there was nothing that could be done to save the crew.

"The official death certificates for all three crew members list the cause of death as asphyxiation due to smoke inhalation due to the fire." [NASA Memorandum, Report on Apollo 204 Review Board Discussions,]


"Three hatches were installed on the command module. The outermost hatch, called the boost protective cover (BPC) hatch, was part of the cover which shielded the command module during launch and was jettisoned prior to orbital operation. The middle hatch was termed the ablative hatch and became the outer hatch when the BPC was jettisoned after launch. The inner hatch closed the pressure vessel wall of the command module and was the first hatch to be opened by the crew in an unaided crew egress.

"On the day of the fire, the outer or BPC hatch was in place but not fully latched because of distortion in the BPC caused by wire bundles temporarily installed for the test. The middle hatch and inner hatch were in place and latched after crew ingress. Although the BPC hatch was not fully latched, it was necessary to insert a specially-designed tool into the hatch in order to provide a hand-hold for lifting it from the command module. By this time the White Room was filling with dense, dark smoke from the command module interior and from secondary fires throughout level A-8. While some personnel were able to locate and don operable gas masks, others were not. Some proceeded without masks while others attempted without success to render masks operable. Even operable masks were unable to cope with the dense smoke present because they were designed for use in toxic rather than dense smoke atmospheres.

"Visibility in the White Room was virtually nonexistent. It was necessary to work essentially by touch since visual observation was limited to a few inches at best. A hatch removal tool was in the White Room. Once the small fire near the BPC hatch had been extinguished and the tool located, the pad leader and an assistant removed the BPC hatch. Although the hatch was not latched, removal was difficult.

"The personnel who removed the BPC hatch could not remain in the White Room because of the smoke. They left the White Room and passed the tool required to open each hatch to other individuals. A total of five individuals took part in opening the three hatches. Each were forced to make several trips to and from the White Room in order to reach breathable air." [Apollo 1: The Fire,]
"When the firefighters arrived, the positions of the crew couches and crew could be perceived through the smoke but only with difficulty. An unsuccessful attempt was made to remove the senior pilot from the command module.
 "Initial observations and subsequent inspection revealed the following facts. The command pilot’s couch (the left couch) was in the “170 degree” position, in which it was essentially horizontal throughout its length. The foot restraints and harness were released and the inlet and outlet oxygen hoses were connected to the suit. The electrical adapter cable was disconnected from the communications cable. The command pilot was lying supine on the aft bulkhead or floor of the command module, with his helmet visor closed and locked and with his head beneath the pilot’s head rest and his feet on his own couch. A fragment of his suit material was found outside the command module pressure vessel five feet from the point of rupture. This indicated that his suit had failed prior to the time of rupture (23:31:19.4 GMT), allowing convection currents to carry the suit fragment through the rupture.
 "The senior pilot’s couch (the center couch) was in the “96 degree” position in which the back portion was horizontal and the lower portion was raised. The buckle releasing the shoulder straps and lap belts was not opened. The straps and belts were burned through. The suit oxygen outlet hose was connected but the inlet hose was disconnected. The helmet visor was closed and locked and all electrical connections were intact. The senior pilot was lying transversely across the command module just below the level of the hatchway.
 "The pilot’s couch (the couch on the right) was in the “264 degree” position in which the back portion was horizontal and the lower portion dropped toward the floor. All restraints were disconnected, all hoses and electrical connections were intact and the helmet visor was closed and locked. The pilot was supine on his couch.
"From the foregoing, it was determined that the command pilot probably left his couch to avoid the initial fire, the senior pilot remained in his couch as planned for emergency egress, attempting to open the hatch until his restraints burned through. The pilot remained in his couch to maintain communications until the hatch could be opened by the senior pilot as planned. With a slightly higher pressure inside the command module than outside, opening the inner hatch was impossible because of the resulting force on the hatch. Thus the inability of the pressure relief system to cope with the pressure increase due to the fire made opening the inner hatch impossible until after cabin rupture. Following rupture, the intense and widespread fire, together with rapidly increasing carbon monoxide concentrations, further prevented egress." [Apollo 1: The Fire,]
Grissom was the command pilot, White the senior pilot, and Chaffee the pilot.

Also, "When the command module had been adequately ventilated, the doctors returned to the White Room with equipment for crew removal. It became apparent that extensive fusion of suit material to melted nylon from the spacecraft would make removal very difficult. For this reason it was decided to discontinue removal efforts in the interest of accident investigation and to photograph the command module with the crew in place before evidence was disarranged.

"Photographs were taken and the removal efforts resumed at approximately 00:30 GMT, 28 January. Removal of the crew took approximately 90 minutes and was completed about seven and one-half hours after the accident." [Apollo 1: The Fire,]

Translated, Grissom's body was found, unstrapped and out of his couch, collapsed on the deck. White was found, per his training, lying sideways on the deck next to the hatch; he had evidently tried valiantly to open it but failed. Chaffee was still strapped in, maintaining comm per his responsibility until White got the hatch open or the fire took him. All three were effectively welded into the interior by the melting of their nylon suits and umbilicals. It took nearly an hour and a half just to cut the bodies free and remove them.


Needless to say, the Apollo program went on hold while a complete redesign was performed on the Apollo capsule. This included a change to a 60/40 oxygen/nitrogen atmosphere for launch, increased safety procedures for construction, a complete change in material construction of the flight suits, and a completely redesigned hatch (already intended to be flown) which opened outward and took 10 seconds or less to open. Ironically, however, the very hatch design which nearly claimed Gus Grissom's life on the Liberty Bell 7 flight was the cause of the newer hatch design which sealed his fate in the Apollo 1 catastrophe.

Sometimes real life is stranger than anything we writers could possibly dream up.

Next week, the Challenger disaster.

-Stephanie Osborn

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop 2013

by Stephanie Osborn

The Second Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop will be held in Huntsville, AL 3-6 Feb 2013. This workshop (I'm a member of the science committee and the steering committee) is a gathering of scientists and engineers who want to try to solve the problems of interstellar travel. Papers offering concepts will be presented and discussed.

The Workshop itself may be rather more complex than the average layperson would enjoy, and membership closed several weeks ago in any event, but here is the text of a press release on some public events that will be associated with the Workshop, for those that will be in Huntsville and surrounds during those dates.


Going to the Stars – Is it possible?
The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW), the Huntsville AL L5 Society (HAL5) and Calhoun Community College invite you to spend an evening with some space visionaries who are meeting this week in Huntsville to discuss the possibilities of interstellar flight. That Workshop is being sponsored by the Ultimax Group, Baen Books, the British Interplanetary Society, NeXolve, and the ORION astronomy society. At this free public forum, we are honored to have Paul Gilster of the Tau Zero Foundation, Bill Cress and Richard Obousy of Icarus Interstellar, Kelvin Long of the British Interplanetary Society and the Institute for Interstellar Studies, and Gordon Woodcock, former NSS Director, to talk about the dream and challenges of going to the stars. The event will be moderated by Les Johnson of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center.

The event is free and open to the public. The event will take place on Tuesday, February 5, 2012 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Calhoun Community College Huntsville Campus’ Student Center – 102 Wynn Drive NW, Huntsville. For more information, please contact:  or visit the event website at or

About Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW)
The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop is an opportunity for relaxed sharing of ideas in directions that will stimulate and encourage Interstellar exploration including propulsion, communications, and research. 

The 'Workshop' theme suggests that the direction should go beyond that of a 'conference'. Attendees are encouraged to not only present intellectual concepts but to develop these concepts to suggest projects, collaboration, active research and mission planning. 

It should be a time for engaging discussions, thought-provoking ideas, and boundless optimism contemplating a future that may one day be within the reach of humanity.

About Huntsville AL L5 Society (HAL5)
The Huntsville Alabama L5 (HAL5) Society, the Huntsville Alabama chapter of the National Space Society (NSS), is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3), grassroots, space educational / advocacy organization. Since 1983, HAL5 has made significant contributions toward developing low-cost space access technologies, space education, and public outreach. For almost 30 years, HAL5 has hosted a continuing series of public lectures, forums, and events on space-related topics. HAL5 also has made significant contributions to nitrous-oxide hybrid rockets and to rockets launched from high-altitude balloons, one of which was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997.

Come on by and see what scientists and engineers are doing to make interstellar space flight possible!

-Stephanie Osborn