William Gerstenmaier knows the U.S. space program inside out -- both literally and figuratively. As a 30-plus year veteran of NASA, Gerstenmaier has managed the operational dimensions of the space shuttle, international space station, and other space flight missions. For this talk, he dissects a problem that recently grounded the shuttle, coming at it from the perspective of both an engineer, and a top-level manager with responsibility to the highest levels of government.
Gerstenmaier presents his case “as it unfolded,” for a behind-the-scenes view of how NASA keeps its aging shuttles aloft. His account begins in 2008, after a shuttle flight revealed something wrong with flow control valves essential to the shuttle’s hydrogen system. These valves are connected in a closed loop to the main engines, via a 170-foot length of pipe, through all manner of twists and turns, and frequently subjected to very high pressures. Gerstenmaier describes the series of tests his engineering teams performed, over long days, weekends and holidays, to determine what precisely had gone wrong, and the risks posed by potentially faulty equipment.