Douglas Osheroff, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and professor at Stanford University, will visit Northwestern on Monday May 3 to deliver a public lecture about his role on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board. The board was formed to determine what went wrong during the space shuttle's tragic re-entry to Earth in 2003. Medill Reports caught up with him to discuss his early science projects, the Nobel Prize, and a preview of his upcoming lecture. Story continues. [pagebreak]
You’ll be at Northwestern to talk about the Columbia accident. How did the board go about conducting such an investigation?
The first thing you need to ascertain is…the cause of the accident. I think in this case it was pretty clear. They realized that a large chunk of this very low-density foam—that insulates the external tank—had fallen off and had stuck somewhere near the leading edge, or under the left wing Story continues. [pagebreak]
of Columbia. Some of the engineers had connections with the Department of Defense, and they put in an informal request for the DOD to use their satellite capabilities to image the left wing of Columbia. The woman who was in charge of the mission management team, she was really responsible for the lives of the astronauts when they were up there. The lab tried to make this request—she canceled it.
The space shuttle Columbia, shown here during takeoff, tragically exploded upon re-entry to Earth in 2003. (photo: NASA)