Paul Kolodziej: Supporting a NASA Space Shuttle Mission

paul_crop1At our meeting on June 3, Paul Kolodziej spoke about supporting the STS-132 mission of the NASA Space Shuttle Atlantis, explaining the behind the scenes processes and technology, a brief history of the Shuttle program and amazing images and video from that mission.  

Paul was assigned to the Entry Systems and Technology Division at the NASA Ames Research Center in California for more than 30 years.  NASA Ames  is a major NASA research center at Moffett Federal Airfield in California’s Silicon Valley. Ames was originally founded to conduct wind-tunnel research on the aerodynamics of propeller-driven aircraft in preparation for WWII.   As the space program gained momentum in the 1950’s, Ames focused it’s wind-tunnel expertise on high-speed flight, gradually increasing it’s experimental and computational research from Mach 1 to Mach 25.   One of the critical issues addressed for the first time was how to return a human from low earth orbit.  In a short period of time research scientists at Ames developed many spacecraft technologies to protect a human from the extreme heating environment of a reentry from low earth orbit.  Heat shields, or in NASA lingo “Thermal Protection Systems” (TPS), were tested in new electrically heated wind tunnels known as “Arcjets”, and the test data were analyzed by primitive punch card computers.  Over time, as the computer revolution progressed in Silicon Valley, Ames became a leader in advancing the use of new, powerful supercomputers to solve the complex Navier-Stokes aerodynamic equations and created a new engineering discipline known as computational fluid dynamics.  Today in Silicon Valley the apricot and prune orchards are long gone, and Ames teams with it’s new neighbor Google, participating in developing driverless cars, technology that one day in the future may benefit unmanned rovers driving on Mars.

During his career, Paul worked on most of the major government aerospace programs beginning with the National Aerospace Plane in the 1980’s, and ending with his work on the Orion capsule’s heatshield in 2014.  His early work at Ames focused on computer analysis and simulation of the thermal response of heat shield materials (the black tiles on the bottom of the Space Shuttle Orbiter) during the extreme heating of Arcjet testing. 

After the Shuttle Columbia disaster on February 1, 2003, Paul supported NASA’s Space Shuttle Orbiter program, working with the Debris Assessment Team in Houston, Texas.  Paul’s presentation “Supporting a NASA Space Shuttle Mission” is a snapshot of the STS-132 mission of Atlantis that he worked in 2010.

Delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in Eastern Florida in April 1985, Atlantis is the fourth operational and the second-to-last Space Shuttle built.  Its maiden flight, the first of 33, was a four day flight in October of 1985. By the end of its final mission Atlantis had orbited the Earth a total of 4,848 times, traveling nearly 126,000,000 mi (203,000,000 km) or more than 525 times the distance from the earth to the moon. During its commission, 156 individuals flew on Space Shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle landed for the final time at the Kennedy Space Center on 21st, July 2011.  Atlantis is named after RV Atlantis, a two-masted research sailing ship. 

Paul has degrees in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University and the University of Minnesota.

One thought on “Paul Kolodziej: Supporting a NASA Space Shuttle Mission

  1. I am a former school friend of Paul Kolodziej and would like to get in contact with him. Do you have any information to help out?

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