NASA lecture marks 50 years of UT astronomy

February 14, 2018


Robert Dempsey, a University of Toledo alumnus and NASA flight director for the International Space Station, spoke to members of the University of Toledo community Feb. 8 in Driscoll Auditorium.


During his presentation, “Houston, We Have a Problem — When Things Go Wrong on the International Space Station,” Dempsey described the many factors that keep the ISS from falling apart.


The event was part of a celebration marking 50 years of astronomy at UT, the Ritter Planetarium, the Ritter Astrophysical research center and the founding of the Ph.D. physics and astronomy program, Karen Bjorkman, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said.


As the flight director, Dempsey makes sure everyone works together to ensure that the U.S. and its international partners are doing the right thing, Dempsey said.


“One of the problems NASA had with the ISS was when they were putting the solar arrays into their final position, they snagged on the guide wire that helped secure it from flapping when they slid out, causing it to rip,” Dempsey said.   


NASA decided to make “cufflinks,” which are wires that were attached to a plate that acts as a string holding it together to fix any tears and prevent further damage, he said.


On the ground, NASA researched how to make these cufflinks in space with microgravity and astronaut gloves, Dempsey said.


Another problem that Dempsey described was when the three main computers all had bad hard drives.

The first one failed to “talk” to its hard drive and eventually crashed, he said. The second computer automatically had the same problem when booted up and also crashed. Eventually the computer was put on standby.


The third computer also crashed after experiencing the same problems, but it was left on so the second computer could not turn back into the “main” computer, he explained.


This computer system on the ISS controls everything on the space station from communication to recording data. However, no one thought it would the system would fail, right up until it did, Dempsey said.


There was a second set of lower-tier computers that Dempsey and the control room used to turn off the third computer and turn the second computer back on. The astronauts replaced the hard drive for the first computer until NASA could get more hard drives to them, Dempsey said.


Maddy Silveous, a first-year accounting major, said it was inspiring to see what a UT graduate accomplished.


“I thought it was so cool to hear about real experiences from somebody that actually went through it,” Silveous said. “It’s kind of inspiring to see all he’s accomplished and think that us UT students are in the same position he was years ago.”

The next event is Thursday, Feb. 22, at 6:30 p.m. in Wolfe Hall room 1205. Ken Sembach, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute, will talk about the James Webb Space Telescope.





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