Sigma: November 3, 2015

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In the Eye of the Storm: Hurricane Katrina — The NASA Experience

David Throckmorton

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 at 7:30 P.M. at the Virginia Air and Space Center in downtown Hampton, Virginia


On the 29th of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina came ashore along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Louisiana — a Category 4 storm with maximum sustained winds in excess of 140 mph. Not only did the storm do catastrophic damage to cities along the Gulf Coast, and took the lives of some 1500 people, it also endangered the operations of two NASA facilities that were critical to the operation of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program. The large External Fuel Tanks of the space shuttle launch system were manufactured at the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, and all ground testing of Space Shuttle Main Engines was performed at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. Extreme damage to these facilities might well have brought an end to the Space Shuttle Program, and would have certainly set back the United States human spaceflight program for a time period measured in years.

The lecture will describe the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the NASA facilities and their employees, and on the surrounding communities; and the NASA response to this natural disaster, with first-hand anecdotes from an individual who was in the middle of the chaos in the aftermath of the storm.


David Throckmorton earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the George Washington University, respectively. His professional career has included 41-years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 34-years of which were at the NASA Langley Research Center. Early in his career, he performed hypersonic wind-tunnel tests to determine the thermal protection requirements of the space shuttle orbiter on its return from space. He was one of NASA’s principal interpreters of flight data from the Orbital Flight Test missions of the Shuttle Orbiter Columbia, and was the Principal Investigator for two shuttle-borne entry flight experiments. Later in his NASA career, he served as Head of Langley’s Space Transportation Programs Office, and as Deputy Director of Engineering at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. He was Deputy Director of the NASA Stennis Space Center when Hurricane Katrina impacted the Gulf Coast.