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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

IMAGE: Ralph Roe
Ralph Roe is the manager of the Space Shuttle Vehicle Engineering Office at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas.

Ralph Roe,
Johnson Space Center,
Houston, Texas

A former space shuttle launch director leads a group of ace troubleshooters

April 2003 -- At 22 years old, Ralph Roe Jr. joined the NASA family as a young engineer at the Kennedy Space Center, Fla., or KSC. Twenty years later, the man from Meadville, Pa., remains an important part of the NASA family.

Before coming to NASA, Roe was a mechanical engineering student at the University of South Carolina. After graduating in 1983, Roe joined KSC and worked as a propulsion system test engineer for the Shuttle Engineering Directorate.

In 1999, after more than 16 years at KSC, Roe moved to the Johnson Space Center, or JSC, in Houston, Texas. Before making the move to Houston, he was the space shuttle launch director at KSC.

"My first duty when I arrived at JSC involved investigation of the STS-93 electrical short," he said. "This led to fleetwide inspection and repair of each ship's wiring."

IMAGE: Tiny flow liner crack
A tiny crack in a flow liner halted space shuttle launches in 2002. Roe and his team investigated the problem.

As the manager of the Space Shuttle Vehicle Engineering Office, Roe leads a team of more than 2,000 government and contractor engineers working on the space shuttle orbiters. He has been instrumental in the technical leadership role of several space shuttle anomaly investigations and repair events.

During the summer of 2002, several tiny cracks were discovered in metal liners used to direct the flow inside main propulsion-system propellant lines on the space shuttle vehicles. Roe and his team of engineers researched the cause of the problem and determined the best way to repair the cracks.

"Our first few meetings as a team were over the Fourth of July weekend, and I happened to be on vacation with my wife in Jackson Hole, Wyoming," said Roe.

Following the first days after the discovery of the flowliner cracks his team spent countless hours, nights and weekends helping solve the problem.

Roe emphasized that there was an outstanding effort by all NASA engineering organizations. But in particular, JSC provided outstanding contributions in the areas of Material and Processes, Structures, Stress and Loads Analysis, and Main Propulsion.

"Our best theories concluded that the most probable cause was the combined environments associated with the engine pumps and vehicle vibration during liftoff," said Roe.

The team's solutions were implemented and the shuttles were repaired. In October, NASA returned to flight with STS-112, delivering and installing a new element of the International Space Station, or ISS.

"I am absolutely thrilled just to be a member of the team that gets to fly humans in space and helps build the ISS, [where astronauts] perform research that will improve our lives on Earth," Roe said.

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 06/23/2003
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