The Method: Lessons From Manned Space Flight

Jun 24, 2015

Steve McDanels, Chief of NASA Materials Science Branch at Kennedy Space Center discusses failure analysis with campers at the ASM Materials Camp.
Credit Kathryn King/Y-12

Sending humans into space is a relatively recent achievement of the species. Yet, the half-century since Yuri Gagarin's historic one-orbit flight has seen manned space flight go from extraordinary to routine, a startling evolution.

In this edition of The Method, we examine what we can learn from the space program, even in its less-glorious years.

First, high school students in Oak Ridge had the opportunity to study structural failures, using actual pieces of the space shuttle Columbia. The orbiter disintegrated in the Earth's atmosphere in 2003, killing its seven crew members. But it's hoped that studying the shuttle's debris will help a new generation of engineers prevent failures in spacecraft, bridges, airplanes and many other forms of transportation.

Then, The Method host Brandon Hollingsworth speaks with author Margaret Lazarus Dean. Her new book, Leaving Orbit: Notes From the Last Days of American Spaceflight, discusses what the end of the shuttle program in 2011 said about the nation's shifting priorities.

WEB EXTRA: If you enjoyed hearing from Margaret Lazarus Dean, check out this extended edit, in which she and Brandon go into greater detail about the space program's highs and lows, the origins of the shuttle and what may come next for NASA.