During re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, temperatures on the surface of NASA’s space shuttle would reach a searing 1,650 degrees Celsius. Yet, inside the orbiter, astronauts sat safe and sound, protected from the fiery descent by special tiles that also preserved the shuttle’s critical components.
Engineers spent months developing those tiles, subjecting them to a process called materials characterization, in which the mechanical and microstructural properties of substances such as metals and composites are tested and examined under extreme conditions.
University of Miami researchers James Coakley and Giacomo Po know the process better than anyone. And now, their research—which ranges