December 23, 2003

SIUC's Chu helping NASA with space shuttle

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- America's space program is benefiting from the expertise of a Southern Illinois University Carbondale faculty member.

Tsuchin Philip Chu, an associate professor in mechanical engineering and energy processes at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, regularly works with NASA scientists and engineers to help resolve complex problems. His current project, funded through a $30,000 collaborative grant, involves developing a software system for more precise detection of hydrogen leaks in the nozzle of the space shuttle main engine.

The nozzle contains tubes, about the diameter of a straw, which run through the height of the nozzle. Hydrogen flows through the tubes to cool the nozzle and then flows into the main combustion chamber.

Chu expects to spend the time between Christmas and when classes resume Jan. 12 working on the project at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

The software will help engineers pinpoint with greater accuracy where any leaks might occur, said NASA spokeswoman June Malone.

"Right now those evaluation techniques give us a general area. Dr. Chu's software is going to give us more accuracy. That will save a lot of time if you can pinpoint exactly where a leak is coming from," she said.

NASA inspects and tests the engine after each flight before it is sent to Florida for installation on the shuttle.

"Any time that we can improve the way we handle our hardware or can find a way to gain greater understanding of our hardware, it's a big plus for NASA," Malone said.

Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, recently announced the federal grant to the University. Costello is a senior member of the Science Committee, which has oversight authority over NASA.

"Southern Illinois University is a leading research institution across a variety of subjects, and this grant is a further testament to this intellectual diversity," Costello said. "It is another example of how SIUC is fulfilling the vision laid out in the 'Southern at 150' plan."

"Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment," is the blueprint for the University's development by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Chu's collaboration with NASA engineers dates to 1994, when he first participated in the NASA Faculty Fellowship Program. The 10-week summer residency program is for full-time science and engineering faculty at colleges and universities in the United States.

"I like working with them," he said. "They are very good engineers."

Chu is the recipient of other grants from NASA as well. But he is also known on campus for spearheading the University's entries in the annual "Great Moonbuggy Race" each spring at Marshall Space Flight Center. SIUC has had an entry in the collegiate division each year since 1998, and Chu believes there might be two teams for next April's competition.