MEMS Seminar: Spaceflight Tragedies and Other Things to be Avoided

Feb 22

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017 - 1:30pm to 2:30pm


Dr. Curtis E. Larsen

A personal view of the events leading to and consequences of NASA's spaceflight tragedies will be discussed.  The most prominent events as Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia are well known, but lesser known close-calls are also worth examining for the lessons to be learned about both personal and organizational responsibility, authority, and downright hubris.  As a prerequisite, attendees are encouraged to read the following:;;

Attendees may also want to read any or all of the following books by Duke's own Prof. Henry Petroski:  To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design (1985); Design Paradigms: Case Histories of Error and Judgment in Engineering (1994); Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design. (2006); To Forgive Design: Understanding Failure. (2012).


Curt Larsen is currently the NASA Technical Fellow for Loads and Dynamics and is resident at the Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX.  He leads a group of over 60 renowned national experts from the Agency, academia, and industry for the NASA Engineering and Safety Center's (NESC) Loads and Dynamics Technical Discipline Team (TDT).  The TDT is chartered to perform value-added independent testing, analysis, and assessments of NASA's high-risk projects to ensure safety and mission success, proactively engaging to help NASA avoid future problems.


Prior to joining the NESC, Dr. Larsen was the Technical Discipline Manager for Cargo Integration Structures in the Space Shuttle Program's Flight Operations and Integration Office.  Prior to that assignment, he was a technical integration lead in the Space Shuttle System Integration Office responsible for structures, loads and dynamics for both cargo elements and the Shuttle vehicle.  Dr. Larsen has also served as the Shuttle/Station technical liaison for structures and as a member of the Shuttle Loads and Structural Dynamics Panel.


Curt has over 35 years of engineering experience and first worked at the NASA Johnson Space Center from 1985 to 1990 as a structural engineer in the Loads and Dynamics Branch of the Structures and Mechanics Division.  His particular areas of expertise and interest are in stochastic structural dynamics, structural safety, probabilistic engineering applications, and system integration engineering.  Before rejoining NASA in 2001, Curt held various engineering research, development, and design positions with companies in the offshore oil construction, building construction, and aerospace industries, including McDermott Engineering, Boeing, and United Space Alliance.


Curt is a native of Grand Forks, ND, earning a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of North Dakota in 1980, and a Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering (Structures/Soils) from the University of North Dakota in 1982.  At UND Curt was a Maxwell Upson Scholar, and member of Tau Beta Pi and the Order of the Engineer.


Lunch will be served from 1:00 – 1:30 pm.