Thanks to Prof. Wayne Hocking of the Physics and Astronomy department at Western, NASA has gained additional insight into why the Columbia space shuttle perished on Feb. 1, 2003. In appreciation, Hocking was awarded with a special seal from NASA (which has been into orbit and returned to Earth) and a citation. "I felt it was important to get to the bottom of the cause of the accident,” he said. Hocking’s research uses specialized radar to monitor the wave and turbulence dynamics in the upper atmosphere, the same region where the shuttle self-destructed.
Part of the success can be credited to Mardoc, a radar technology company Hocking helped to create. By drawing on data from his own radars, and data volunteered by Mardoc's customers world-wide, Hocking was able to build a detailed model of the state of the upper atmosphere at the time of entry. He was also able to use his theoretical expertise to investigate the likely impact of the conditions on the space-craft. His work has proved useful in better understanding re-entry conditions in subsequent flights.