This paper describes the analyses and the experimental mechanics program to support the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) investigation of the Shuttle Columbia accident. A synergism of the analysis and experimental effort is required to insure that the final analysis is valid - the experimental program provides both the material behavior and a basis for validation, while the analysis is required to insure the experimental effort provides behavior in the correct loading regime. Preliminary scoping calculations of foam impact onto the Shuttle Columbia's wing leading edge determined if enough energy was available to damage the leading edge panel. These analyses also determined the strain-rate regimes for various materials to provide the material test conditions. Experimental testing of the reinforced carbon-carbon wing panels then proceeded to provide the material behavior in a variety of configurations and strain-rates for flown or conditioned samples of the material. After determination of the important failure mechanisms of the material, validation experiments were designed to provide a basis of comparison for the analytical effort. Using this basis, the final analyses were used for test configuration, instrumentation location, and calibration definition in support of full-scale testing of the panels in June 2003. These tests subsequently confirmed the accident cause.

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