Skip to content

UTSI Aviation Systems’ Leader Stephen Corda Given NASA Exceptional Achievement Award

Stephen Corda, head of the Aviation Systems program at The University of Tennessee Space Institute, has received the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for helping get the Space Shuttle back in flight.

He received the NASA medal on June 6 during the 2006 NASA Agency Honor Awards ceremony at Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave desert of California. It was presented by Rex Geveden, NASA’s associate administrator, and Kevin Petersen, center director for the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

This medal is awarded to both civilian government employees of NASA and to military astronauts. It is granted for a significant, specific accomplishment or substantial improvement in operations, efficiency, service, financial savings, science, or technology that contributes to NASA’s mission.

Corda’s citation reads: “For exceptional leadership and management of the F-15B Lifting Foam Trajectory Flight Research Team, in support of the Shuttle return to flight program.”

“Just as NASA has recognized Corda for his exceptional achievement, we at The University of Tennessee Space Institute also have welcomed him as an exceptional recent addition to our faculty,” said Donald C. Daniel, UT associate vice president and chief operating officer of UTSI. “I am especially eager to work with him as we continue to build the national reputation of our Aviation Systems program.”

In the flight test, pieces of Space Shuttle external tank insulating foam, similar to the foam pieces that impacted the Shuttle Columbia, were ejected from a NASA F-15 aircraft at speeds up to Mach 2. Data was collected on the foam’s survivability, aerodynamics, and trajectories.
“Very high speed digital photography – up to 2000 pictures per second – was used to capture the flight of these foam pieces as they were ejected from the F-15,” Corda said.

“This unique set of flight data was then used to help verify models that predict the flight of the foam from the shuttle’s external tank to possible impact points on the shuttle orbiter.”

The flight test was a joint project of the NASA Johnson Space Flight Center, the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.

For civilians, this decoration is typically bestowed to mid-level and senior NASA administrators who have supervised at least four to five successful NASA missions. Astronauts may be awarded the decoration after two to three space flights. Due to the prestige of the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, it is authorized as a military decoration for display on active duty military uniforms.

Corda assumed duties in March as Program Chair for UTSI’s Aviation Systems and Flight Research Group, succeeding Ralph D. Kimberlin, who retired. He began his flight test career conducting research with the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River, Md.

A former flight researcher for the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center for more than 12 years, Corda flew as a NASA flight test engineer in the F/A-18, T-38, and F-15 aircraft. During his time at the Edwards Air Force Base facility, he served in various capacities including propulsion research engineer, project chief engineer for the SR-71 Blackbird and F-15B supersonic test bed, Chief of the Propulsion and Performance Branch, and as a project manager for the NASA F-15B.

An avid aerobatic pilot, Corda holds FAA certificates as a commercial pilot, flight instructor, instrument instructor, multi-engine, seaplane and glider pilot, and airframe and power plant mechanic.

Corda left NASA in 2001 to become a master instructor in the Performance Branch at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards. As a U.S. Air Force civilian flight test engineer, he flew in the F-16, T-38, and C-12 aircraft. In 2003, he joined the faculty of the Aerospace Engineering Department at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., before returning to NASA in 2004.

He first joined NASA in 1990 and for two years was a member of the senior professional staff in the Aeronautics Department of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. While there, Corda conducted research and testing in hypersonic scramjet propulsion and hypersonic vehicle design.