As NASA charts a bold new course into the future, the space agency is
briefly taking a step back in time to examine a dinosaur skull.

NASA scientists are using equipment at the Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala., to scan the skull of a Tyrannosaurus rex. The state-of-the-art
equipment was originally designed to examine rocket motor assemblies and turbine
blades. Discovered on a South Dakota ranch in 1992, it is believed to be the most
complete and well-preserved T-rex skull ever discovered. Discoverers dubbed the
find “Samson,” recognizing the beast’s reputation as the strongest dinosaur to
roam the Earth during the late Cretaceous period.

“Marshall is one of the few places in the world with the technology needed for
such a complex scan,” said Dr. Chris Beard, curator of vertebrate paleontology at
the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. “We are very excited NASA
has agreed to provide space-age technology for this project.”

Dr. Ron Beshears is leading the project at the National Center for Advanced
Manufacturing located at the Marshall Center. Beshears’ laboratory team is running
various tests on the skull with a high-tech computed tomography scanner used for
nondestructive testing of parts and equipment destined for space. The scans
provide Carnegie Museum experts with detailed cross-section images of the skull.
Such detail will help museum experts better understand the basic anatomy and
lifestyle of the T-rex.

“The idea of working with 65 million year old dinosaur bones alongside next-
generation space technologies is something we’re quite excited about,” Beshears
said. “We’re happy we can use our facility to assist in a scientific investigation
of the dinosaur fossil.”

The fossil arrived at Marshall Dec. 1, and tests will continue for several weeks.
Carnegie Museum researchers will use results to compare Samson’s skull with
previous computed tomography scans of less well-preserved T-rex fossils,
establishing a baseline to determine anomalies in future finds. Although privately
owned, Samson is being prepared and studied by the museum for two-years. The
dinosaur arrived at the Carnegie in May 2004.

The skull, separated from its skeleton by the museum for study, is largely
encrusted in rock. It arrived at Marshall enclosed in a shipping crate
approximately 5 feet by 3.5 feet and weighing approximately 1,600 pounds. Because
of the skull’s fragility, it will not be removed from the crate while tests are
performed. After tests and examinations are completed, it will be returned to the
Carnegie to recreate the once-fearsome predator.

Marshall’s National Center for Advanced Manufacturing is also working on analyzing
Space Shuttle parts in support of safe Return to Flight. Flying the Space Shuttle
again is the first step in the Vision for Space Exploration, which also calls for
completion of the International Space Station, development of human and robotic
missions to explore the Solar System.

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