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Bonnie J. McBride

Sanford Gordon and Bonnie McBride
Sanford Gordon and Bonnie McBride


Sanford Gordon and Bonnie McBride were two center scientists who worked side by side to develop one of the most important and widely used computer programs in the aerospace industry. The duo wrote Computer Program for Calculation of Complex Chemical Equilibrium Compositions, Rocket Performance, Incident and Reflected Shocks, and Chapman-Jouguet Detonations in 1971 and continued for decades to make updates and improvements to the program. For over 45 years, the program and its upgraded versions have been used worldwide in designing and analyzing compressors, turbines, nozzles, engines, shock tubes, heat exchangers and chemical processing equipment. Now called Chemical Equilibrium with Applications (CEA), the program is still in wide use by the aerodynamics and thermodynamics community, with over 2000 copies in distribution. CEA calculates chemical equilibrium compositions and the properties of complex mixtures. Applications include assigned thermodynamic states, theoretical rocket performance, Chapman-Jouguet detonations, and shock-tube parameters for incident and reflected shocks. The program is associated with independent databases of the transport and thermodynamic properties of over 2000 individual species.

In 1993 McBride and Gordon were awarded a Space Act Monetary Award by NASA’s Inventions and Contributions Board for their Chemical Equilibrium and Transport Properties Code (CET89). The board identified it as one of NASA’s exceptional scientific and technical contributions for the 1990s. As with previous versions of the code, the program was used worldwide and had a wide range of applications—from Space Shuttle Main Engine design to testing nuclear propulsion concepts.

Bonnie McBride joined the center in 1957, initially working on the generation of thermodynamic data for calculating chemical equilibrium composition and rocket performance. In the mid-1960s, she used FORTRAN IV to do a major rewrite of the code that Gordon had been working on. The resulting code, Chemical Equilibrium Code for 1971 (CEC71), was distributed widely. In 1967, McBride and Gordon consolidated and documented the computer codes used in calculating and fitting thermodynamic data into a single FORTRAN IV code, Properties and Coefficients 1 (PAC1).

Gordon and McBride continued to make updates to the chemical equilibrium and applications code, the thermodynamic databases, and associated codes until their deaths. Bonnie J. McBride died in 2005 after 48 years with NASA. She was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Award in 1991 for her work. Their work continues to make an impact around the world today as the center continues to host a website with the most recent version of the code for continued widespread use.


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