Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Before I talk about Thanksgiving week...

Our Space Studies department is AWESOME.

NASA funds UND next-generation lunar exploration system project
Grant is part of the North Dakota NASA EPSCoR program

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved funding for a University of North Dakota (UND) next-generation lunar exploration system project. The three year $741,109 grant comes through NASA’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).

The principal investigator for the project is Paul Hardersen, and the science principal investigator is Pablo de Leon, both of UND Space Studies.

“Successful competition with NSF and NASA indicates the highest levels of creativity and thought,” said UND President Robert Kelley. “This grant is recognition at the highest levels of UND’s ground-breaking work in this area. It signals that we're going to be leaders in the research that's going to take us back to the Moon.”

Phyllis Johnson, UND’s new vice president of research and economic development, agreed that the NASA grant indicates a clear understanding among federal officials involved in space exploration that UND has demonstrated expertise, unique facilities, and institutional commitment to the country’s space effort.

“Clearly, UND is at the forefront of work that will take us back to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars,” Johnson said.

The NASA grant will support the design and development of a three-part system: a lunar rover; inflatable modular habitat units; and a lunar exploration suit. All three will be part of a coordinated system that will share capabilities. The project will be housed in UND’s Space Suit Laboratory, part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences (UND Aerospace).

“This is excellent news and will certainly accelerate space systems research in North Dakota,” said Hardersen, a planetary geologist and associate professor in space studies. Hardersen also is director of the North Dakota NASA EPSCoR and of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

“Our mission is to develop state-of-the-art space suit components and a fully integrated lunar exploration system,” said Pablo de Leon, NDX project director and research associate in the Department of Space Studies. De Leon, an aerospace engineer from Argentina, led the widely tracked NDX-1 Mars planetary exploration technology effort that was partly funded by NASA through the Consortium.

“This newly funded lunar exploration system project is the first major success in our targeted efforts to develop truly long-lasting and effective space research programs in North Dakota,” Hardersen said. “UND space studies will reap major benefits from this work by involving students directly in the lunar exploration suit/rover project and by developing a hardware capability in the department.”

The three-year funding also will allow UND Aerospace to continue to advance part of its mission of creating new knowledge, in this case pushing the space exploration boundaries in space suit technology, said Paul Lindseth, associate dean of UND Aerospace.

All of the systems described in the grant will be built at UND and NDSU with assistance from the North Dakota College of Science and Dickinson State University, de Leon said. Additionally, the project will include participation and contributions from the Boeing Company, Cirrus Aircraft, ILC Dover, Global Electric Motorcars (GEM), Packet Digital, and Paragon Space Development Corporation. Of these companies Cirrus, GEM, and Packet Digital are North Dakota-based hi-tech companies which will provide opportunity for regional economic development, de Leon said.

“Workforce development was a key part of our proposal, and I believe strongly in the hands-on teaching mission that this represents,” said de Leon, who has worked extensively with students in past and ongoing space technology programs, including the planetary exploration suits and UND’s unique space flight simulators.

The N.D. NASA EPSCoR program is supported with matching funds from the North Dakota legislature to build research infrastructure in the state.

From UND's website. Granted, this happened in August, but I just got an e-mail about it today. Or, specifically, the reception celebrating it a week from today. I'm so going. I have to make connections...and, of course, be really, really happy that SOME effort is going into going to the Moon and Mars.