|UND Space Studies celebrates 40th anniversary of lunar landing|
America's leap to the Moon was completed 40 years ago this month when Apollo 11 Mission Commander Neil Armstrong took those first human steps onto the lunar surface. Not far behind was Buzz Aldrin, Apollo 11's Lunar Module pilot. Apollo 11 was launched on July 16 and splashed down on July 24, 1969.
The 20th century may be remembered as the time when humanity first got off the home planet, said David Whalen, associate professor and chair of the UND John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences Department of Space Studies.
The Apollo 11 mission fulfilled President John F. Kennedy's goal of reaching the Moon by the end of the 1960s, which he expressed during a speech given before a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961.
"I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth," Kennedy said.
A space flight training simulator based on the Apollo capsule sits in UND's Spacecraft Simulator Facility, along with another simulator that's based on SpaceShipOne.
Less than 20 years after that lunar adventure, John D. Odegard, founder and first dean of Center for Aerospace Sciences (now the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences), invited Aldrin, the second man to walk on the Moon, to come to UND to help organize a space education program. A space flight training simulator-entirely designed and built at UND and based on the Apollo capsule that went to the Moon-is fully operational in UND's Spacecraft Simulator Facility, along with another simulator that's based on SpaceShipOne.
The Department of Space Studies-launched in 1987-was the first interdisciplinary space education program in the world. Aldrin's contributions included recommending the appointment of David Webb, a member of the 1985-1986 Presidential Commission on Space, to design the space studies program and to serve as the first chair of the department.
Since then, with a series of stunning accomplishments, such as the NDX-1 Mars planetary exploration suit and its one-of-a-kind space flight simulator center, Space Studies has become widely known and respected as "the little department that could" in one of the highest tech and most complex fields around.
"We have lots of real-time students online literally all over the world," said Whalen, Space Studies chair. The past few years, space studies has attracted an averaged 20 news students annually wanting to minor in space studies, Whalen said.
For planetary geologist Paul Hardersen, associate professor of space studies and a member of UND's elite asteroid team, space studies is an exciting, dynamic, and sometimes gripping discipline. Hardersen also is director of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.
"We have a relatively small space studies department, but it has a strong reputation largely based on its being a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary department," Hardersen said. "We have people in the policy field, in management, in engineering, and in science. So instead of us being known in just one field, for example physics, we're known in multiple fields. And that expands the base of people who are exposed to us, and that helps us grow our reputation."
That bodes very well for the future of space studies at UND.
"Fact is, NASA isn't going to go away," Hardersen said. "Most of us in this business realize that, barring some unforeseen revolutionary event, we're never again going to see the kinds of dollars pumped into NASA's budget that we saw during the days of the Apollo program."
UND's Department of Space Studies is thriving and looks to a promising future, Whalen said.
"We're doing very well-it's a relatively small department, but in the top five at UND as far as the number of graduate degrees awarded on an annual basis," Whalen said.
For sure, Whalen said, there'll be plenty of opportunities for budding space scientists-and for UND's space studies program, where they can prepare for those exciting, out-of-this-world careers.
Space flight simulators and space suits at UND
UND Space Studies program, together with the NASA-funded North Dakota Space Grant Consortium recently unveiled a SpaceShip One-based space flight simulator-the second of two unique-to-UND training units-in the Spacecraft Simulator Facility.
"This is really terrific for us," said Pablo de Leon, an aerospace engineer from Argentina who is research associate in the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences Department of Space Studies and principal investigator of the space flight simulator project.
"Now we are doubly unique in the country in being the only university having two fully operational space flight simulators available for students," said de Leon, who also leads the University's path-finding ND-X space suit research, design, and building program.
UND's Space Studies Department is also home to a one-of-a-kind college-based space and planetary exploration suit design and construction lab. The suits are designed, built, and tested by de Leon and a team of students.
Formally the UND-National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Planetary Space Suit Design Team, the group is led by de Leon, who helped to design several experimental space suits. De Leon manages the North Dakota Experimental (NDX) planetary exploration suit project, which includes students - some of whom have already scored space-related jobs at NASA and in the space industry - and faculty advisors from UND, North Dakota State College of Science, Turtle Mountain Community College, North Dakota State University, and Dickinson State University.
"This was one of the most innovative and creative proposals that we funded under the competition," said NASA Space Grant manager Diane DeTroye.
At its core, the NDX project is, in fact, about designing, building, and eventually deploying a real-life space suit to be used by future astronauts as they explore new worlds, said de Leon.
Hardersen pointed out that the collaborations going on within the NDX project are key to the consortium's overall objectives.
"One of the successes of the consortium is providing opportunities for students at our two-year and tribal colleges to be involved in research projects that are typically not available at their respective institutions," Hardersen said.
And that, ultimately, is what UND Space Studies is all about: a continuing voyage to the future.
A few notable facts about UND Department of Space Studies
*Founded in 1987 by Center for Aerospace Studies Dean John D. Odegard
* Home to many unique "firsts": first university with a NASA-funded space- and planetary exploration suit design and construction lab. The first suit NDX-1 was designed for use on the surface of Mars; the next suit, NDX-2, is being designed for use on the Moon.
--UND also is the first university to field two fully operational space flight simulators, one based on a NASA Apollo capsule, the other based on SpaceShip One, the world's first privately owned successful space vehicle.
--Another major first: UND Space Studies participates in designing, building, and delivering AgCam to the International Space Station. AgCam is operated from the student-run Science Operations Center (SOC) on the UND campus.
*Space Studies operates a free, Internet-based four-telescope astronomical observatory that includes three optical units and one radio telescope.
*Space Studies has the country's only fully accredited online space studies master's degree program.
*Space Studies graduate student Vishnu Reddy, a noted asteroid hunter, discovers an asteroid and gets it officially named "North Dakota," presenting an International Astronomical Union certificate to N.D. Gov. John Hoeven earlier this year.
-- Juan Pedraza, Writer/Editor, University Relations, email@example.com, 777-6571