UTEP research at NASA to explore space safety

March 12, 2015

The University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) has signed a five-year, $5 million contract with NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) contractor Jacobs Technology. The new partnership establishes collaborative opportunities for University faculty and students to participate in research for the legendary space agency.

"This partnership will lead to the University having a greater footprint in the space industry," said John "Danny" Olivas, Ph.D., former NASA astronaut and director of space initiatives at UTEP. "There are multiple opportunities for us now, from conducting research at NASA to providing our students with tremendous hands-on experiences and job opportunities."

The partnership compliments much of the research already taking place at the University in space-focused organizations like the Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance (CASSMAR) and the Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR).

The contract will bolster current research by permitting UTEP aerospace specialists access to JSC's cutting-edge facilities, equipment and expertise. Through funds provided by Jacobs Technology, the University also has increased its number of space-specialized staff, hiring five new research scientists who formerly worked for the firm. The scientists will conduct aerospace studies on-site at JSC to further both CASSMAR and NASA's mission of ensuring space flight safety.

"We're going to have full-time researchers working at the Houston Johnson Space Center," Olivas said. "And these employees will be studying what is perhaps the greatest threat to human space exploration -- orbital debris."

The new hires are leading experts in planetary geology and orbital debris. They are Heather M. Cowardin, Ph.D.; James Frith, Ph.D.; Joshua E. Miller, Ph.D.; Daniel Kent Ross, Ph.D.; and Yu-Lin Xu, Ph.D.

Over the course of the spring 2015 semester, the research scientists will visit UTEP to get to know the University and present seminars on their JSC research. The seminars are expected to attract faculty and students within the colleges of Science and Engineering who are interested in collaborating on space initiatives, setting the stage for future research projects.

Jacobs Engineering is an international engineering, architecture and construction firm that is listed as a Fortune 500 Company. It has been dubbed one of America's 100 Most Trustworthy Companies.

As a NASA contractor, the company assists with a number of projects, including support work on the main and subsystems of the International Space Station, systems development and testing of the Curiosity Mars rover and the development of the new Space Launch System -- a combination of previous launch designs that will carry large payloads of either personnel or cargo into space.

Options in the UTEP-Jacobs partnership could eventually increase the value of the contract to $9 million and extend the collaboration an additional four years.

The University of Texas at El Paso

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