NASA technologist offers insight on fellowships, manned Mars mission - Purdue Exponent: Campus

NASA technologist offers insight on fellowships, manned Mars mission

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2012 10:00 am

Robots shooting lasers on the surface of Mars probably sounds like science fiction, but according to one expert it’s a reality.

Mason Peck, NASA’s chief technologist, spoke Wednesday to a crowd of about 50 students and faculty about the future of the NASA space program. Peck’s lecture was part of a space program initiative that is reaching out to researchers, universities and the private sector to help in the development of technologies.

By offering grants and fellowships to graduate students and faculty, NASA is able to provide funding and the chance to work directly with the space program.

One such program is the NASA Space Technology Research Fellowships.

“These are grad students funded by NASA for up to $66,000 per year for up to three years,” Peck said.

He said Purdue should be proud of the fact that it has eight fellows in the program.

Peck said the space program is also offering a number of Centennial Challenges. These challenges encourage private sector companies, self-funded teams and individuals as well as student groups to take part in the development and further researching of space related technologies.

“We are able to encourage individuals (and) private companies, to make contributions without all the overhead and rules and regulations of a typical NASA contract,” Peck said. “We get a great payoff on this.”

Peck’s lecture also included a video documenting the landing of the Curiosity rover on the surface of Mars. Peck explained some of the new technologies in use and those in development by NASA and the organization’s plan moving forward.

“In the next couple of days we’re going to release this (strategic plan),” Peck said. “(The plan) is the culmination of about two years of work at the agency, also by the way a number of faculty members at your university, in working on what are the priority of events (for NASA).

A manned trip to Mars sometime between 2020 and 2030 was among those goals.

Nick Sakamoto, a graduate student, said although he doesn’t keep up with NASA, it was interesting to see the organization’s plan for the future.

“We hear about how the space shuttle program is getting shut down. You think, ‘OK, well what’s NASA going to do now without that kind of stuff?’” Sakamoto said. “It’s kind of cool to see all the stuff they’re actually working on. It was very interesting, and that they’re starting to extend a hand now to universities to fund them and fund research that way – which, that’s pretty cool, I think.”

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