NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UT team up on space research projects

Bobby Blanchard

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will fund UT research projects after the University signed an agreement with the space program Tuesday.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory added UT to its Strategic University Research Partnership program Tuesday. The program, which includes 11 other institutions of higher education, partners NASA with universities so student researchers and faculty can propose collaborative research and educational projects with Jet Propulsion Laboratory researchers. Under the agreement, UT student and faculty projects are eligible for Jet Propulsion Laboratory federal funding.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a research institute based in California that handles active space exploration projects like the Mars Exploration Rovers. In August, the Mars Curiosity Rover, a project Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked on, landed on the red planet.

Undergraduates, graduates and UT faculty from specific programs will be able to propose research projects to the Strategic University Research Partnership program, Byron Tapley, director of UT’s Center for Space Research, said. Tapley said this is an exciting opportunity for undergraduates.

“It is a major benefit to be able to interact with Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Tapley said. “It is stimulating. The fact that it is being done and the fact that they can be involved in what is happening really benefits undergraduate students.”

Tapley said it was an exciting moment for him.

“This is a very big day and a very important day,” Tapley said. “I think it is something we really needed here. I am happy to see this day come to pass.”

Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said before the formal agreement signed Tuesday NASA had more than 50 years of work with UT.

UT and Jet Propulsion Laboratory collaborated on the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite program, which launched two satellites in 2002. The satellites are currently taking measurements of the Earth’s gravitational field. Tapley is one of the professors who worked on and continues to work on the project.

“We have had a long-term relationship with individual faculty at UT,” Elachi said. “What we wanted to do was build a stronger and longer relationship.”

Elachi said outside of California, UT is one of the largest sources of Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s employees. Almost 150 of Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s employees are UT alumni, Elachi said.

For example, UT alumni Richard Cook is the project manager of Mars Rover Curiosity. According to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA employs about 5,000 employees at its research site in California.

“This program can be a source of both more research collaboration and future UT students becoming employees at Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Elachi said.

In a statement Tuesday, Juan Sanchez, UT’s vice president for research, said this partnership will enhance UT’s educational experience.

“Our partnership will enrich the educational experience of undergraduate and graduate students in science and engineering, as well as offer faculty members opportunities to collaborate on JPL’s far-reaching projects of exploration,” Sanchez said in his statement.

Printed on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 as: NASA teams with UT to fuel program