UM, Goddard join forces on research

NASA to fund work on astrophysics through flight center and scientists, students at College Park, Balto. Co. campuses

September 29, 2006|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Sun reporter

Space scientists at the University of Maryland's College Park and Baltimore County campuses will get an infusion of NASA cash from a new research center established in cooperation with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

NASA will support the center with as much as $7.5 million annually over the next five years, university officials said this week.

Initial research will focus on high-energy astrophysics, including the workings of neutron stars, black holes and extremely hot gas across the universe. The new center is also expected to increase the participation of students, women and minority scientists in space research.

"It's an opportunity to increase the stature of our universities in the space sciences and to give Goddard a leg up in competing with the other NASA centers for space-science funding," said Lee Mundy, chairman of the astronomy department at College Park and director of the new organization, known as CRESST (Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science and Technology).

"This is a very highly technical field that has important aspects of training people in the sciences and technology, and it's important to keep that in Maryland," he said.

Maryland U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, ranking Democrat on the congressional committee that oversees NASA funding, said the new, collaborative center "helps Maryland remain a world-class center for space science and exploration."

The center will also draw on the resources of the Universities Space Research Association, a consortium of 100 academic institutions whose scientists have helped NASA develop scientific instruments and technology.

Laurie Leshin, director of sciences and exploration at Goddard, said the partnership "will fuel discoveries about our sun, the solar system and the universe that will transform scientific understanding."

With space-science funding at NASA taking a back seat to completion of the International Space Station and preparation for manned exploration of the moon and Mars, Mundy hopes CRESST's potential success will help to rebalance the scales a bit.

"I think space science has been a very productive part of NASA's endeavors," he said. "We have helped to excite the public about space and further NASA's mission, and get the next generation excited about NASA and space.

"I'm hopeful that our value to NASA will continue to be in evidence in future years," Mundy said, and that policymakers will "find a solution that allows space science to flourish under NASA."

UMBC participates in several research and education arrangements with Goddard, including the Joint Center for Astrophysics and the Center for the Advanced Study of Photonics Research. Others are focused on the Earth, including the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center, and the Joint Center for Earth Systems and Technology.

UMBC officials said their campus ranks 13th nationally in NASA research funding. The latest addition is expected to help attract more top space scientists to the school, and to enhance undergraduate and graduate-level courses in astrophysics.

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