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Space exploration

NASA plant habitat
Summer 2017

Space farming

Surviving the challenges of deep space exploration could rely as much on botany as astrophysics.

NASA sees plants not only as potential food sources aboard future spacecraft but as natural oxygen producers. The space agency is preparing for its first in-depth study of how growth and development of plants is affected by gravity, or more specifically the lack of it.

“The overall significance is what it could mean for space exploration,” says Norman G. Lewis, a Regents professor at Washington State University’s Institute of Biological Chemistry and principal investigator for the NASA-funded study. “Whether it’s colonizing planets, establishing a station, … » More …

Pioneer 10/11 Mission Patch
Fall 2016

Talkback for Fall 2016

 

Another close encounter with outer space

Fifty years ago, 1966, I graduated from WSU and then went to work for NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. I spent the next 40 years exploring our solar system. WSU gave me the “right stuff” to be a part of sending a “spacecraft where no spacecraft had gone before.” I was in the Pioneer Project and we sent the first spacecraft to the outer planets, Pioneer-10, to fly beyond the orbit of Mars through the asteroid belt and encounter Jupiter in 1973. After the flyby of Jupiter, Pioneer-10, on an escape trajectory from the Sun … » More …

Summer 2017

Space Cougs

Since the 1960s, engineers, biologists, and even historians who graduated from Washington State have contributed to the exploration of our solar system. You can read about a few of them below. If you know of other Cougs who have been involved in space exploration, please send their stories and we’ll include them here.

Thora Waters Halstead ’50

Space biologist

Microbiologist Thora Waters Halstead pioneered the field of space biology and her research now is a critical piece of NASA’s plans to send astronauts to Mars.

Waters, who earned her undergraduate degree at Washington State University in 1950, was a trailblazer at NASA» More …

Asteroid mine illustration. Courtesy NASA
Summer 2016

The new frontier of asteroid mining

Meteorites can show our relationship with the solar system, but they also provide clues to the composition of asteroids both near and far. Those asteroids could be the next frontier for some space explorers.

Planetary Resources in Redmond is one of the private companies that sees potential in mining near-Earth asteroids for ice and rare metals. They plan to do it using technology we already have, inexpensively and on private rockets. CEO Chris Lewicki compares the hunt for asteroids to the American West.

“It’s like the first steam engines: not much to look at, but they helped us settle the West,” he says.

Using small … » More …

Colonizing the stars thumb
Summer 2016

Colonizing the stars

Traveling to the stars is one thing. Living there is another.

Washington State University is tackling challenges that could enable future astronauts to survive indefinitely on Mars and other extraterrestrial locations.

At the Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, for example, a team of students designed a domed habitat that could be built robotically from Martian or Lunar soil with a special 3D printer. Dubbed the WazzuDOME, it was selected by NASA as a finalist in a design competition last year and earned the team a trip to the world’s largest science fair, the annual Maker Faire, in New York City.

“We took … » More …

WSU Planetarium
Summer 2016

Perchance to dream

You might find Guy Worthey at the WSU Planetarium narrating a show on meteors. Or up at Jewett Observatory playing bass guitar with his band for the Jazz BBQ Star Party.

The visionary associate professor of physics and astronomy is also known around campus as a science fiction fan and charter member of the Palouse Astronomical Society which hosts public star parties throughout the region.

When asked if he’d like to travel in space, he laughs, “I want to go! How much is the ticket? When can I sign up?!”

Beyond the lure of adventure, Worthey says today’s race to explore the … » More …

Asteroids thumb image
Summer 2016

Close Encounters from Outer Space

The errant asteroid hurtled through space at 40,000 miles per hour. Tumbling in a wild orbit, it glinted with sunlight as it neared the Earth. At 65-feet wide, the potato-shaped object should have been easily detected but no one saw it coming.

On the morning of February 15, 2013 the asteroid exploded with the force of 500 kilotons of TNT about 15 miles above the city of Chelyabinsk in the Russian Ural Mountains. The fireball was reportedly 30 times brighter than the sun. The shockwave blew out windows in hundreds of buildings and injured more than 1,500 people.

It was Earth’s most powerful meteor strike … » More …

First Words
Summer 2016

As above, here below

Early science fiction authors tossed around the idea of mining the asteroids near Earth decades ago. Asimov, Heinlein, Pournelle, and other sci-fi luminaries wrote the concept into their stories of robots and space-bound pioneers since the 1940s. As with many of those authors’ ideas, we’re on the edge of fiction becoming reality.

Companies such as Redmond-based Planetary Resources plan to send robot harvesters up to the asteroids, likely within a decade, to extract water and rare minerals. CEO Chris Lewicki told me they are already in the prospecting phase, sending satellites to probe for likely mining candidates. The conference room where we met has … » More …

Spring 2009

Space Chronicles

Working on her doctorate at Washington State University, Jennifer Ross-Nazzal ’04 was drawn to public history–a field that combines academic history with non-traditional methods of collecting and presenting historical information. The program has been in effect at WSU since 1979 and has produced historians who now work for public archives, historical sites, and museums around the country.

Ross-Nazzal’s studies at WSU led to a focus on women’s history and an internship at a museum. “Though that was a good experience, I wanted to do another internship,” she says. Craving a very different experience, she found an offer at Johnson Space Center of the National Aeronautics … » More …