Purdue space experts

April 29, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University has several faculty members working in space-related areas who can comment about the space shuttle, space-related research and other issues.

* Steven Collicott, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, operated an experiment on the International Space Station in 2007 to study how fluids flow in the absence of gravity, and his students often fly experiments with NASA on an airplane used by the space agency to induce weightlessness for research and astronaut training. He designed and built an experiment to fly on a new type of reusable suborbital rocket built by aerospace company Blue Origin LLC. This experiment leads the way for an expanded role for commercial aerospace research in microgravity. A news release is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/x/2009b/091130CollicottBlueOrigin.html

* Daniel DeLaurentis, an associate professor in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, can speak about the space shuttle and its history. DeLaurentis specializes in "system of systems" research, or analyzing, modeling and simulating a complex system made up of many component systems. As a student he worked on the shuttle at Kennedy Space Center and sat where the astronauts sit. "It's such an amazingly complex machine," he said.

* Steven Schneider, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, has developed and operates one of two wind tunnels capable of running quietly at "hypersonic" speeds. These are critical for collecting data to show precisely how air flows over a vehicle's surface in flight. Findings are being used to help develop a new type of vehicle powered by an engine called a scramjet, which promises to reduce the huge costs associated with human space travel. Schneider also was a member of a NASA team studying "boundary-layer transition prediction" for the space shuttle's return to flight after the Columbia accident, and he was a member of a review board that advised NASA on heating issues related to insulating tiles used on the spacecraft.

* Michael G. Smith, a Purdue associate professor of history, teaches courses on the history of the Space Age and aviation. He said the future of human spaceflight is uncertain for the United States as the space shuttle is retired later this year. "Once we retire the shuttle, the United States will not be able to launch heavy-lift cargoes, or even human beings, without a replacement or using the Russian Soyuz as a ferry for hire." A news release is available at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/general/2011/110414SmithSpaceshuttle.html

Daniel DeLaurentis answers some frequently asked questions:

* What is the impact of the space shuttle retirement on Purdue research or aerospace engineering research?

"It may be a net positive on research opportunities if NASA directs money normally spent operating the space shuttle to research on new vehicles or other new technologies."

* Are students likely to be influenced by this shift in focus?

"Our aeronautics and astronautics students are very passionate, so the main influence on them will be to ask NASA, 'What is next? What are next challenges in exploration?'"

* How do rocket scientists feel about the end of the shuttle program?

"Each will respond differently. For me it is a mix of nostalgia and excitement. The space shuttle was a revolutionary way to get to space. We learned some great things, both of what worked and what can go wrong. We will surely learn from these lessons for future designs."

* What will NASA do next, and how will astronauts get into space?

"In the short term, U.S. astronauts will get to the International Space Station via Russian launch vehicles. NASA's current plan beyond that is to invest in private firms that will build a new generation of launch vehicles to take astronauts into low-earth orbit, where the space station is situated."

* Is Purdue likely to be affected by the shift in federal funding into the commercial sector and away from NASA's human spaceflight program?

"Funding to universities may be impacted unless NASA decides to allocate some of the research funding that is intended to help these companies through universities. These private firms in fact advocate for this, since they will rely on a good stream of engineering graduates to flow into their companies to make these new vehicles a reality."

Writer:  Emil Venere, 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: Reporters interested in speaking with the Purdue sources listed below should contact Emil Venere, Purdue News Service, at 765-494-4709, venere@purdue.edu