Dedication planned for student-led VOSS interactive solar system project in Discovery Park

April 9, 2015  

VOSS sun

The cornerstone of the Visiting Our Solar System interactive exhibit in Discovery Park is the design of the sun, which is 45 feet in diameter. Surrounding the VOSS sun (pictured here) are the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune set into a series of curved, 6-foot-high walls. Jeff Laramore and Tom Fansler of Smock Fansler Corp. of Indianapolis were the designers on the $1.5 million project. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - A dedication ceremony is planned April 18 for Visiting Our Solar System, a $1.5 million student-led interactive exhibit that puts the size of space in perspective and celebrates the contributions of alumna and NASA astronaut Janice Voss.

The event, which begins at 10 a.m. on the lawn near the Hall for Discovery and Learning Research in Discovery Park, is by invitation only. Afterward, however, the monument will officially be open to the public and for school tour groups.

Scheduled to speak are Leah H. Jamieson, The John A. Edwardson Dean of Engineering; nuclear engineering junior T.J. Herron, VOSS project manager; industrial engineering professor Barrett S. Caldwell, director of the Indiana Space Grant Consortium; and Tim Strueh, a Purdue engineering alumnus and VOSS adviser.

Louise Voss, Janice Voss' mother, is expected to speak during the dedication celebration and several Voss family members are scheduled to attend the event.

The VOSS project, which has involved more than 50 students in the Engineering Projects in Community Service program, pays tribute to the late Janice Voss, a Purdue graduate who went on to achieve great heights as a NASA astronaut, and showcases Purdue's role in space exploration and its impact on the frontiers of our universe.

Janice Voss

Janice Voss 
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"The Visiting Our Solar System interactive exhibit in Discovery Park honors Janice Voss, the first female astronaut to graduate from Purdue, who spent 49 days in space," said Jamieson, who led efforts to launch the Purdue EPICS program in 1995. "And thanks to many students in our EPICS program and their many team advisers, Purdue has a unique interactive learning tool for our young space enthusiasts that also serves as a reminder of Purdue's deep and storied connection to space exploration."

Through EPICS, students in disciplines ranging from engineering and science to education and communications have worked on the VOSS website, virtual fly-through tour, interactive classroom model, educational plaques, and social media and public relations.

In addition, the students conducted an extensive set of design studies and defined the campus location for VOSS, working with the campus architect and public safety offices to identify critical features and design constraints. Jeff Laramore and Tom Fansler of Smock Fansler Corp. of Indianapolis were selected as the VOSS artists from 10 entries in a national design contest.

At any one time since planning began in 2008, at least 13 students have been involved with the VOSS project, all with one main goal in mind: to inspire elementary and middle school children to explore subjects related to space.

"With to-scale models of the sun and the eight planets in our solar system arranged in an innovative design, VOSS will provide the opportunity for any participant - from the engaged student to the curious pedestrian - to learn about space and advance the frontiers of science, technology, engineering and math," Herron said.

Former Purdue First Gentleman Chris Foster, Discovery Park K-12 STEM coordinator at the time, and Strueh, an engineer at TRW in Lafayette, guided students through their weekly class and outside-of-class meetings and provided leadership and continuity through the project.

"The students were challenged to develop a model that would promote interest in the STEM disciplines as well as space exploration," Caldwell said. "The result is an impressive display that boasts a 45-foot-diameter sun surrounded by the planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune set into a series of curved, 6-foot-high walls."

A native of Rockford, Illinois, Janice Voss earned a bachelor's degree in engineering science from Purdue in 1975 and a master's degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At Purdue, she graduated from the last engineering science class, which appealed to her because of the opportunities for interdisciplinary exploration.

Taking part in the co-operative education experience, Voss began working at NASA as an undergraduate at Purdue. Becoming an astronaut in 1991, Voss logged five space flights - tying the record for most flights by a woman - and spent a total of 49 days in space.

On her final NASA flight in 2000, she and the international crew aboard Endeavour logged long hours to map out more than 47 million square miles of Earth's land surface topography at an unprecedented resolution.

From 2004-07, Voss served as the science director for the Kepler spacecraft mission at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"Janice was enthusiastic about encouraging all students to consider careers in engineering and science," said Beth Holloway, director of Purdue's Women in Engineering program. "Now, we have the chance to honor her commitment to the space program and STEM education through the dedication of this monument."

After Voss died from cancer on Feb. 6, 2012, at age 55, her parents - Jim (MS physics 1951, PhD science 1954) and Louise (BS home economics 1950) of Dupont, Indiana - started the Janice E. Voss Scholarship for Women in Engineering fund at Purdue in her honor.

The Purdue EPICS program brings together teams of undergraduate students to design, build and deploy real systems to solve engineering-based problems for local community service and education organizations. Founded at Purdue in 1995 by the College of Engineering and modeled by other universities across the globe, EPICS consists largely of engineering students but has expanded to include students from all disciplines. 

Writers: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Anna Schultz, 812-447-5229,

Sources: Leah Jamieson, 765 494-5346, 

Barrett S. Caldwell, 765 494-5412, 

T.J. Herron, 

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