January 11, 2017

Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering finds home at Purdue - winning New Horizons team presents vision

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The first New Horizons grant has been awarded by Purdue University to a team of researchers proposing to create a program in Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering – believed to be the first such university program.

New Horizons is a competitive program launched by the Provost's Office in 2016 to challenge established senior faculty at Purdue to create new academic areas for the coming decades. This differs from the traditional approach of hiring new faculty gradually to develop new areas at a university, Provost Deba Dutta said.

"We have fantastic, entrepreneurial faculty who are cutting-edge researchers. They understand Purdue at a deep level and have the knowledge, skills, and experience to create new fields of inquiry that will have impact worldwide," Dutta said.

The Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering team will present its vision for the initiative at an open seminar at 9 a.m., Friday (Jan. 27) in Room B071 of Neil Armstrong Hall on Purdue's campus.

The four principal investigators of the Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering program and inaugural recipients of the New Horizons award are:

Antonio Bobet, professor of civil engineering.

Shirley Dyke, professor of mechanical and civil engineering.

Jay Melosh, Distinguished Professor, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Julio Ramirez, professor of civil engineering, and center director of the Network Coordination Office for the National Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure.

"We are excited and thankful to the Provost’s Office for the opportunity to lead this ground-breaking effort for Purdue University," Dyke said. "The grand challenge of resilient and sustainable human settlements outside Earth requires a complete collaborative effort between multiple disciplines, many of which are found at Purdue. We look forward to collaborating with our colleagues across campus, as well as outside of Purdue."

The Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering initiative will work to develop new technologies and systems that will allow humans to live on the moon or other planets. The goal of the funding is both to develop a research center as well as academic programs starting with a minor in extraterrestrial habitat engineering.

Melosh said creating livable habitats in space presents many challenges.

"Beyond the protection of Earth’s atmosphere, space explorers and colonists face unprecedented difficulties stemming from the lack of resources, food, air pressure and oxygen, wild temperature fluctuations, hazards such as meteoroid impacts, intense particle radiation, and life in close quarters in very hostile environments," he said. "Confronting these challenges to provide resilient and sustainable living conditions in space will require aggressive applications of engineering, science and social sciences."

Bobet said the program is an ideal match with Purdue's existing research strengths.

"We envision our Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering initiative as a catalyst to ignite the inner passion for exploration so prevalent here at Purdue and to create a sound, vibrant network of researchers and students, all committed to take humanity to the next grand adventure," he said. "This subject is contagious, and we see it spreading quickly outside of academia and beyond the borders of the United States. This effort, led by Purdue, will engage our faculty, students and staff, and it will continue Purdue's legacy of leadership in science, engineering and space exploration."

Peter Hollenbeck, vice provost for faculty affairs, professor of biological sciences and director of the New Horizons program, said the award will fund new initiatives for two years.

"At the end of the award period the team will be asked to give an account of their activities, including a plan for transition to the new research areas," he said. "The goal is that within five to seven years after the award, Purdue is likely to be recognized as an exemplar institution in the new area of scholarship." 

Writer: Steve Tally, 765-494-9809, steve@purdue.edu, @sciencewriter 

Sources: Debasish (Deba) Dutta, 765-494-9709, dutta@purdue.edu 

Peter Hollenbeck, 765-496-9503, phollenb@purdue.edu 

Antonio Bobet, 765-494-5033, bobet@purdue.edu 

Shirley Dyke, 765-494-7434, sdyke@purdue.edu 

Jay Melosh, jmelosh@purdue.edu 

Julio Ramirez, 765-430-7853, Ramirez@purdue.edu 

Note to Journalists: The seminar on the plans for Purdue's new program in Extraterrestrial Habitat Engineering is open to journalists. It is scheduled for 9 a.m., Friday, Jan. 27 in Room B071 of Purdue's Neil Armstrong Hall, which is located at 701 W. Stadium Ave., West Lafayette, Ind.

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