January 12, 2023

Purdue scientists and engineers push the boundaries of space knowledge, studying the stars, the solar system and beyond

Researchers study the past of space and chart our future

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Scientists and engineers at Purdue University focus on a future in the stars, with research stretching from what moondust can tell us about the history of the solar system to future exploration priorities on Mars and beyond.

Research at Purdue is involved in the latest discoveries by NASA’s Perseverance rover mission and can offer insight into the initial and future Artemis missions.

A sampling of Purdue’s inspiring and innovative research in space and planetary science, highlighting Purdue’s leadership, expertise and innovation, is below. If you have any questions or would like to speak to a university expert, contact Brittany Steff, bsteff@purdue.edu; Kayla Wiles, wiles5@purdue.edu; or Brian Huchel, bhuchel@purdue.edu.

thompson-johnson Michelle Thompson is one of the new generation of scientists working on the Apollo moon missions. (Photo provided) Download image

Purdue students in persistent pursuit of new heights with rocket research

Boilermakers never stop in their pursuit to become the best, even if that means launching a rocket in a remote corner of the Mojave Desert twice in one weekend – a first for a collegiate team.

The journey into the cosmos always begins at home, and that’s where much of space research begins, too.

Modeling explosions to plumb the secrets of the solar system

Planetary scientist Brandon Johnson’s feet are firmly on the ground, though he uses data from satellites and space missions to study and map planetary bodies in the solar system.

  • Studying how impacts affect planetary bodies, asteroids, moons and other rocks in space helps planetary scientists understand extraplanetary geology, especially where to look for precious matter including water, ice and even life. A YouTube video is available online.
  • Past impacts, on Earth and on other planets, can help explain the history of the solar system.
  • Johnson’s research increases understanding of past and potential asteroid impacts on Earth, for example the huge global tsunami that followed the dinosaur-killing asteroid impact.

How airless planetary bodies interact with space gives insight into ancient planetary histories

Planetary geologist Michelle Thompson studies space weathering, the effect of exposure to space on asteroids and bodies lacking atmospheres, like our own moon.

  • Thompson studies samples from the original Apollo missions, collected before she was born, to understand the nature of moondust.
  • The samples brought back by the Hayabusa2 mission, the first asteroid samples ever collected in space and brought back, give insight into conditions on early Earth that may have helped lead to life.
  • She is on the tiger team for OSIRIS-REx and will be the first woman to study samples from the asteroid Bennu.
horgan-center Briony Horgan, associate professor of planetary science, sits inside the Mars Rover Operations Center in Purdue’s Delon and Elizabeth Hampton Hall of Civil Engineering. Horgan is part of the Mars rover mission. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe) Download image

Rover Perseverance using unprecedented equipment to illuminate the history of the red planet

Purdue space research and expertise in the news

Divide and conquer: Mars rovers to be superseded by swarms of two-wheeled robots

Mars Daily

In its visit to Psyche, NASA hopes to glimpse the center of the Earth

Popular Science

New clues reveal the devastation the day the dinosaurs died

National Geographic Magazine

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Is Hunting for Ancient Life

Popular Mechanics 

A year after landing on Mars, Perseverance rover sets sights on intriguing new target


NASA’s Perseverance rover prepares for its longest Mars drive yet


Purdue alumni legacy in space 

This Is Purdue Ep. 62: Purdue Alum Ronak Dave’s Next Giant Leap: NASA Flight Director

The Persistent Pursuit: Audrey Powers ‘overwhelmed’ to join Purdue’s Cradle of Astronauts

This Is Purdue Ep. 48: NASA Space Suit Engineer Amy Ross Discusses Purdue’s Impact on Her Career

The Persistent Pursuit: Sirisha Bandla took unconventional small steps before her giant leap into commercial spaceflight


About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked in each of the last five years as one of the 10 Most Innovative universities in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at https://stories.purdue.edu.

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