Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
Congratulations to our Mars Rover Design Team, which finished first in design and third in the world, competing against 35 other international team finalists in the 2022 University Rover Challenge! Our S&T “Martian Miners” and their newest rover, Prometheus, continued a tradition of success that includes a top-five finish in 2019, a second-place finish in 2018 and the international championship in 2017. Well done, team!
Interestingly, our rover’s success followed the observance of National Space Day, designated for us to consider the awe-inspiring mysteries of space. For millennia, humans have been fascinated by what exists beyond our earth. That fascination has fueled scientific inquiry, discovery, exploration and yes, global design contests that inspire STEM and scientific curiosity.
For me, more importantly perhaps, is the intentional teaming and team effort that brings young minds, heads and hands together to achieve success in challenging, knowledge-enhancing, friendly competitions. These events promote peaceful, purposeful and fun togetherness.
If any organization had reason to celebrate space, it is Missouri S&T, and not just because of our Mars Rover Design Team. Here are just a few other examples of how S&T is connected to space exploration and discovery.
- A space-grant university. Many of us are familiar with the term “land-grant university,” which refers to institutions established through the Morrill Land-Grant Acts of the 19th century. Missouri S&T is a land-grant university. Did you know there are also space-grant universities? These institutions provide education, research and outreach to raise awareness of NASA’s aeronautics and space projects. S&T is a space-grant university, and leads the Missouri Space Grant Consortium. This status allows our students to participate in special NASA research projects like the BIG Idea Challenge.
- The Rolla-NASA connection. Three S&T graduates – Tom Akers, Janet Kavandi and Sandra Magnus – have enjoyed stellar careers as NASA astronauts. But hundreds of other S&T graduates have had on-the-ground success in that agency. They include George Mueller, a 1939 graduate, who oversaw human space flight for NASA’s Apollo program; Farouk El-Baz, who earned his master’s and Ph.D. degrees from S&T and identified the spot for the Apollo 11 moon landing; and 1967 graduate Ron Epps, who played important roles with the Apollo, space shuttle and space station programs.
- Black holes, exoplanets and black neutron stars. S&T alumni and faculty are among the leading astrophysics researchers on the planet. Frederick K. Baganoff, a 1985 graduate now with MIT, was part of an international team of scientists who captured the first image of a black hole in 2019. John Asher Johnson, a 1999 graduate and professor of astronomy at Harvard, is one of the world’s leading experts on the discovery of exoplanets. And at S&T, physics professor Marco Cavaglia leads a research team involved in detecting an object 2.6 times the mass of our sun that merged with a black hole the size of 23 solar masses.
- Mining the moon. I discussed this topic in an earlier email, but it bears repeating because it demonstrates the way some of our more traditional academic programs are evolving to address future issues, including space exploration and mining the moon and asteroids for important materials. We recently received $2 million from NASA to research ways to improve the extraction of materials from lunar soil. We are also preparing our students for this exciting future by offering a graduate certificate in space resources.
- From Missouri to the Space Force. One of the many heartwarming stories of our recent graduates is that of Michael Carlson. Growing up in the small farming community of Edina, Missouri, Michael earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Space Force, where he plans to specialize in cybersecurity for national defense.
- Space camp: the next generation. With our return to fully in-person summer camps this year, we are again launching our popular Space, the Final Frontier Camp for rising high school sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students in this camp will design, build and fly their own small satellite and launch a high-altitude balloon into near space – 100,000 feet! It is sure to inspire future generations of Miners to explore many of the fascinating aspects of space exploration and discovery.
Needless to say, S&T’s connections with space are strong and impactive, both in space and here on earth. To our Martian Miners, I say congratulations on your well-earned success! To our faculty advisors, I say thank you for guiding, mentoring and supporting these students, and to our incoming students, I say there is an unopened gift box waiting for you. Be prepared to learn, imagine and engage. You will love the journey and address important challenges facing our world along the way.
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Mohammad Dehghani, PhD
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