This week, a group of senior National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) leaders visited the University of Colorado (CU) Boulder campus following the 38th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and the Space Weather Workshop in Boulder.
On Thursday morning, April 20, NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana toured the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP). In the afternoon, LASP also hosted Nicola “Nicky” Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), which provides a majority of LASP’s funding.
The previous afternoon, Cabana, who is third in command at NASA, was hosted by CU Boulder Smead Aerospace Engineering Sciences Scholar-in-Residence Jim Voss, a former colleague of Cabana’s in the NASA astronaut corps. Cabana toured the aerospace building, met with graduate students studying human spaceflight, and gave a talk about the Artemis Program and NASA’s plans for the exploration of our solar system.
At LASP, Cabana toured the Mission Operations Center where he met with some of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission team, including students who train at LASP to become flight controllers. NASA’s IXPE mission measures the polarization of the cosmic X-rays from black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars.
“Whenever I get the opportunity to talk to students and early career people like I did today at LASP, I have absolutely no fear about the future of exploration—we have so many bright, young, motivated people in our country!” said Cabana, a four-time Space Shuttle astronaut and Marine Corps pilot.
Advancing space science, engineering, and education
Several NASA SMD colleagues accompanied Fox on her Thursday afternoon visit to LASP, including Deputy Associate Administrator Sandra Connelly, Deputy Associate Administrator for Programs Wanda Peters, Chief Technologist Carolyn Mercer, and Executive Officer Kirsten Petree. SMD encompasses Earth Science, Planetary Science, Heliophysics, Astrophysics, Biological and Physical Sciences, and the Joint Agency Satellite Division.
The group was warmly welcomed by CU President Todd Saliman, CU Senior Vice President for External Relations and Strategy Danielle Radovich Piper, CU Boulder’s Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation Massimo Ruzzene, and LASP Associate Director for Science Frank Eparvier.
“The University of Colorado is honored to collaborate with our NASA partners on the technological innovations and scientific advancements that are propelling humanity’s knowledge and exploration of space into the future,” said CU President Todd Saliman.
After lunch with CU President Saliman, the NASA officials met with Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) Director Waleed Abdalati, a former NASA chief scientist, and several scientists affiliated with CIRES, which is a partnership between CU Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Fox then hosted a “fireside chat,” moderated by Eparvier, with about a dozen LASP graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. Fox answered questions on a range of topics including: her new role as NASA’s head of science; the unique challenges facing early-career researchers; increasing diversity and inclusion in the space sciences; and NASA policies regarding grant review, instrument choice, and mission timelines.
“At NASA, curiosity and imagination are the lifeblood of great discoveries in our universe,” Fox said. “It was truly inspiring to speak with the next generation of space scientists and engineers at the University of Colorado Boulder. The power of education at learning institutions like CU Boulder provide the necessary tools to make big dreams a reality and keep our nation a global leader in space exploration and innovation.”
Colorado’s space economy
Colorado is the largest space economy per capita in the country. The state is home to more than 500 space-related companies and suppliers, including several of the nation’s top aerospace companies. CU Boulder is a key player in the regional and international aerospace ecosystem and is one of the top-ranked public university recipients of NASA funding.
“This is testament to the university’s exceptional space science research and scholarship, which makes us a key player in the regional and international aerospace economy,” said CU President Todd Saliman.
Multiple space-related conferences were happening this week throughout the state. In addition to the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Fox also attended the 2023 Space Weather Workshop in Boulder. The workshop is organized by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science (CPAESS), and co-sponsored by the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center, the NSF Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, and the NASA Heliophysics Division, which Fox headed before recently moving into her current role as associate administrator of SMD.
Exciting scientific results and upcoming missions
The visit ended with the NASA leaders meeting with several LASP scientists and engineers to discuss some exciting new scientific results and upcoming missions. These include Libera, a mission to extend the decades-long record of Earth’s energy budget; DYNamics Atmosphere GLObal-Connection (DYNAGLO), which will measure gravity waves; and the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission, which will study the heliosphere. For the IMAP mission, LASP is building the Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX) instrument, which will reveal the composition of interstellar dust grains after its anticipated launch in 2025.
“It was an honor to meet with the NASA leadership today and showcase the exceptional science, engineering, and education taking place at LASP,” Eparvier said. “It was an opportunity, as well, to celebrate the productive, long-lasting, and ongoing relationship we have with NASA.”
Founded in 1948, LASP began celebrating its 75th anniversary in April 2023.
-Written by Sara Pratt, LASP Senior Communications Specialist
Founded a decade before NASA, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder is on a mission to transform human understanding of the cosmos by pioneering new technologies and approaches to space science. LASP is the only academic research institute in the world to have sent instruments to every planet in our solar system.