Left, is an artist rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in December. At right is an artist rendering of the Lucy Mission scheduled for launch this month. Credit: JWST, Northrop Grumman. Credit: Lucy, Southwest Research Institute.

UCF Celebrates World Space Week All October Long

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

Today kicks off World Space Week, the largest annual space event that spans the globe.

The United Nations designated the week in 1999 to help build enthusiasm for the space workforce of tomorrow. The goal is to inspire the youth of today to pursue careers that support worldwide efforts to explore and learn about our planet and its place in the universe.

UCF’s been doing that since 1963, when it opened its door to provide talent for central Florida and the growing U.S. space program. UCF’s space-related research and our proximity to Kennedy Space Center, the birth of the space race for America, gives our students many unique opportunities.

Students have helped prepared experiments that have flown on International Space Station and on several commercial space flights. One undergraduate student working with our professor on NASA’s OSIRIS REx mission played a role in helping identify the best location to take an asteroid sample. Many other students and post-docs are working with UCF faculty on NASA and European Space Agency missions while others work with private contractors involved in launch operations. Our students are also well represented in NASA’s Pathways internship program with 19 students last semester alone.

UCF’s efforts to prepare students from all walks of life are well recognized. That’s one reason why NASA awarded a team of interdisciplinary professors a half a million-dollar grant to create transformative space technologies that support space exploration. The grant means interdisciplinary teams of faculty and students will work on projects with industry and NASA centers.

This week you’ll hear about some of the exciting missions UCF is a part of and about some Knights who are working on out of this world research. And don’t forget Oct. 22, is UCF’s Space Game when our football team takes on Memphis. This year’s theme celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle program, including many Knights who worked in the program. You won’t want to miss seeing the team’s space-themed uniforms and special presentation.

Here is a sneak peek at just two of the high-profile missions UCF is a part of and which are scheduled before the holidays.

NASA’s Lucy Mission

Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 16 at 6:50 am.

NASA’s first mission was to explore the Trojan asteroids, associated with Jupiter. This area of our solar system is believed to hold remnants of the primordial material that formed the outer planets. The launch is scheduled for October so that the spacecraft can get a gravity boost from Earth as its slingshots out to the outer edges of the solar system, a journey that will take about 12 years. The spacecraft will visit eight asteroids in a region of space that has never been visited before. The mission is named after Lucy, the fossilized human remains found in Ethiopia in 1974. The skeleton was critical to understanding certain stages of human evolution. NASA’s mission promises to provide similar insight about Earth, says UCF Professor of Physics Dan Britt, who is part of the mission.

James Webb Space Telescope

Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Dec. 18.

Florida Space Institute Planetary Scientist Noemi Pinilla Alonso

The James Webb Space Telescope is part of an international program led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency. The telescope is many times improved over the Hubble Telescope which revolutionized space observations when Space Shuttle Discovery delivered it into orbit in 1990. The JWST will assist researchers to explore our solar system and distant galaxies and everything in between, which should help humankind understand its origins in the universe, says Noemi Pinilla Alonso, a planetary scientist at the UCF-based Florida Space Center. Getting time on the telescope has been competitive with more than 1,000 proposals submitted from 44 nations. Pinilla Alonso has secured time on the telescope to study 59 trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) and centaurs in our solar system and she is a co-investigator on two other international proposals which also have guaranteed time on the telescope in the first two years of observations. TNOs are crucial because they formed with the most primitive and unprocessed materials in the presolar nebula and preserve evidence of how the solar system first formed. Altogether UCF scientists and doctoral students have secured more than 100 hours on the telescope thanks to their outstanding proposals that stood out among many competitors.

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