When NASA's 30-year-old space shuttle program was shuttered following the Atlantis mission in July 2011, the University of Colorado Boulder looked back at a rich relationship filled with triumph and tragedy and looked ahead to an evolving international program of government and private efforts that will send humans and cargo into orbit.
Of the 20 astronaut-affiliates from CU -- 19 from CU-Boulder and one from University of Colorado Colorado Springs -- 16 flew on a total of 40 NASA space shuttle missions. The two who flew the most shuttle missions were Jim Voss, (M.S. aerospace engineering, 1974) a current scholar in residence at CU-Boulder who flew five missions, as did CU alumna Marsha Ivins (B.S. aerospace engineering, 1973).
In addition to its prominent role in the astronaut program, CU-Boulder has flown dozens of science payloads on NASA's 135 space shuttle missions. BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-funded center in the aerospace engineering sciences department, has launched experiments onboard space shuttles 39 times since 1991, using the low-gravity of Earth orbit as a testing ground for a variety of agricultural, biomedical and educational payloads.
BioServe has worked with industrial and academic partners on experiments ranging from bone loss mitigation and the development of new antibiotics to K-12 educational payloads involving butterflies and spiders that drew the participation of more than a million students around the world. BioServe personnel have trained dozens of astronauts to operate their experimental hardware in space, both on the shuttle and the International Space Station.
NASA space shuttles also toted two key instruments developed by teams led by CU-Boulder faculty for the Hubble Space Telescope. The launch of Hubble aboard Atlantis in 1990 included a high-resolution spectrograph designed and built by a team led by CU-Boulder retired Professor John "Jack" Brandt of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. The instrument broke down wavelengths of light emanating from distant celestial objects to determine their compositions, motions and temperatures to help astronomers understand the conditions of the early universe.
CU-Boulder's involvement with the space shuttle program also included three payloads designed, built and flown by students, primarily undergraduates, from the Colorado Space Grant Consortium headquartered in aerospace engineering sciences. The first payload, dubbed ESCAPE, and which flew on Discovery in 1993, measured the sun's effects on Earth's atmosphere using a spectrometer to record extreme UV solar radiation and a camera to photograph the sun. The effort included the participation of nearly 100 students, primarily undergraduates, over a two-year span.
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In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as president, Elvis died, Virginia park ranger Roy Sullivan was hit by lightning a record seventh time and two NASA space probes destined to turn planetary science on its head launched from Florida.
When the space shuttle Atlantis lifted off for its journey to the International Space Station in 2009, it had on board two butterfly habitats, which were part of an experiment conducted by CU-Boulder and K–12 students across the country.
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