Nick Schneider, of CU's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, celebrates MAVEN's insertion in the Mars orbit Sunday during a live NASA feed at CU's Fiske Planetarium.
After 11 years in development, it all came down to 33 minutes when CU-Boulder's Mars explorer, MAVEN, had to deftly maneuver to enter Martian orbit at 8:24 p.m. Sunday. One missed command or malfunctioning booster rocket, and MAVEN would have sailed by Mars into space. This climactic moment — after a 10-month, 442-million-mile journey — was followed closely by the NASA/Lockheed Martin/CU team whose work was captured live on NASA TV and viewed by thousands in venues across campus and Colorado.
This historic CU-led space voyage made worldwide news this week, including National Public Radio, The New York Times, the BBC and hundreds of other media outlets.
The project is a partnership among CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), NASA, Denver-based aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, Colorado-based United Launch Alliance, Colorado's Exelis Inc., the University of California, Berkeley, and other local and national corporate partners and contractors.
For some time now, I've been updating you on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, a $671 million project, which is the largest in CU-Boulder's history. The Mars orbiter is exploring the question of what happened to the Red Planet's abundant atmosphere and water that at one time made it potentially habitable. The answer may have implications for our own planet. MAVEN is also a critical conduit for communications between NASA and present and future Mars rovers.
Congratulations are in order for principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of LASP and our geological sciences department, as well as faculty, staff and the 100 undergraduate and graduate students who have worked and continue to work on the project.
The enthusiasm of these dedicated researchers and the public was evident Sunday at Denver's Lockheed Martin facility, LASP on the CU-Boulder campus and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.
I thank all the corporate and higher ed partners who have delivered MAVEN to this successful moment. The results of that cooperation will benefit our human understanding of our planet and universe, and our economy (to the tune of $300 million spent in Colorado on the MAVEN project). It gave and will continue to give our undergraduate and graduate students the chance to work collaboratively with all these players, preparing them for careers in aerospace and other sectors of the collaborative 21st century workplace. This project came in on time and $20 million under budget!
CU-Boulder secures $412 million in federally sponsored research
Professor Hang "Hubert" Yin works in his lab in the chemistry and biochemistry department. CU-Boulder garnered $412 million in federally sponsored research funding in fiscal year 2014.
The MAVEN project is not, of course, the only research project of note at CU-Boulder. We recently announced that over the last year the campus secured $412 million in sponsored research funding — a figure that demonstrates the ingenuity and energy of our faculty. It's important to note that these funds are earmarked for research; they do not pay for the operational costs of running the university nor can these dollars buy down tuition. Our research is often transferred to the marketplace through CU-inspired startup companies — including four in fiscal year 2014 — and then commercialized for the benefit of all. And, like MAVEN, these research grants also produce new knowledge and innovations that are translated into lessons in the classroom and involve undergraduate and graduate students working together in teams in the field and laboratory.
A disaster yields a discovery
The fall flood of a year ago brought the CU-Boulder community together in a time of disaster and yielded a discovery.
We just marked the one-year anniversary of the floods that ravaged Boulder and northern Colorado. I'm pleased to say the campus has recovered from the minor damage it sustained in those terrible floods although we know that many in the community are still working to recover. Our faculty, staff and students came together to triumph over the calamity, and a year later, we're learning more all the time about the flood's impact. A group of CU geotechnical and structural engineers have studied the tweets issued during the floods to piece together valuable data on infrastructure damage. That data will help engineers and architects on future designs, as well as urban planners, civic officials and others in dealing with future disasters.
Students win awards for space mission
Graduate students Roger Huang, left, Eric Threet and Christine Fanchiang (not pictured) took second place in a world competition to design a real-world space mission to Mars, as judged by NASA scientists.
Here is a great example of how research teamwork benefits our students. Two CU-Boulder student aerospace engineering science teams won prestigious international and national awards for designing missions to Mars and the moon. One team placed second in the world in a competition to conceive and design a two-person mission "flyby" of Mars with the goals of being simple, safe and inexpensive. The second CU-Boulder aerospace engineering team tied for first in the graduate student category for a national student design competition, sponsored by NASA and managed by the National Institute of Aerospace.
Grads with bright futures just one CU-Boulder return on investment
CU-Boulder graduates celebrate during last May's commencement. A survey of spring 2014 graduates indicates they are optimistic about their future with a CU degree in hand.
With the experiences in the classroom and laboratory we've just outlined, it's not surprising that our students are, according to a recent survey of spring 2014 graduates, optimistic about their future. Two-thirds said they plan to be employed right after graduation, with 13 percent saying they expect to go to graduate or professional school and 7 percent saying they will travel. The survey has been conducted each year since 2008 by our Office of Planning, Budget and Analysis.
Add that to other measures on the earning power of a CU degree over a lifetime (it's a top 25 degree among public universities), and you have an accurate picture of how CU-Boulder provides a valuable return on investment for students, and of course, their parents. That's reinforced by results from this recent survey that ranked CU-Boulder among the 10 most affordable colleges in the West.
New freshman class most diverse and academically qualified ever
Emily Schaldach of Durango is an Esteemed Scholar majoring in integrative physiology. She's also on CU-Boulder's cycling team. You can learn more about Emily here.
I can't tell you how pleased I am that we enrolled our best-prepared and most-diverse freshman class of all time this fall. The average high school grade-point average is 3.58, demonstrating that CU-Boulder is a key destination for Colorado's and the nation's most academically talented students.
We're making the investment to attract those students, regardless of their incomes, through programs such as our CU Promise program now serving nearly 1,000 of Colorado's lowest-income students who are academically qualified, an expansion of more than 700 students from last year.
Our merit-based Esteemed Scholars program, in just its second year, attracted 898 of Colorado's best and brightest students. To meet three of these impressive students in a trio of short video vignettes please see CU-Boulder scholarships attract top Colorado students
In addition, more than 500 out-of-state freshmen earned high-achieving merit scholarships, a 22 percent increase.
Day of Service
Picnic tables get a fresh coat of paint from CU student volunteers at University Hill Elementary School during the Buff Day of Service.
On their first Saturday in college, more than 600 freshmen volunteered to take part in our second annual Day of Service at 17 Boulder County sites, including ongoing flood cleanup. This confirms for me the kind of service-oriented and community-minded students who attend CU-Boulder. You can see for yourself in this short video.
As we continue to expand the quality and diversity of our student body, and as we work to offer an academic experience for undergraduates that I believe is unique among all American universities, with its emphasis on small classroom residential learning opportunities, undergraduate research opportunities, and experiential and service learning programs, you can be proud of your association with the University of Colorado Boulder as it redefines the university experience for the 21st century.
Thank you, and Go Buffs!
Philip P. DiStefano