Published: April 21, 2014

Rounding out a full day of touring CU-Boulder facilities and meeting with faculty, staff and students, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden spoke to a packed house on the afternoon of April 18, 2014.

With over 400 in attendance, the talk addressed America’s space program and the challenges and opportunities the space agency will encounter as it moves through the 21st century.

Bolden acknowledged the close association CU-Boulder has with the space program, calling the university a “pipeline for talent.”

CU-Boulder has 18 astronaut-affiliates and is the leading public university recipient of NASA research funds. Further, CU-Boulder is the only university in the world to have designed, built and launched instruments to every planet in the solar system.

Bolden also addressed the current and future capabilities of the orbiting International Space Station (ISS), as well as current and future NASA space missions, mentioning CU-Boulder alum and NASA veteran astronaut Steve Swanson’s current tenure about the ISS and his upcoming role as station commander.

Even on a campus known for being involved in space sciences, Bolden’s visit came at a particularly fortuitous time.  Not only was he able to visit with students pioneering the next wave of aerospace science research at the student project symposium in aerospace engineering, April 18 also had CU research arriving at the ISS via SpaceX, the LADEE mission (with CU-built instrument) impacting the moon and CU student CubeSat missions launching with SpaceX.

Bolden found a community dedicated to research, exploration and education.

"I was impressed at LASP just by the amount and quality of facilities to which undergraduate students have access," he said. "I haven't been to a lot of college campuses where students have access to that kind of equipment."


• CU-Boulder is the only university in the world to have designed, built and launched instruments to every planet in the solar system. LASP currently has a $12.5 million instrument on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft now at Saturn, an $8.7 million instrument on NASA’s MESSENGER mission now at Mercury and a student-built dust counting instrument on the New Horizons mission launched in 2006 and now en route to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

• A mission control team at LASP, primarily composed of students, operated NASA’s Kepler spacecraft from 2009 until 2013. Kepler observations led to the discovery of 167 confirmed planets outside our solar system and more than 3,500 planet candidates. The primarily student team also controls three other NASA satellites from campus.

• LASP has operated more spacecraft than all other university-based organizations combined and employs about 150 undergraduate and graduate students in all areas of science, engineering and mission operations.

• The identical Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft launched by NASA in 1977 each carried a CU-Boulder instrument for the “Grand Tour of the Solar System,” one of the most exciting and fruitful interplanetary missions ever flown. Each spacecraft is carrying a “Golden Record” – a gold-plated copper phonograph record with greetings in 54 languages, the sounds of surf, thunder, birds and whales and music snippets ranging from Bach and Beethoven to rock-and-roll legend Chuck Berry.

• CU-Boulder has been selected to host the headquarters of the National Solar Observatory, the nation’s top ground-based scientific research program studying solar physics and space weather. The mission of SNO is to advance knowledge of the sun both as an astronomical object and as the dominant external influence on Earth.

• A $100 million satellite designed, built and operated by LASP and launched by NASA in 2003 known as the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment, or SORCE, has helped scientists learn how and why variations in the sun affect Earth’s atmosphere and climate.

 • CU-Boulder will receive $18 million from NASA over the lifetime of the Van Allen Belt Probe mission launched in 2012 to study the belts, which are filled with high-energy electrons and protons that can damage spacecraft, GPS and communications systems.

•NASA, CIRES and CU-Boulder scientists use GRACE, a space-based gravity experiment, to better understand phenomena like changes in sea level, glaciers, ice sheets and groundwater.

•The $6 million CU-Boulder Lunar Dust Experiment launched into moon orbit in September 2013 aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer was used to discover that a cloud of dust permanently engulfs the moon and that the dust density dramatically increases toward its surface.

• In 2010 CU-Boulder was named one of eight partners of the Center for Excellence in Commercial Space Transportation by the Federal Aviation Administration. The center will focus on four major research areas: space launch operations and traffic management; launch vehicle systems; commercial human space flight; and space commerce including law, insurance, policy and regulation.

• BioServe Space Technologies, a NASA-sponsored center in CU-Boulder’s aerospace engineering sciences department, has designed, built and flown more than 50 payloads on more than 40 spaceflight missions on space shuttles, the International Space Station, Russia’s Soyuz and Progress spacecraft and Russia’s Mir Space Station.  Bioserve was formed in 1989 to develop products through space and life science research in partnership with industry, academia and government.

•Eighteen CU-Boulder astronaut-affiliates have flown 43 missions in space, spanning NASA’s Mercury, Apollo and space shuttle programs. Two former NASA astronauts – Jim Voss and Joe Tanner – are currently on the faculty at CU-Boulder.

•NOAA, CIRES and CU-Boulder scientists collaborated with NASA colleagues to produce the exquisite Earth at Night (Black Marble) images released in December 2012. These stunning views of people’s activities on the planet enable diverse science: studies of electricity consumption over time, emergency work to pinpoint power outages from natural disasters, identification of brightly lit squid fishing fleets and changing patterns of oil and gas field flaring. 

•This summer, NASA’s DiscoverAQ mission, involving NCAR, NOAA, CIRES, CU-Boulder and other scientists from around the nation will deploy instruments to better understand why lung-damaging episodes of air pollution occur here so often, and how those changes relate to climate too. As part of the effort, aircraft will land and take off from Colorado’s Front Range.

•CIRES Director Waleed Abdalati was NASA’s chief scientist for a two-year appointment in 2011 and 2012.