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NASA awards UND Space Studies three grants totaling $2.12 million


The University of North Dakota Department of Space Studies was recently awarded three grants totaling $2.16 million by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

All three grants are augmented by North Dakota state match funding totaling close to $1 million.

“This is terrific news for us,” said Santhosh Seelan, professor and chair of Space Studies and director of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium and the NASA ESPCoR program. Both of these programs got funding under one of the three recently announced grants; Space Faculty member Pablo de Leon, director of the UND Human Spaceflight Laboratory, also got funded.

The grants break down as follows:

*Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)

$750,000 over three years for the Multi-Purpose Research Station in North Dakota in support of NASA’s future human missions to Mars 2015-2018. This grant is for research and infrastructure related to the UND Inflatable Mars Lunar Habitat.

“This will help Pablo expand his habitat with more modules,” Seelan said. “He had to put in a proposal in a very competitive environment. He’ll now be able to hire more students and this project involves lots of people across campus and at other institutions. Pablo also has many collaborators at NASA.”

“I think we should be very proud that, for second time, NASA puts their confidence in us for this project, which will deliver solutions to the issue of human settlement beyond the Earth,” said de Leon, an Argentine aerospace engineer and expert in space suit development and planetary exploration and habitat systems.

“It’s a major accomplishment that UND is part of an elite group of universities qualified to do these kind of projects,” said de Leon, who employs students at every level of his research and development work. “Our university is alongside the MIT and the University of Maryland, as the only ones in the world who develop planetary habitats and a new generation of space suits for NASA.”

*Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR)

$375,000 in support of a proposal for expanding NASA-relevant research infrastructure and capabilities in North Dakota 2015-2018

“This means more funding going towards research,” Seelan said. “Only the state’s two research institutions are eligible for this grant, UND and NDSU, with the grant money equally divided.”

It’s also important to note that the NASA EPSCoR program gets state funding, which allows more seed, or start-up, money to go to researchers to get new projects going.

“Plus we employ graduate students,” Seelan said. “The hope is that researchers will use the seed money to start new lines of inquiry then apply for bigger grants elsewhere.”

*National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program (SPACE Grant) training grant 2015-2018

$1,030,000 to the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium 2015-2018.

“This grant is great because it helps us fund scholarships and fellowships for the summer, plus some faculty research,” Seelan said. “It also allows us to send students to conferences to present their work.”

This program — in addition to funding both graduates and undergraduates and faculty — also aims to encourage younger people into the STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“We do a lot of hands-on projects, such as our recent balloon competition — for students in middle and high school,” Seelan said. “We also funded a college-based Lunabotics competition, basically, robotic mining.

In addition to the funding announced earlier this summer, Seelan notes, Congress awards additional funding year by year.

“So we could see another $200,000 for Space Grant,” he said.

North Dakota’s tribal colleges are voting members of Space Grant.

“We’re also very fortunate to get state funding — Space Grant is a line item,” Seelan said. “It’s about reaching out to students — we want to get them young into science. The current governor and past governors, legislators, appropriations committee chairs, lawmakers are all very supportive of these efforts. And this is with cash match, which helps us provide direct funding for students, for research scholarships.”


Juan Miguel Pedraza, Writer/Editor
National Media Relations Coordinator
Public Relations Group
Division of University & Public Affairs
264 Centennial Drive Stop 7144
Grand Forks, ND 58202-7144

701.777.6571 | 701.740.1321 cell | 701.777.4616 fax

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