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Frontiers of Science Lecture - Prof. Bill Phillips


At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein changed how we think about time. Now, early in the 21st century, the measurement of time is being revolutionized by the ability to cool a gas of atoms to temperatures millions of times lower than any naturally occurring temperature in the universe.   

NASA Administrator Gets Closeup Look at Georgia Tech’s Role in Future Space Missions

Friday, August 2, 2019

With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing still fresh in everyone’s minds, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine this week came to Georgia Tech to get a status report on what the next generation of astronauts may take with them into space five years from now.

“We have to make sure we get this right, because quite frankly, if we’re going to land on the moon in 2024, we have to start now,” Bridenstine said during a July 31 tour of NASA-related research labs in the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering and the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The NASA delegation included Georgia Congressman Tom Graves; representatives for U.S. Senator David Perdue and Congressman Jody HiceMike Green, director for communications & operations and chief of staff of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate; and Robert Knotts, Georgia Tech’s director of federal relations.

“When you look at what Georgia Tech is doing with NASA, there’s a lot of not just research, but applications that Georgia Tech is developing,” Bridenstine said. He was referring to the studies underway in the REVEALS(Radiation Effects on Volatiles and Exploration of Asteroids and Lunar Surfaces) lab run by chemistry and physics professor Thomas Orlando.

REVEALS focuses on the physics and chemistry involved in how solar winds and micrometeorite impacts could help produce water – from molecular hydrogen and oxygen – for astronaut habitats on the Moon. The research also studies how the lunar regolith – the dirt, rocks, and other materials covering solid rock – could be harvested for building materials. REVEALS is also looking at the development of superdurable graphene-based composites for spacesuits, as well as how radiation detectors could be integrated into the suit materials to provide real-time readouts.

“These efforts will mitigate health risks,” Orlando said. “Bridenstine and Graves were able to see the prototype detectors, the polymers and [their] antistatic properties, as well as the novel table-top accelerator we will use to test these.  These efforts are very important to NASA's ARTEMIS program, which plans to sends humans to the Moon by 2024.”

Back to the Moon with ARTEMIS

The NASA delegation’s visit to Georgia Tech included presentations at the School of Aerospace Engineering, which showed off samples of its nanosatellites known as CubeSats. These are currently used in RANGE(Ranging and Nanosatellite Guidance Experiment) and TARGIT (Tethering and Ranging Mission of the Georgia Institute of Technology.)

A RANGE CubeSat successfully launched in December 2018, making it the first time a Georgia Tech-built satellite was placed in orbit. Georgia Tech aerospace engineering students were also involved in the July 2019 launch of Lightsail-2, a CubeSat containing a solar sail from the Planetary Society championed by noted science advocate Bill Nye.

“Georgia Tech is building some of the propulsion capabilities for some of the CubeSats that are going to be going around the Moon for ARTEMIS 1 [an unmanned flight set to launch in 2020]” Bridenstine said. “We have not been to the Moon with humans since 1972. We’re going back. The first mission will be uncrewed. It’ll be a crew-type vehicle but without crew.”

Bridenstine was impressed with what he saw. “All of those in situ resource utilization capabilities that are being developed here at Georgia Tech on behalf of NASA are amazing,” he said. Bridenstine held samples of the graphene-based materials being tested for future spacesuits and examined them while Phillip First, a professor in the School of Physics who is part of the REVEALS team, explained his research.

“When radiation goes through a material and creates some kind of defect, you detect it in most cases with luminescence in the material.” First said. “We want an electrical readout, so that you can dynamically monitor exactly the amount of radiation exposure.”

The REVEALS team, along with members of the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and the Georgia Tech Research Institute, also contribute to HOME, a new NASA-funded space research institute led by former astronaut Steve Robinson, REVEALS co-investigative lead based at the University of California, Davis. Orlando said HOME leverages Georgia Tech’s strengths in data analytics, autonomous control, sensors, and robotics.

“REVEALS is part of the Center for Space Technology and Research, which was started eight years ago with the intention of contributing significantly to future long-term efforts in space science and technology,” Orlando said. “The efforts in REVEALS and HOME have been, and will continue to be, the cornerstone of Georgia Tech’s efforts in human flight and human exploration of destinations such as the Moon and Mars.”

The student-led difference

At the REVEALS portion of the tour, Orlando told Bridenstine that the research had attracted more students to the Institute. “They would not have come to Georgia Tech unless we had this program,” he said. “Georgia Tech already has a very strong program, but this has been a real magnet for bringing in people who are interested in space exploration.”

Some of Orlando’s students participated in the presentations, and that also impressed Bridenstine.

“The best thing about all of this is that Georgia Tech is embedding its students into these projects,” he said. “NASA turns to Georgia Tech is do these projects, but the most valuable thing is that the students are getting hands-on exposure to these capabilities. They’re not just learning chemistry, calculus, physics, and all of the mathematics that are necessary. They’re also applying that in real time to very real projects that are critically important to NASA, so that when they graduate, ultimately they’re ready to go to work.

“We’re thrilled with the partnership – the relationship between NASA and Georgia Tech – and we’re looking forward to it continuing for a long time.”

Content Images: 

Jim Bridenstine surveys College of Sciences research on space suits, habitats.


Apollo 11: One Giant Leap for Scientific Discovery

Friday, July 19, 2019

For those who were around at the time, it was history forever burned into their memories, with the roar from a rocket as tall as a skyscraper and 11 scratchy-sounding words uttered from the surface of the Moon.

For those people, as well as those born after July 20, 1969, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing is a chance to loudly celebrate the advances in science and technology created by the space program.

“The money was well spent, and we should do it again,” says Bob McDonald, a Georgia Tech alumnus who, as a young engineer for a NASA contractor, worked on the engines in that Saturn V rocket that lifted astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins into space on July 16,1969.

Armstrong and Aldrin piloted their lunar lander to the Moon’s surface on July 20, 1969. Later that day, Armstrong became the first man on the Moon. As he stepped off the lander, he told an estimated TV audience of a half-billion, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Those memories will flood back on Saturday, July 20, 50 years to the day since that moment in history. We asked some Georgia Tech College of Sciences researchers – and an alumnus with a special connection to that day – their thoughts on how Apollo 11 and the space program impacted the cause of science and technology in the U.S.

Bob McDonald

He’s 83 years old and enrolled in the Online Master of Science in Analytics program, making him Georgia Tech’s oldest graduate student, according to Georgia Tech Professional Education. This will be his fourth degree from Tech. He already has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering (’57) and a Masters (’61) and Ph.D. (’66) in Nuclear Engineering. McDonald had a unique front-row seat for the Apollo program.

 “I was a brand new engineer working for Rocketdyne, who had a contract to manufacture the J2 engines for the Saturn rocket.  There were five J2s on the Saturn second stage to get into Earth orbit.  A single J2 powered the third stage to the Moon and back. 

“The J2 was a new, liquid hydrogen- and liquid oxygen-fueled engine. To prevent the rocket exhaust from melting the engine, liquid hydrogen was pumped through small tubes down to the end of the engine bell, then back up to the combustion chamber for burning.  My job was to do the heat transfer and flow calculations for the hydrogen in those tubes to make sure temperatures would be within design limits. This was prior to engine testing when the temperatures could be measured directly. When the engine was tested and performed correctly, my job was finished.

“One interesting thing about the [Apollo] project was that we already knew all the science and math needed for success. We knew where the Moon was, how far we had to travel, how long it would take, and how much energy was required.  What we did not have was any of the hardware, the machinery, or equipment necessary to make the trip.  Developing, testing, and learning to use the necessary equipment was a job for the engineers.  Engineering and science are like one pair of gloves, and both benefitted. At the end of the project the United States was stronger, more prosperous, and wiser than when it began. The money was well spent, and we should do it again.”

"The money was well spent, and we should do it again."

Jennifer Glass

An associate professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Glass was a NASA Astrobiology Postdoctoral Fellow at the California Institute of Technology from 2011 to 2013. Her research area is biogeochemistry.

“The Moon gives the Earth tides and stabilizes our climate by preventing the planet’s tilt from changing more than a few degrees. But until the Apollo program, we didn’t know exactly how old the Moon was or what it was made of. A major achievement of the Apollo program was reconstruction of the timeline of the Moon's formation. These data came from measurements of the isotopic composition of rock samples that Apollo 11 astronauts collected on the Moon 50 years ago this month. One of these scientists was my academic grandfather (my Ph.D. advisor’s Ph.D. advisor), the late Gerald Wasserburg, who ran a lab at Caltech called the ‘Lunatic Asylum’. 

“Perhaps the most important emblem of the Apollo program was the iconic photo of Earth rising over the lunar horizon, captured by Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. The Earthrise photo profoundly changed human consciousness. That image made people realize how special our own planet is – a pale blue dot against the vastness of space. It ushered in the environmental awareness of the 1970s.”

Rafael de la Llave

A professor in the School of Mathematics, de la Llave researches dynamical systems, including the study of orbits. In 2015, de la Llave and two other scientists received a $100,000 NASA grant to research how math could help make space travel less costly and more efficient.

“When the Moon landing happened, I was a kid in Spain. Like everybody else in the world, I was deeply moved and full of admiration.

"The Moon landing changed the vision we had of our planet and of our species. It was technology impacting on religion and philosophy, not just on everyday life, from GPS, and mobile cameras to wireless technology.

The Moon landing also changed politics; it showed that big democratic and united organizations, where ideas percolate up and down, are more efficient than rigid ones. It was an accomplishment that made the whole world reflect.”

"The Moon landing...showed that democratic and united organizations, where ideas percolate up and down, are more efficient than rigid ones."

John Wise

Wise is the Dunn Family Associate Professor in the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics in the School of Physics. Wise uses supercomputers to create simulations of the Big Bang, along with the birth of stars and the lifespan of black holes.

“The Apollo program accelerated rocket technology and space science for years to come, not only in the U.S. but around the globe. The feats achieved by the whole team inspired a generation of young people into STEM fields, fascinated by the depths of space. The advancements in rockets led to many space telescopes and planetary probes in decades to come.

“The discoveries by NASA telescopes and probes partly motivated me to pursue astrophysics as a career. As an 80's kid, I lingered over pictures of the gas giant planets sent back by the Voyager spacecraft.

“A decade later, the Hubble Space Telescope gave us images of galaxies across the universe. Many other scientists have told me that they had similar formative memories of NASA missions. Without the Apollo program pushing the limits of humankind, these space science missions might have not been possible in the 20th century.”

Media Contact: 

Renay San Miguel
Communications Officer
Georgia Tech College of Sciences



July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. A group of Georgia Tech scientists, joined by an alumnus who helped build rockets for the mission, share their thoughts on how the Moon landing helped the cause of science in the U.S.


July 20, 2019, is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. A group of Georgia Tech scientists, joined by an alumnus who helped build rockets for the mission, share their thoughts on how the Moon landing helped the cause of science in the U.S.



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