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Space Act Agreement

A new agreement will allow NASA ’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to work with faculty and students in The Texas A&M University System. “NASA employs its share of A&M System alumni and we have many former astronauts teaching on our campuses,” Chancellor John Sharp said. “So, I think it is fair to say that the Texas A&M System is in a strong position to make a difference in space research and exploration.” Students in A&M System schools will gain experience with NASA experts. Faculty will participate in NASA research-and-technology initiatives and technology-transfer programs. They also will receive access to NASA facilities and laboratories. The Texas A&M University System


Wow Factor

When NASA released the first full-color images from its James Webb Space Telescope in mid-July, Texas A&M University astronomer professor Casey Papovich was among the first to study them. “In a word, wow,” Papovich said. “The structure and details you can see in that galaxy image alone is amazing. Hubble does not have the resolution to recognize individual star clusters in galaxies, but here, if you look closely, you can see and count the number of star clusters. I didn’t expect to see that.” NASA reported the $10 billion space telescope is at full power and ready to peer more than 13.5 billion years in the past to capture images of the universe’s first stars and galaxies. College of Arts & Sciences

Happy Landings

Decades after humans walked on the moon, three issues continue to threaten future space landings: excessive dust, unnecessary landing damage and untold danger. “Five of the six Apollo landings had issues with dust blocking the astronauts’ view of the surface, forcing them to guess at the final landing location and sometimes landing on slopes dangerously close to the maximum tolerance,” says Sarbajit Banerjee, professor in the College of Science. The chemist and his team, which includes researchers from the colleges of engineering and architecture, are working on a potential solution: building landing pads on site with materials made from lunar or planetary soils. The project has received funding from National Aeronautics and Space Administration. College of Arts & Sciences

Image: Adobe Stock, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

Origami in Orbit

Space vehicles will need to pack more cargo to take journeys that take more time and cover greater distances. However, dish antennas pose a challenge. They cannot be densely packed for flight because of their shape. To solve the problem, A&M researchers are using the principles of origami to create a parabolic structure from a flat surface using a shape-memory polymer. “Initially, we were largely focused on self-folding origami structures: How would you make them, how would you design them into different shapes, what material would you use?” says Darren Hartl, associate professor in the College of Engineering. To facilitate paper-like folding at the creases, the researchers turned to flexible shape-memory composites that change their shape when heated. The National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research are funding the project. College of Engineering

Image: Andrey Armyagov /, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

Dress for Success

There’s more to astronauts’ activities once on the moon than just walking. They must bend, kneel, grasp, lift and carry—and do it all safely in an extreme environment. However, the current design of spacesuits forces astronauts to waste energy just moving from place to place. “Any sort of savings you can have on that energy would be very helpful,” says Logan Kluis, graduate student in the College of Engineering. Toward that end, aerospace engineers at Texas A&M are developing the Smart Suit, which will use “soft robotics” to assist movement and thus reduce metabolic waste by 15%. The research team presented its work at the 50th International Conference on Environmental Systems. College of Engineering

Image: Dotted Yeti /, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

In Case of Emergency

SpaceX’s historic two-man mission to the International Space Station—the first of its kind on a commercially developed aircraft—led to NASA’s first water landing in 45 years. What was done to prevent a catastrophe? Long before liftoff, a team from NASA worked out the design of a life raft to protect the crew in an emergency. The team tested its prototypes at the Offshore Technology Research Center (OTRC), located in Texas A&M’s Research Park. The OTRC wave basin can produce large-scale simulations of wind, waves and currents on fixed, floating and moored structures. NASA provided all equipment and test protocols for the project. College of Engineering

Image: Texas A&M Engineering, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

Altered States

Astronauts launched into space are exposed to a range of gravitational forces. Little is known about how the human body reacts to these altered gravitational environments. A new study will examine the effects on an astronaut’s coordination as well as the health of the eyes, the heart and the circulatory system. “We will run a set of experiments using devices here on Earth to understand gravitational effects on human performance, and then extrapolate what would happen in space and on other planetary surfaces,” says Ana Diaz Artiles, assistant professor in the College of Engineering. Funding comes from NASA’s Human Research Program. College of Engineering

Image: NASA images, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications

Burning Issue

By studying a process that takes place inside stars, nuclear scientists now believe neutrons play a much smaller role in creating carbon—the building block of life—than previously understood. A multi-institution team led by Texas A&M discovered that the rate at which stars burn helium to form carbon is less sensitive to any neutrons in the stars. Scientists had believed neutrons, subatomic particles that lack an electric charge, accelerated this process. “Understanding the way that stars burn is extremely important in understanding the life and death of stars, as well as where the elements that make up our universe originate from and in what quantity,” says Jack Bishop, postdoctoral research associate at the College of Science. The team published its results in Nature Communications. College of Arts & Sciences

Image: Mode-list /, Animation: Ryan Farrell, Research Communications