Space Exploration

SpaceRoom

CU in Space

Since campus researchers began sending experiments and instruments into space in the late 1940s, NASA spacecraft have launched hundreds of CU Boulder instruments as well as 20 CU Boulder scientists, faculty and alumni on 52 space missions. CU Boulder ranks in the top five U.S. universities, excluding military academies, in the number of astronaut alums and is the top NASA-funded university in the world.

CU Boulder faculty, staff and students receive about $50 million annually for space research. This allows students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and hone their skills by working on real projects used by space scientists.

The CU Heritage Center Space Exploration Gallery currently highlights:

  • CU’s 20 system-wide astronauts
  • An Aerobee rocket suspended from the ceiling, the same type that carried a CU-designed spectrometer to photograph the sun’s atmosphere in 1952
  • A miniature replica of the Jack Swigert statue on display at the U.S. Capitol. Swigert, a CU Alum, flew on Apollo 13
  • Artifacts that accompanied alumnus Ellison Onizuka aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986 and were recovered from the wreckage
  • Spacesuits and other equipment used by astronauts

Our Moon Rock

Lunar Sample 15555.844
On long-term loan from NASA,
Johnson Space Center

On display at the CU Heritage Center is lunar sample 15555.844, on long-term loan from NASA. The moon rock was collected by Apollo 15 astronauts (none of whom are affiliated with CU) on July 30, 1971 when the lunar module Falcon landed in the Hadley-Apennine region of the moon. It was cut from the largest of the rocks collected on the Apollo 15 mission.

The Heritage Center moon rock is composed of medium-grained olivine basalt, one of the most common types of rocks found on Earth. Scientists use this information to better understand the origin and history of the Earth as well as the solar system as a whole.

By analyzing moon rocks like ours, scientists have discovered that the youngest moon rocks are as old as the oldest Earth rocks, or just over 3 billion years old. We know that the surface of planet Earth is active and that the movements of the tectonic plates uplift and volcanoes work to remix and alter its composition. The surface of the moon, on the other hand, has remained basically unchanged for the last 3 billion years. Geologic evidence of the earliest events that probably affected both the Earth and the moon can now be found only on the moon.

The first lunar samples were studied in vacuum to protect them from contamination by Earth’s atmosphere. Today they are housed in nitrogen to keep them from deteriorating. The CU moon rock is encased in a special, NASA-prepared airtight case that is filled with nitrogen.

CU Astronauts

CU CONNECTION MISSIONS DATE
1. M. SCOTT CARPENTER
bio with photo
AeroEx’49,
Aero’62
HonDocHum’00
Aurora 7 5/24/62
2. JOHN L. “JACK” SWIGERT, JR.
bio with photo
MechEngr’53 Apollo 13 4/11/70
3. STUART A. ROOSA
bio with photo
Aero’60 Apollo 14 1/31/71
4. VANCE D. BRAND
bio with photo
Bus’53
Aero’60
HonDocHum’00
Apollo-Soyuz
Columbia
Challenger
Columbia
7/15/75
1/11/82
2/3/84
12/2/90
5. GEORGE D. “PINKY” NELSON
bio with photo
Post Doctoral Fellow
Astro’78
HonDocHum’00
Challenger
Columbia
Discovery
4/6/84
1/12/86
9/29/88
6.
ELLISON ONIZUKA*
bio with photo
Aero’69
MAero’69
Discovery
Challenger
1/24/85
1/28/86
7. LOREN W. ACTON
bio with photo
AstroPhD’65
HonDocHum’00
Challenger 7/29/85
8. JOHN M. “MIKE” LOUNGE
bio with photo
MAero’70
HonDocHum’00
Discovery
Discovery
Columbia
8/27/85
9/29/88
12/2/90
9. MARSHA S. IVINS
bio with photo
Aero’73 Columbia
Atlantis
Columbia
Atlantis
Atlantis
1/9/90
7/31/92
3/4/94
1/7/97
2/7/01
10. SAMUEL T. DURRANCE
bio with photo
AstroPhD’80
HonDocHum’00
Columbia
Endeavour
12/2/90
3/1/95
11. RICHARD J. HIEB
bio with photo
MAero’79
HonDocHum’00
Discovery
Endeavour
Columbia
4/28/91
5/7/92
7/23/94
12. JAMES S. VOSS
bio with photo
MAero’74
HonDocHum’00
Atlantis
Discovery
Endeavour
Atlantis
Expedition 2
11/24/91
12/2/92
9/7/95
3/19/00
3/8/01
13. RONALD SEGA 
bio with photo
ElEngr PhD’82, UCCS Discovery
Atlantis
2/11/94
3/22/96
14. JOE TANNER
bio with photo
Senior Instructor 2008-present Atlantis
Discovery
Endeavour
Atlantis
11/3/94
2/11/97
11/30/00
9/9/06
15. EDWARD T. LU
bio with photo
Post Doctoral Fellow
JILA 92
Atlantis
Atlantis
Expedition 7
5/15/97
9/8/00
4/25/03
16. KALPANA CHAWLA **
bio with photo
AeroPhD’88 Columbia
Columbia
11/19/97
1/16/03
17. TAKAO DOI
bio with photo
Post Doctoral Fellow 87-88
Associate Professor 91-95
Columbia 11/19/97
18. JOHN HERRINGTON
bio with photo
ApMath’83, UCCS Endeavour 11/23/02
19. STEVEN SWANSON
bio with photo
EngrPhys’83 Atlantis
Discovery
Expedition 39/40
6/8/07
3/15/09
3/25/14
20. KJELL LINDGREN
bio with photo
School of Medicine, Denver PhD’02 Expedition 44/45  7/22/15

* Perished in the 1986 Challenger explosion
** Perished in the 2003 Columbia disaster

For more information on NASA astronauts, visit http://www.nasa.gov/astronauts/

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