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CU researchers contribute to new moon missions as Apollo 11 anniversary nears

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jul 03, 2019

COLORADO SPRINGS — COLORADO SPRINGS - On July 20, it will have been 50 years since the world watch as astronaut Neil Armstrong took a giant leap forward for mankind. The anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing comes as NASA is preparing for a return trip and scientists at the University of Colorado are already playing a role in those future missions.

Phil Larson, assistant dean a the College of Engineering and Applied Science at CU said space research programs here actually predate NASA itself.

"If the Apollo program 50 years ago was our Wright Brothers moment, we're really at the precipice for this kind of commercial-air-travel-but-for-space moment," he said.

The university's Bioserve program routinely sends experiments to the International Space Station to test the impact life at zero gravity on a number of organic test subjects. Next year, a culture of brewer's yeast will fly aboard an Orion spacecraft as it orbits the moon so that assistant research professor Luis Zea can measure the impact of lunar radiation on the cells. As part of another Orion mission, a joint CU and Ball Aerospace infrared camera will fly land the moon as part of a robotic mission. The Lunar Compact Infrared Imaging System (L-CIRiS) has the technology to map temperatures of the shadows and boulders that dot the lunar surface in greater detail than any images to date.

"We're performing research with rodents, we're performing long duration space flight so that when we go to the moon and we go explore deep space, we'll have that research back that can back our activities," Larson explained.

All these experiments and more are critical to building the base of scientific knowledge need for a manned mission to Mars and extending civilization into space.

"We went to the moon with less technology than what's in the palm of our hands with our cellphones, and that was 50 years ago," Larson said. "So, we're now asking ourselves; how can we use today's technology, today's materials research, today's science to help us do even more."