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Danny Olivas Inspires Future Generations

Danny Olivas
Danny Olivas
Astronaut and UTEP alumnus Danny Olivas’ future was written in the sky when he was 7 years old and Apollo 17, the final lunar landing mission of the Apollo program, had launched into space. It was Apollo’s final journey in 1972 that inspired Olivas’ own travels into space more than 30 years later.

Though Olivas could never be part of the Apollo program, he knew that through hard work, perseverance and a vast imagination, he could still be part of the future of space exploration. This was the advice that Olivas shared with future engineers, scientists and researchers when he spoke at the opening of UTEP’s new Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR) on Feb. 3.

“Space is a white canvas by which engineers, scientists, researchers and people who are passionate about space exploration began to build that picture,” Olivas said before an audience at the UTEP College of Engineering. “It’s up to the future generations of researchers, engineers and scientists who will define what space will look like five to 30 years from now. We’re really only limited by our own imaginations.”

UTEP was recently awarded a five-year, $5 million grant by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to establish multi-disciplinary engineering and scientific research that will contribute to NASA programs.

The UTEP Center for Space Exploration Technology Research will work closely with other NASA research facilities, including the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, N.M. Research will include advanced capabilities in environmentally friendly propulsion technologies and the use of natural resources on other planets and the moon to create spacecraft fuel and other materials. UTEP faculty from the College of Engineering and the Department of Geological Sciences will collaborate on the research.

UTEP was one of six minority universities selected from 35 applicants for this grant.

“It is an exciting time when NASA is going through a lot of transformation,” said Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate professor of mechanical engineering and center director. “As a University, we will be developing technologies and the next generation of engineers and astronauts who will move this country to the next century.”

During the ceremony, Olivas presented an STS-128 flag and patch, which will be displayed at the new center. Both traveled to space on his final space shuttle mission, STS-128, in August 2009. Olivas’ first mission into space was in 2007.

The grant comes via the NASA Group 5 University Research Center program, which fosters new aerospace science and technology concepts with a goal of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities who receive degrees in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.