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Expert Q & A: Florida Tech faculty experts have discuss the Artemis mission and why it matters

· 4 min. read

Artemis 1 Launch Starts New Lunar Exploration and Research


The Artemis 1 mission has hit its halfway point. The uncrewed capsule Orion is orbiting the moon in the first spaceflight of NASA’s Artemis program. Over the entire Artemis program, NASA plans to establish the first long-term lunar presence via a base camp on the moon, then will use what was learned from the moon development for a mission to send the first astronauts to Mars.


Founded as a school providing classes for the pioneering space technicians at what would become NASA, Florida Tech has been closely associated with the space program since its inception. The Artemis mission is no different, as over 25 Florida Tech alumni are working on the mission as part of the Exploration Ground Systems crew.



We spoke with Florida Tech aerospace, physics and space sciences assistant professor Paula do Vale Pereira, Ph.D., and Don Platt, Ph.D., associate professor of space systems, about the Artemis mission, what it could mean for future missions and more.


Q: What makes the Artemis rocket and mission significant?


Pereira: The Space Launch System (or SLS for short) is the rocket that is central to the Artemis mission. The SLS will be the third rocket in history to be capable of launching humans to the Moon. Previously, the American Saturn V and Soviet N1 had that capability – none of the four N1 launch attempts were successful, though. Thus, the SLS could become the second rocket to ever fly humans to the Moon.

The SLS has been under development for over a decade and one of its key technological differences from Saturn V is the focus on long-term, sustained access to the lunar surface. The SLS will power the Orion capsule to lunar orbit, where it will dock to the Lunar Gateway (currently under development). The Gateway will be a small space station orbiting the Moon and will have docking ports for the Orion capsule and different lander modules, such as SpaceX’s Starship. This coordinated infrastructure means that the SLS needs to carry only the Orion capsule and the crew, instead of having the carry the lander, command and service modules, as the Saturn V did.

Because they don’t need to bring all these other modules with them, a larger quantity of useful equipment and extra crew members can be brought along, opening doors for a longer and even more productive human presence on the Moon. The SLS rocket also has other architectures which, instead of carrying humans, can carry large amounts of cargo to the Gateway, which can then be transferred to the lunar surface. This cargo capacity will be fundamental in building the infrastructure necessary for humans to strive on the Moon.



Platt: Indeed, the SLS will be the largest launch vehicle ever flown and will put on a spectacular show on the Space Coast. This Artemis I mission will also test out the Orion capsule in deep space for an extended mission. The capability for the capsule to support human life in deep space will be demonstrated. As well, there are mannequins onboard Orion with radiation sensors in them. They will measure the radiation exposure in deep space and around the Moon to help verify how much radiation human astronauts may be exposed to. And I would add, much like the shuttle opened up Low Earth Orbit for all of humanity, Artemis will do the same for lunar exploration.


Q: What is the significance of Artemis to NASA-sponsored space exploration?


Platt: Artemis is the next major NASA human space program. It is also NASA’s first program to go back to the Moon since Apollo. It is designed to be the first in multiple efforts to expand human presence in space beyond Low Earth Orbit. It is also significant in that it has a goal to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. So, this is an inclusive program to hopefully involve all of humanity in future human space exploration and one day settlement.



Q: How can moon-orbiting mission of Artemis help future space exploration?


Platt: We need to demonstrate modern capabilities to get large spacecraft that can support human exploration to the Moon. The first step is to place them in orbit to test them out and soon to get astronauts experience in that environment as well. Much like Apollo 8 first orbited the Moon before humans landed on the Moon in Apollo 11 we are now testing and demonstrating new technology and capabilities first in lunar orbit.


Pereira: I personally think the most important development in the Artemis mission is the coordination between different providers, especially the commercial partnership with companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin. The commercial partners will provide the lander systems which will take the astronauts from the Lunar Gateway to the lunar surface, a level of dependable trust that has only recently started to be common in NASA’s history.


If you're a reporter looking to know more about this topic, let us help.


Dr. Platt is available to speak with media regarding this and related topics. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today. Contact Director of Media Communications Adam Lowenstein at adam@fit.edu to schedule an interview with Dr. do Vale Pereira.

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Don Platt, Ph.D.

Associate Professor | Director of the Spaceport Education Center

Dr. Platt's work has involved developing, testing and flying different types of avionics, communications and rocket propulsion systems.

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Expert Q & A: Florida Tech's Csaba Palotai talks about the green comet's return after 50,000 years away

Looking to the skies over the next week or so, you may see something you will not see again for 50,000 years. This occasional visitor, C/2022 E3 (ZTF), also known the “green comet,” will make its closest approach to Earth Feb. 2. We asked Csaba Palotai, aerospace, physics and space sciences associate professor, and Amelia Brumfield, graduate research assistant, about the green comet, what we can learn from it, where to look for it and more. Q: Why is this comet green? Palotai: The composition of a particular comet determines what the color is. This one has most likely diatomic carbon in it, and then that carbon comes out and interacts with the sunlight. Certain photochemical processes take place and that gives it the green color. This is not for every comet. Q: Why haven’t we seen this comet in 50,000 years? Brumfield: It has a very eccentric orbit. Our orbit, we go around the sun every year, but this comet, its orbit is on a scale of thousands and thousands of years. There's a chance that no one's ever seen it. Dr. Palotai had mentioned that it might have come by during the ice age. It might not even have passed by Earth (to be visible) at that time, if it did. So, it won't be back and if it does even come back, we're going to be long gone. It's just a cool chance to see something that maybe no one's ever seen before and might never ever get to see again. What can we learn from this comet? Palotai: This comet has an interesting orbit and then people study this orbit after the discovery of the comet. They figure it out that this is coming from a part of the solar system called the Oort Cloud (named for the Dutch astronomer who first described it, Jan Oort). This region of the solar system is not well understood because it is very far from us, so actually we haven't seen any objects in this region. It is thought that there are about, give or take, a trillion icy objects in this region. Some of them are smaller ones, some of them are bigger ones. And the only way we know about these things is that whenever comets like this come from that region. Q: When is a good time to view this comet? Palotai: In the next few days, or maybe in the next couple of weeks or so is the greatest chance to observe it. You need several factors to have a comet to be visible with a naked eye, starting with clear, dark skies. Beyond the naked eye, if you have binoculars or a smaller telescope, you should also be able to see it. Q: Where can you view this comet? Brumfield: You can still see it between the Little Dipper and the Big Dipper, and then around Jan. 30 it should be closer to the North Star, so you can look for it in that area of the sky. And the best time to view it is very late at night, so between midnight and dawn. And then the closest approach is going to be Feb. 2, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's going to be the best time to view it. If you're a reporter covering the green comet, let us help with any of your questions about this rare celestial phenomenon. Csaba Palotai is available to speak with you. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.

Csaba Palotai, Ph.D.

January 30, 2023

3 min

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Interested in the true pursuit of greatness? Take a look at what Florida Tech has to offer

If you are up for the challenge and want to begin your own relentless pursuit of greatness, let us help. The Florida Tech campus is located in the heart of Florida’s Space Coast. That means proximity to key agencies and operations, such as NASA-Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX, Embraer, L3Harris Corporation, Northrop Grumman and more. Oh, and did we mention there are miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean beaches just moments away?  Learn more about all Florida Tech has to offer. Get in touch today! Simply contact: Adam Lowenstein Director of Media Communications (321) 674-8964 adam@fit.edu

November 28, 2022

1 min

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Feeding astronauts and growing food on Mars - Take a look at what Florida Tech has to offer

Astrobiology student Hannah Blackburn is relentless about building a better future—not just for the next generation, but for all humankind. As we look to Mars in hopes of supporting human life, Hannah is developing ways to grow nutritious food on the Red Planet. As an astrobiology student, Hannah is able to take an interdisciplinary approach to her research, which is providing the building blocks for what gardening on Mars could eventually look like. Looking to know more about Florida Tech and the amazing programs like astrobiology? Let us help. Simply contact: Adam Lowenstein Director of Media Communications (321) 674-8964 adam@fit.edu

November 16, 2022

1 min

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#Expert Research: New National Science Foundation and NASA-Funded Research Investigates Martian Soil

Studies have shown crops can grow in simulated Martian regolith. But that faux material, which is similar to soil, lacks the toxic perchlorates that makes plant growth in real Red Planet regolith virtually impossible. New research involving Florida Tech is examining how to make the soil on Mars useful for farming. Andrew Palmer, co-investigator and ocean engineering and marine sciences associate professor, along with Anca Delgado, principal investigator and faculty member at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, and researchers from the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, are participating in the study, “EFRI ELiS: Bioweathering Dynamics and Ecophysiology of Microbially Catalyzed Soil Genesis of Martian Regolith.” This National Science Foundation and NASA-funded project will use microorganisms from bacteria to remove perchlorates from Martian soil simulants and produce soil organic matter containing organic carbon and inorganic nutrients. Martian regolith contains high concentrations of toxic perchlorate salts that will impede plant cultivation in soil, jeopardizing food security and potentially causing health problems for humans, including cancer. Researchers will look at different bacterial populations and how well they are able to process and break down the perchlorates, as well as what kind of materials they produce when they do. They’ll also look at different temperatures and moisture conditions, as well as in the presence or absence of oxygen. Students in the Palmer Lab will receive the simulants after this process, try to replicate it, and then test how well the perchlorate-free regolith is able to grow plants. A challenge the researchers face is how they remove the toxic salts, as well as if they can remove all of them. Palmer cautioned that the possibility that removing the perchlorates does not necessarily mean the regolith is ready for farming. “You can’t make the cure worse than the disease, so we have to be ending up with regolith on the other side that’s better than when we started,” Palmer said. “We can’t trade perchlorates for some other toxic accumulating compound. Just because we’re removing the perchlorates doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to make the regolith better for plants. We might just make it not toxic anymore. How much does it improve is really what we’re trying to figure out.” Even without perchlorates, there are significant challenges to growing crops in Martian soil. While researchers have grown plants in simulated regolith, the regolith is not good for plant growth, as in addition to a lot of salts, it has a high pH and is very fine, which means it can ‘cement’ when wet, suffocating plant roots. Being able to grow in the soil instead of using hydroponics could also provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution. “There is always the option of hydroponic growth of food crops, but with a significant distance to Mars and the lack of readily available water, we need a different kind of plan,” said ASU’s Delgado. “If there is a possibility to grow plants directly in the soil, there are benefits in terms of water utilization and resources to get supplies to Mars.” Some of the microbial solutions the team is proposing could also help with studies of soils on Earth. “The best soils for agriculture on earth, they were taken up decades ago, and so now we’re trying to farm on new land that’s not really meant for agriculture, if you think about it,” Palmer said. “So, as we think about ways to convert it into better soil, I think this research helps teach us how to do that, but it also inspires.” The research will also allow Florida Tech students to get hands-on space agriculture experience. “We’re going to be training the grad students and the undergraduates who are going to be the researchers who take on those new challenges, so I think one of our most important products are going to be the students we train,” Palmer said. “We’ll deliver Mars soil, but we also deliver, I think, a future group of researchers.” If you're a reporter looking to know more about this topic - then let us help with your coverage. Dr. Andrew Palmer is an associate professor of biological sciences at Florida Tech and a go-to expert in the field of Martian farming. Andrew is available to speak with media regarding this and related topics. Simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.

Andrew Palmer, Ph.D.

November 16, 2022

3 min

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Experts in the Media: Florida Tech astrobiologist Manasvi Lingam in Astronomy magazine on the search for life 'out there'

It's a question people have been asking since we first started looking at the stars - Are we alone out there? It's been the focus of books, movies, childhood dreams and most importantly, scientists who have spent careers searching for intelligent life in the universe. Recently, the popular publication Astronomy magazine contacted some of the leading experts and academics in America and asked that very question. Manasvi Lingam, an astrobiologist and assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics, and Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology was interviewed to add his perspective and expert opinion with the quest to answer a question people have been asking for centuries. If you're a journalist looking to know more or are covering this topic, let us help with your stories! Manasvi Lingam is an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at Florida Institute of Technology. He is an author and go-to expert for media when it comes to anything in outer space or out of this world. Simply click on Manasvi's icon now to arrange an interview today.

Manasvi Lingam, Ph.D.

October 19, 2022

1 min

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Planet 9 Doesn’t Exist, So Why Does It Matter How We Get There? Let Our Expert Explain.

Planet 9 is an oft-discussed hypothetical planet in the outer region of the solar system. A new study involving Florida Tech astrobiologist Manasvi Lingam helps illustrate how we could possibly get there. The study, “Can We Fly to Planet 9?” is from Lingam and researchers Adam Hibberd and Andreas Hein. The team discovered that using current, unmanned transportation methods, it would take 45 to 75 years to get to Planet 9, which is about 42 billion miles away from Earth. By comparison, Pluto, which is the ninth object from the Sun, is roughly three billion miles from Earth. The research and work of Lingam, Hibberd and Hein is also getting a lot of attention from websites like UniverseToday.com. The team also studied near-future transportation methods nuclear thermal propulsion and laser sails. Using nuclear thermal propulsion, it would take approximately 40 years to reach Planet 9. It would take merely six to seven years to reach Planet 9 using laser sail propulsion, which involves using light from lasers to propel the vehicle. In its research, the team used the principles of orbital mechanics, sometimes called spaceflight mechanics. They inputted the complex and nonlinear mathematical equations into a computer, and then solved those equations with some optimization constraints. “What I mean by the latter is that ideally you want to maximize or minimize some quantity as much as possible,” Lingam said. “You might say, ‘Well, I want to minimize the flight time of the spacecraft as much as possible.’ So, what we did is that we put in an optimization constraint. In this case, it happens to be minimizing the time of journey. You solve the mathematical equations for a spacecraft with this condition, and then you end up with the results.” Lingam is inspired by the trendsetting Voyager spacecraft missions of the late 1970s, and one of his goals is to gain additional information about other worlds in our solar system, in addition to Planet 9 Voyager still provides valuable information regarding the outer solar system, though by 2025 it is expected that there may no longer be sufficient power to operate its science instruments. “Any mission to Planet Nine would likewise not just provide valuable information about that hypothetical planet, but it would also yield vital information about Jupiter, because what we do in some of the trajectories is a slingshot or powered flyby around Jupiter,” Lingam said. “It could also provide valuable information about the Sun because we also do a maneuver around the Sun, so you would still be getting lots of interesting data along the journey. And the length of the journey is comparable to that of the functioning time of the Voyager spacecraft today.” If you're a reporter looking to know more - then let us help get you connected to an expert. Manasvi Lingam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences at the Florida Institute of Technology. He is an author and go-to expert for media when it comes to anything in outer space or out of this world - just recently he was featured in Astronomy.com where he was asked to answer the illusive question - Are we alone?  Manasvi is available to speak with media - simply click on his icon now to arrange an interview today.

Manasvi Lingam, Ph.D.

October 12, 2022

3 min

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