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Purdue professor part of NASA's virtual institute

NASA is combining nine new research teams into the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). The goal is to focus on questions concerning space science and human space exploration.

Dr. Barrett Caldwell with Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering is on one of the teams. He says the “Field Investigations” group will visit places in North America to figure out how to explore the moon, asteroids and Mars. Those locations include Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho and impact craters in Quebec.

“We’re still trying to figure out which of these projects we can do, given that we have had a fairly significant budget reduction that came with the award.”

Caldwell says the information they gather will be used to guide exploration of similar features in space, specifically, on the moon, near-Earth asteroids, and the Martian moons of Phobos and Deimos.

“We’re asking – how do we get robots to come and do good science, how do we get humans to come and do good science, how do we get robots and humans to work together to do better science than either group can do by themselves,” he says.

Caldwell knows the technology exists to return to the moon, but says the dusty surface would damage space-crafts and equipment during prolonged stays. Humans exploring Mars pose another range of challenges, he adds, including the seven to nine months of travel-time just to get there.

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