Former NASA astronaut and University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) distinguished alumnus John "Danny" Olivas, Ph.D., has joined UTEP as Director of the Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR) and will oversee space initiatives on campus.
CASSMAR will serve as a cross-functional, multidisciplinary center focused on risk reduction research to make commercial human spaceflight safe and successful. Research will primarily focus on materials behavior issues that have been observed in specimens of the Space Shuttle Columbia. However, CASSMAR will involve disciplines from across campus, including the colleges of Engineering, Science, and Business Administration.
"The U.S. is at the dawn of a new era of space exploration, so I am thrilled about this development," Olivas said. "UTEP has the right people, and the right facilities and capabilities to do this work. Plus, it sits in close proximity to nearby spaceports. It just makes sense to have CASSMAR here."
CASSMAR's Executive Council is a diverse team of UTEP experts: Ann Gates, Ph.D., from computer science and director of UTEP's Cyber-ShARE Center of Excellence; Steve Stafford, Ph.D., from the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering; and Aaron Velasco, Ph.D., from the Department of Geological Sciences.
The Executive Council has ties to multiple research centers housed at UTEP and will work synergistically with CASSMAR. Cyber-ShARE is a state-of-the-art computer science center that can support CASSMAR's needs in knowledge, data sharing and integration. The Future Aerospace Science and Technology (FAST) Center will be a magnet for aerospace science and technology research by linking academic and entrepreneurial opportunities to NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy.
CASSMAR will also partner with the NASA-affiliated Center for Space Exploration Technology Research (cSETR), which conducts innovative research in propulsion and energy engineering. Key projects in cSETR include studying liquid methane as a form of green fuel to power future space shuttles and the construction of bricks using moon dust to create structures on the moon. Also, the NASA Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) and Aerospace Education Lab (AEL) will work with CASSMAR to enhance access and opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics for K-12 students.
"Dr. Olivas is an outstanding role model for students on our campus and in schools across this region, and we look forward to working with him to enhance UTEP's growing national reputation for innovative research and leadership in graduate and undergraduate education," said UTEP President Diana Natalicio.