University Relations
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Derek Sears, professor, chemistry and biochemistry
Director, Center for Space and Planetary Sciences
(501) 575-5204,
Melissa Blouin, science and research communications manager
(501) 575-5555,

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Outer space will come to earth today with the formal opening of the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and
Planetary Sciences on the University of Arkansas campus with facilities that will allow scientists to simulate conditions found on other planets and in space.
The University of Arkansas and Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. officially opened the center, today (Dec. 9). Andromeda, a planetary environmental chamber, is the centerpiece for the Arkansas-Oklahoma Center for Space and Planetary Sciences, and will allow researchers to simulate conditions on planetary bodies — which include comets, asteroids and planetary surfaces.
The Andromeda chamber was previously housed at NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., where researchers used it for comet simulations and Mars surface simulations. JPL donated the chamber to Sears’ group based on the scope and focus of the research done by its members.
The center and the chamber bring together a critical mass of researchers and state-of-the-art facilities to help facilitate robotic exploration of the solar system.
"The center will be an interface between university researchers and scientists who put together space missions," said Derek Sears, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the center.
The official launching of the center coincides with an on-site meeting of the external advisory board to the center. The board includes Carle Pieters, of Brown University; Walter Huebner, of the Southwest Research Institute; Hermann Kochan, of the German Space Agency, Ben Clark, of Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Steve Saunders, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Chris McKay of NASA Ames Research Center. The
advisory board and the researchers from Arkansas and Oklahoma will spend the day meeting to discuss projects that will utilize the Andromeda chamber.
When the researchers work with the planetary environmental chamber, they can vary the ultraviolet radiation, temperature and pressure inside the chamber and leak gases into its interior through a series of tubes to simulate conditions on different planets, comets and asteroids. Several different projects have already been planned for the chamber:
* Sears and McKeever use techniques called thermoluminescence and   optically simulated luminscence to determine the radiation histories   and chemical properties of meteorites. They plan to use Andromeda   to create miniaturized equipment that can survive Martian surface   conditions, and bring back data on sediment ages if sent to Mars.
* Tim Kral, associate professor of biological sciences, will work with   methanogens, anaerobic microorganisms found in deep sea vents and   cow guts, to see if they can survive under some of the conditions found   in a Mars-like environment.
* Wes Stites, associate professor of chemistry, plans to place biological   molecules — like nucleic acids, proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and other   molecules — in Mars soil simulant within the machine, then expose them   to Mars-like conditions of atmosphere, temperature, UV exposure and   pressure. Afterwards, he will examine the degradation products,   searching for patterns that may one day tell us if Mars historically had   life on or below its surface.
* Sears studies the composition, formation and impacts of asteroids and   comets. He plans to simulate a comet’s approach to the sun and study   what happens to the comet’s minerals during such an event. He also   plans to study the changes that take place on a planet’s surface after a   simulated comet or asteroid impact, which will be accomplished using a   giant jackhammer located under the planetary environmental chamber.   These results can be compared to meteorites and asteroid craters.
* Larry Roe, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, seeks to   create inflatable structures that one day may be used on robotic   missions to Mars. The Andromeda chamber will provide him with a test   environment for his technologies.
The U of A and OSU each have one new faculty member who will specialize in planetary and space science. The U of A has hired Pamela Jansma, a geochemist with expertise in remote sensing, and OSU has hired Deba Banerjee, a radiation physicist with expertise in environmental radiations. Glenn Mattioli, a geochemist at the University of Puerto Rico, will also work with the group.
The center has seven industrial partners, including Barringer Crater Co., Nomadics, Inc., Nextep Technologies, SpaceWorks, Inc., Hastings Chariots, Combustion Science and Engineering, Eril Research and Bioengineering Resources, Inc.
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