George Low '48 helped to form the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 and eventually became the NASA Chief of Manned Space Flight. He chaired the committee that urged President John F. Kennedy to pledge in 1961 that the United States would reach the moon before the decade was over. In 1967, following a fire that killed three Apollo astronauts during a mock countdown, Low was put in charge of revitalizing the Manned Space Program. He was on hand in mission control to witness the successful landing on the moon of Apollo 11 (top photo). Low was the driving force behind the shuttle program, which began in 1971. He left NASA to become president of Rensselaer in 1976. Further information is available on George Low in the collection of his papers in the Folsom Library.
In March 1996, NASA set up a room at Rensselaer where students controlled Isothermal Dendritic Growth Experiments (IDGE) for several days aboard the shuttle. In November 1997 the remote operation was extended to the entire flight. The study was under the supervision of former Rensselaer Professor Martin Glicksman '57.
John “Jack” Swigert '65 earned a master’s degree in aerospace science from Rensselaer’s Hartford campus in 1965 and in 1966 was selected by NASA in its fifth astronaut class. Assigned to the backup crew of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon, he replaced the prime command pilot just days before take-off. Swigert, Jim Lovell, and Fred Haise were forced to abort the mission when an oxygen tank exploded; they converted their lunar module into a lifeboat, conserving enough power to assure their survival in the harrowing journey back to Earth. For more information see the Alumni Hall of Fame.
Rick Mastracchio ’87 was a crew member on three successful space flights since 2000. On the STS-131 mission to the International Space Station aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, he conducted three spacewalks. As a member of the Discovery crew, Mastracchio worked as a mission specialist, ascent/entry flight engineer, and primary robotic arm operator. More information on his accomplishments are is found in Inside Rensselaer and the Rensselaer Alumni Magazine
Kobie Boykins ’96 and Fred Serricchio ’94 and other Rensselaer graduates worked on the team that built the rovers for the 2004 Mars Exploration Rover mission, which landed two mobile robots Spirit and Opportunity on opposite sides of Mars for a three-month mission to collect geological clues from the red planet. For more on the Mars Rover Mission, go to the Rensselaer Alumni Magazine.
Based within the School of Science at Rensselaer, the New York Center for Astrobiology is devoted to investigating the origins of life on Earth and the conditions that lead to formation of habitable planets in our own and other solar systems. Supported by NASA, the Center is a member of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI), and is a partnership between Rensselaer and the University at Albany, Syracuse University, the University of Arizona, and the University of North Dakota.
Novel nanomaterials developed at Rensselaer were sent into orbit on November 16, 2009, aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. Rensselaer professors Linda Schadler, of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Thierry Blanchet, of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, worked with a team of researchers from the University of Florida to develop two different types of experimental nanomaterials. The MURI project and the University of Florida research team are led by Rensselaer alumnus W. Greg Sawyer ’99, who earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Rensselaer and is now the N. C. Ebaugh Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of Florida. Blanchet was Sawyer’s doctoral adviser. News Release
Rensselaer student Nathaniel Quillin. a sophomore dual majoring in computer science and computer and systems engineering, spent two semesters and two summers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) outside Houston. He is a member of the research team that developed the first human-like robot to be sent to space. The robot, called Robonaut 2, or R2, was launched aboard Discovery in February 2011 and became a permanent resident of the International Space Station (ISS). News Release
Cynthia Collins, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, led a series of experiments called Micro-2A that was aboard the shuttle during its 12-day mission that began on July 8, 2011. Partnering with Collins on the project were nanobiotechnology expert Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer and director of the Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies, and thin films expert Joel Plawsky, professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. The research sought to understand how microgravity changes the way potentially dangerous bacteria grows specifically how these bacteria form difficult-to-kill colonies called biofilms. News Release
**Note: This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. More information and exhibits may be found at the Rensselaer Troy Campus in the George M. Low Gallery on the fourth floor of the George M. Low '48 Center for Industrial Innovation, the School of Engineering Timeline on the third floor of the Jonsson Engineering Center, and the Archives in the Folsom Library, as well as in the extensive NASA manned-space historical records.