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NASA Turns to UCF for Next Step in Space Exploration

November 4, 2013 - 6:00pm

On Tuesday, NASA announced the launch of nine research teams across the nation to lead the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to study the moon, asteroids and Phobos and Deimos, the two moons orbiting Mars.

While SSERVI will be based in California, the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS) will be led by Daniel Britt, a physics professor from the University of Central Florida (UCF). The SSERVI teams will last for five years and are expected to cost NASA around $12 million a year.

"We look forward to collaborative scientific discoveries from these teams," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, on Tuesday. "These results will be vital to NASA successfully conducting the ambitious activities of exploring the solar system with robots and humans."

Britt was awarded a $6 million grant to base CLASS at UCF as NASA plans explorations to asteroids and other near-Earth missions. With a background in geology and physics, Britt led the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. Every Mars Rover has equipment designed by Britt onboard.

On Tuesday, Britt said the launch of CLASS would help put UCF in the vanguard of space exploration.

This makes UCF a leader in the area of solar system exploration, Britt said. The center will bring together a group of world-class researchers to create a one-stop shop of scientific expertise, supporting NASAs exploration goals. CLASS makes Central Florida integral to NASAs exploration future.

There will be 15 researchers based at UCF, Kennedy Space Center and other locations as CLASS takes off. Britt said the Sunshine State would reap the benefits as space exploration continues to evolve.

CLASS diversifies the science and exploration-industry in Florida, Britt added. This center, this kind of impact thats why you have state universities. UCF can and should be an engine of knowledge-based growth in Florida. Were contributing to science, impacting the economy, and making sure Florida stays a leader in the space game."

Britt will lead the center, which also involves 15 lead researchers from UCF, Kennedy Space Center and other institutes.

Ray Lugo, a UCF grad who heads up the Florida Space Institute (FSI) at his alma mater, insisted this was a big win for the university.

NASA recognizes our space science achievements and the leadership potential of UCF and FSI for their exploration programs, Lugo said.

Frank DiBello, the president and CEO of Space Florida, agreed. This is a significant win for Florida and UCF, said DiBello. It is a major step in the continuing diversification and growth of space exploration research in Florida universities.

Other institutions honored by NASA with SSERVI grants are: Southwest Research Institute and the University of Colorado, both of which are based in Boulder, Colorado; Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center, which are both in Maryland; Stony Brook University in New York; NASAs Ames Research Center in California; the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, and Brown University in Rhode Island.

"We are extremely pleased that the community responded with such high-quality proposals, and look forward to the many contributions SSERVI will make in addressing NASAs science and exploration goals," said Yvonne Pendleton, the director of SSERVI.

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