UT Scientists Help NASA Explore Space (375)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — University of Tennessee scientists are helping NASA find water on the moon, send humans to Mars and prevent interplanetary microbes from contaminating Earth.

Dr. Hap McSween, Dr. Larry Taylor and Dr. David White have been named to separate teams to help the space agency study other worlds.

McSween, a UT-Knoxville geology professor, has been appointed to the National Research Council’s newly formed Committee on Human Exploration of Space. The eight-member group, chaired by former astronaut Norman Thagard, is set to meet Nov. 16 to discuss the roles of human astronauts versus robots in future space exploration. It also will look at how the International Space Station can serve as a testbed for human missions into space.

McSween said he is particularly interested in examining how missions to near-earth asteroids might serve as “stepping stones” to more technically challenging Mars missions.

Dr. Larry Taylor, also a UT-Knoxville geology professor, is set to meet with a group of scientists Sept. 18-20 at Johnson Space Center in Houston to discuss recent findings from NASA’s Lunar Prospector spacecraft now orbiting the moon. Keynote speaker for the workshop titled “New Views of the Moon” is Alan Binder, chief scientist for Prospector.

NASA announced recently that Prospector had found evidence of up to 10 billion tons of water frozen near the lunar poles. That’s 10 times more water than previously estimated, and it could be used to build a moon station or fuel rocket ships cruising into deep space, Taylor said.

Taylor is chairing a workshop session on reading and interpreting Prospector data on lunar soil, rocks and water.

Taylor said the frozen deposits are located in craters that never see sunlight. Overcoming frigid temperatures of minus 250 degrees Fahrenheit will be a major obstacle to establishing a lunar colony, he said.

Last month, Dr. David White, a UT-Knoxville microbiologist, was named a visiting scientist with NASA’s Planetary Protection Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

White, a UT-Knoxville-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distinguished Scientist, will work to prevent samples returned from Mars from contaminating Earth.

White also will develop methods to prevent microbes on Earth spacecraft from contaminating Martian soil and rock samples.

NASA’s next Mars landing is planned for December 1999. The space agency plans to bring Martian soil and rock samples to Earth in 2008, White said.

Contact: Dr. Hap McSween (423-974-9805), Dr. Larry Taylor (423-974-6013), Dr. David White (423-974-8030)