UT Makes Plans to Push Deeper Into Space Research

Over his 50-plus-year career, UT Center for Space Research director Byron Tapley, BS ’56, MS ’58, PhD ’60, Life Member, has guided hundreds of students on their way to careers related to space.

More than 150 UT graduates now work at NASA’s elite Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles, making UT second only to MIT in the number of JPL employees it provides from outside California.

Tapley and his UT faculty counterparts have long worked closely with JPL. But on Tuesday, the two entities made their link official, signing an agreement for UT to become part of JPL’s Strategic University Research Partnerships program. Only 12 universities have such partnerships. JPL director Charles Elachi and UT vice president for research Juan Sanchez joined in signing the agreement.

After remembering how he joined UT’s faculty as the space program was ramping up, and how he has worked with JPL in the years since, an enthusiastic Tapley said, “I think the potential there is quite large.”

The agreement has no immediate financial strings attached, but it will allow UT and JPL to apply together for future research grants and project funding. It also will encourage more UT students to come learn at JPL, and more faculty and researchers to be exchanged between Texas and California.

Federally funded through NASA, JPL is a research and development center managed by the California Institute of Technology. The laboratory’s recent projects include the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mission managed by Michael Watkins, BS ’83, MS ’85, PhD ’90, Life Member.

Read more about Watkins and the Longhorns who took us to Mars in an upcoming edition of The Alcalde.

JPL engineer Ravi Prakash, BS ’03, of the Mars Curiosity Mission. Photo courtesy the Cockrell School of Engineering.


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