200 Longhorn Engineers Gather at NASA

NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) may be a sprawling institution, but in every corner you will find Longhorn engineers leading cutting-edge research. On March 31, more than 200 alumni and their guests gathered for the JSC-UT Longhorn Engineering Rendezvous to reconnect and learn what is happening at the Cockrell School of Engineering. The evening reception was hosted by Dean Greg Fenves, Aerospace Engineering Chair Philip Varghese, and Mechanical Engineering Chair Joseph Beaman, who spent the earlier part of the day on a behind-the-scenes tour of JSC.

"I drove the Lunar Electric Rover, tried my hand on the shuttle simulators, met Robonaut 2, toured the International Space Station mock-up, and everywhere I turned there were Longhorns leading and working on these projects," said Dr. Varghese. "At the reception, I ran into graduates who were once my students and are now friends."

Michael Suffredini '83 B.S.As.E., manager of the International Space Station (ISS), and Marybeth Edeen '89 B.S.Ch.E., ISS national lab manager, provided an overview of the working laboratory that orbits 240 statute miles above the Earth traveling 17,500 miles per hour. The UT leaders were impressed with the sheer magnitude of the ISS and proud of how much of it was planned and constructed with Longhorn expertise.

"Human beings have put the ISS into orbit, and if you think of what it takes to do that, it's really remarkable," Dr. Varghese said. "With a big engineering project, the technical issues are not the only part to consider. There are complex political, economic and social dimensions these engineers have to address as well."

The visit also was an opportunity to explore possibilities for closer collaboration between the Cockrell School and NASA, which has already invested more than $32.7 million in joint research projects with UT engineering faculty over the past five years and employs more than 500 alumni directly or as contractors.

"We'd like to collaborate in everything from thermal testing to materials to controls," Dr. Varghese said. "There are tremendous opportunities. We just have to find the ones that make the most sense for both parties, and will truly make an impact in exploring, discovering and understanding our world."