UNH welcomed NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to campus for a visit June 27, shining a spotlight on UNH’s leading heliophysics program and the continued strength of a partnership between the university and NASA that began more than 60 years ago.
Nelson and Shaheen visited UNH’s Space Science Center and met with university representatives to learn more about UNH’s status as a premier heliophysics research institution (heliophysics is the study of the sun and its impacts on space weather and the Earth). That standing includes being chosen to lead the groundbreaking HelioSwarm mission that drew mention from President Joe Biden in a statement from the White House earlier this month and having instruments on 16 of 22 operating heliophysics missions.
Nelson and Shaheen also toured the UNH Space Science Center Assembly Area and stopped at the experimental space physics lab and anechoic chamber – a room designed to absorb all sound, radio waves, and electromagnetic radiation so space scientists can focus solely on the radio frequency emission of the equipment they are testing – before concluding the visit with a brief roundtable discussion with UNH faculty.
It was the second visit in four years by NASA Administrators, following an appearance by Jim Bridenstine in 2019.
“I’m so glad Administrator Nelson could visit UNH to see the talent and exceptionalism of students and faculty up close who are helping to develop the equipment necessary to further our understanding of the sun and how it engages with earth and the solar system,” Shaheen says. “New Hampshire is a small state, but we punch above our weight when it comes to the impact we have on the nation and world. I can’t think of a better way to showcase that than with the innovation underway in Durham to bridge the next frontier – space.”
UNH has indeed played a critical role helping New Hampshire achieve outsized success in the aerospace area. On a per capita basis, New Hampshire ranks seventh in the nation for state and local tax receipt, fifth in the nation for value added and fourth in the nation for percentage of population employed by the aerospace and defense industry – which employs 1.79% of the total New Hampshire population and more than 1% of the entire national workforce.
“NASA’s commercial and academic partnerships in New Hampshire demonstrate the power of investing in America and American innovation. Our collaboration creates good-paying jobs and puts the state at the forefront in science, technology, and research,” Nelson says. “New Hampshire’s work with NASA is preparing the Artemis Generation to both protect our planet and propel humanity back to the Moon and then onward to Mars.”
UNH is also the beneficiary of $501,000 in earmarked federal funding to support the Space Weather Underground program, which is part of UNH’s Space Science Center and helps build student interest in space research through hands-on experience. The program is expanding actively throughout New Hampshire and is bringing more STEM-engagement opportunities to Granite State high schools.
“We are so proud of the work being done at UNH’s Space Science Center and always welcome the chance to share the interdisciplinary research that is in our DNA with Administrator Nelson and Senator Shaheen,” said Harlan Spence, director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space and the lead for NASA’s HelioSwarm mission. “We take great pride in our continued partnership with NASA and the leadership role UNH has assumed in exploring space, especially in discoveries around the solar wind, radiation and how to safely send astronauts to the moon and beyond.”
UNH’s partnership with NASA has deep roots indeed. UNH instrumentation has been present on more than 55 sounding rocket launches since 1964, and the university has received several significant contract awards from NASA, including a highly competitive $107.9 million award through the Earth Venture program in 2019. When NASA selected UNH to lead the $250 million HelioSwarm mission, it signified the largest NASA contract in UNH’s history.