SBU space man returns for stellar SSERVI sequel

Risk is their business: But it's still safety first for NASA's intrepid space explorers, a mission that falls to Stony Brook University geologist Timothy Glotch and his fellow SSERVI scientists.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A blockbuster summer sequel will see Stony Brook University soar into space, once again.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has selected eight research teams to collaborate through the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, a national thinktank featuring dozens of scientific disciplines, all focused on the final frontier and human space exploration.

Among them: Timothy Glotch, a professor in SBU’s Department of Geosciences, and his team of more than 60 researchers and students, united on a quest to safely propel human travelers to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids and other heavenly bodies.

Glotch was originally recruited by NASA in 2013, during the SSERVI’s second competitive selection round. The program launched in 2008 (as the Lunar Science Institute) and Glotch was chosen during the second tranche, a five-year, $5.5 million score that allowed him to hire full-time graduate students for the below-decks grunt work and a handful of post-doc researchers for senior officers – “literally … the next generation of planetary scientists,” the scientist said at the time.

Their mission program – Remote, In Situ and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration, or RIS⁴E – had several primary objectives, including studying the effects of harsh extraterrestrial environments on the human body. As part of that effort, Glotch’s team worked with SBU pharmacology professors on a deep dive into medical geology, working to better understand how other-worldly dust might affect astronauts’ health.

Timothy Glotch: A gee-whiz geologist in spaaace.

Glotch and friends were also tasked with performing detailed analyses of Moon samples brought back during the Apollo missions – using Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source II – and worked to improve data communications with distant orbiters and landers.

Now, Glotch’s sky-walking SBU team has been brought back for the next exciting chapter: RISE2, one of eight distinct research teams that will comprise SSERVI over the next five years, as selected by a “peer review of 24 competitive proposals,” NASA said this week.

Essentially, the SBU crew will continue its previous work, this time zeroing in on regolith – the layer of loose, dusty deposits covering solid rock – and its chemical reactions with animal cells and tissues. The RISE2 mission will also cover new methods for confirming remote-sensing datasets through terrestrial experiments and analyses.

Regolith – specifically, how it behaves in “space environments” – will also be a main focus of the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science (CLASS) at the University of Central Florida, one of the other seven SSERVI teams selected this round.

Other teams collaborating over the next five years include Resource Exploration and Science of Our Cosmic Environment (RESOURCE), a NASA Ames Research Center effort focused on in-situ resource utilization for Moon explorers; the Institute for Modeling Plasmas, Atmospheres and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT), a University of Colorado Boulder unit measuring micron-sized dust impacts; and the Interdisciplinary Consortium for Evaluating Volatile Origins (ICE FIVE-O), a University of Hawai’i node focused on “airless” sensors, the deterioration of materials in the vacuum of space and the physical and chemical modeling of the Moon’s polar regions.

Together, the eight teams comprising the SSERVI fleet will provide critical data and promote new discoveries that will launch humanity deeper into deep space, according to Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“The discoveries these teams make will be vital to our future exploration throughout the solar system with robots and humans,” Glaze said in a statement.

Marshall Smith, the director of Human Lunar Exploration Programs in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, said the new SSERVI lineup would prove vital “as we prepare to go forward to the Moon with a new era of space exploration.”

“SSERVI continues to strengthen the collaboration between exploration and science,” Smith added.