UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Researchers from 14 schools around the country were chosen by NASA to help them get back to the moon. Three professors from UI are on that list.
Aerospace Engineering Professor Laura Villafañe focuses most of her studies on fluid dynamics, which is exactly what NASA was looking for.
“It feels exciting, it feels a lot of pressure,” says Villafañe. “It feels really good.”
Her project will be centered on how a spacecraft lands on foreign surfaces. The jets of a ship can kick up a lot of dust and debris, which can be harmful to it’s instruments. She and her team will research how to prevent that.
The Artemis Project is set to put people back on the moon by 2024 and then move on to Mars from there. Villfañe and her team will play an important part in the process.
“We are not going to solve all the problems in here of how to land, how to operate on Mars or on the Moon or another planet,” says Villafañe. “This is just a small piece of the puzzle to try to understand and be able to better predict all those things.”
She is joined in the research by Joshua Rovey and Greg Elliott. Their goal is to combat the particle dust up landings.
“In reality, you are landing blind,” says Villafañe. “You end up landing in a position that is very dangerous for your mission and you don’t know anything until the end. Again sensors can stop working, particles can damage the mission.”
Villafañe says she was surprised by the selection. She has always been interested in flight, and the project is the realization of a lifelong goal.
“It has been one of my dreams since I was a kid to be part, participate, and contribute to something related to NASA and human exploration,” says Villafañe.
A selection by NASA comes with a grant of $550,000. Their plan is to begin research in the new year. One experiment in particular involves a jet engine and the school’s vacuum chamber.