University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

NASA scientist to conclude UND Space Studies spring colloquium series

Space Studies concludes its spring 2010 colloquium series, which focuses on the general theme Human Missions to Mars, with a presentation by Wendell Mendell from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Johnson Space Center. The presentation—the seventh and last in this series—is titled “What the Heck Is Going On at NASA.”

The spring 2010 colloquium series focuses on the general theme “Human Missions to Mars” and has featured several leading experts in the field, both from within UND and other organizations. Mendell’s presentation is at 4 p.m., Monday, May 10, in Ryan Hall 11.

On February 1, President Barack Obama release the fiscal year 2011 federal budge. Unlike most federal agencies, NASA got an increase, but lost the Constellation Program. Instead, NASA is expected to look to private sector providers to transport cargo and, eventually, crew members to the International Space Station. The Constellation Program had included a human return to the Moon by the year 2020, and the program plans called for a permanent surface facility capable of supporting human explorers.

In the FY2011 announcement, the lunar objective was replaced by a concept called “flexible path” that was advertised to open possibilities of other types of human missions beyond low-Earth orbit. The new policy proposal polarized the U.S. space community; it’s been described by one side the end of human space exploration and by the other as the only hope for such endeavors.

Some members of Congress have threatened legal action based on the current law regarding appropriation of funds to NASA, which states that Constellation cannot be cancelled without prior consultation with Congress.

As might be expected, some of the reaction is directly related to losses or gains of jobs in districts associated with NASA facilities. Many details of the new policy are not yet clear; and some aspects seem to be shifting in response to political reaction.

The final direction for NASA will not be known until the FY2011 budget has been passed by Congress and signed by the President.

Mendell will draw upon his 28 years’ of studying, writing, and speaking on the topic of future human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit to discuss the various issues at stake and the historical context for the debate.

“My own work has had a central theme of lunar exploration and development,” Mendell said. “But I have also come to believe that human exploration will never be more than a political sideshow until a significant economic sector can be created in space off of the Earth.”

Wendell Mendell is a planetary scientist serving as assistant administrator for exploration in the Directorate for Astromaterials Research & Exploration Science of the NASA Johnson Space Center, where he has been employed since 1963.

Mendell has a bachelor’s of science in physics from the California Institute of Technology; a master’s of science in physics from the University of California-Los Angeles; and a master’s of science in space science and a Ph.D. in space physics and astronomy from Rice University.

His scientific research focus is remote sensing of planetary surfaces, particularly specializing in thermal emission radiometry and spectroscopy of the Moon. Since 1982, his activities in NASA have focused on planning and advocacy of human exploration of the solar system, especially on the establishment of a permanent human base on the Moon.

He is best known as the editor of the volume “Lunar Bases and Space Activities of the 21st Century.” Mendell received the 1988 Space Pioneer Award for Science and Engineering from the National Space Society for this work.

For a more detailed look at Mendell’s background, see this NASA page or this UND Space Studies page Presentations in this series are archived at

-- Santhosh Seelan, professor, Space Studies, 777-2355,

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