University of North Dakota Faculty/Staff Newsletter

Space Studies earns NASA-Johnson Space Center appreciation award

Award recognizes the department's contributions to space research, scholarship, teaching, and public service

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) Johnson Space Center has announced that it will present the University of North Dakota Department of Space Studies with a distinguished service award at a special ceremony this week. Space Studies is part of the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Studies and was launched 25 years ago by the school's founder and first dean John D. Odegard.

"John was a true visionary,” said Santhosh Seelan, professor and chair of the department. Seelan, a satellite image and remote sensing expert, was previously chair of Earth System Science and Policy, another academic division in the Odegard School that underscores Odegard’s broad outlook for the school.

The award will formally be presented to the Odegard School on Tuesday, July 23, during a short ceremony at the Johnson Space Center. Seelan and Odegard School Associate Dean Paul Lindseth are traveling to the Center to accept the award and a North Dakota flag that flew aboard one of the last Space Shuttle missions.

In the 25 years since its inception, Space Studies has launched many fabled careers and educated hundreds of graduates with advanced degrees in space studies. It’s also home to a distinguished NASA program that’s currently developing an innovative system for space explorers, including a suit, a rover and a habitat.

That kind of pioneering work has earned Space Studies an enviable worldwide reputation.

An excellent example of that recognition is the Johnson Space Center's selection of Space Studies to receive a “JSC Certificate of Appreciation” for 25 years of outstanding leadership in university education in space studies, aerospace workforce development and for accomplishments in interdisciplinary aerospace research.

“I believe this is the highest non-individual, group award given by Johnson Space Center, and we are indeed very honored and proud to receive this award,” said Seelan. “Of course an award of this nature for sustained excellence over 25 years is not possible without the dedicated work of all former and current students, former and current faculty and staff, and all the support we have received from various entities within the University of North Dakota, particularly the Dean’s office.”

In an email exchange with Seelan about the award and the ceremony at JSC, Odegard’s widow Diane said, in part, “I am so proud of what has been accomplished in the last 25 years and the exciting research that will possibly change the way we understand the universe that will happen in the next 25.”

Charles “Chuck” Wood, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor and former chair of the department and a former Johnson Space Center scientist, said in a similar exchange with Seelan, “I think that UND Space Studies keeps getting better and better, and now with hundreds of former students throughout the space community, the reputation keeps growing, too.

“I don't think John Odegard would be surprised that Space Studies has reached this anniversary for he had the vision that space would be humanity's future,” Wood wrote.

Many other program alums from all over the world communicated their congratulations about the award and the anniversary with Seelan.

Today's Space Studies encompasses everything from the study of planetary geology and near-earth objects to the development, design and building of "space suits" – more technically accurate planetary exploration suits and their associated support systems – to space flight simulators.

"It's a fascinating realm," said Seelan. "Space is still indeed the final frontier."

-- Juan Miguel Pedraza, writer/editor, Division of University and Public Affairs


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