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Eberly College of Science lecture series makes science accessible to the public|
By Barbara K. Kennedy
| Beyond Earth: Living on Other Worlds was the theme of the 2003 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science. The free lecture series introduced hundreds of central Pennsylvanians to the possibilities of space travel and colonization within the solar system.|
The lecture series is a public-outreach project of the Eberly College of Science. In 1995, a group of faculty members in the Center for Gravitational Physics and Geometry launched the lecture series as a way to share scientific discoveries and knowledge for the enjoyment and education of the general public. The Eberly College of Science sponsors the lectures, and Pfizer Inc. provides additional financial support.
Each lecture series, designed to be a minicourse for participants, features from six to eight presentations by Penn State and other experts on consecutive Saturday mornings. A question-and-answer session follows each lecture. The lecture series has become a benchmark model for other public-outreach lectures at the University.
This years lecture series began with a presentation on Challenges in Space Exploration by Pat Dasch, author, consultant on space exploration and former executive director of the National Space Society. She discussed some of the technological, social, economic and political hurdles that would need to be overcome for human habitation on other worlds.
Christopher Shinohara and Heather Enos, managers with the Gamma Ray Spectrometer Odyssey Team in the Lunar and Planetary Lab at the University of Arizona, presented a lecture on Water Found on Mars ... the Story Behind the Headlines. They discussed the extraordinary effort it takes to build and operate a successful science instrument for a mission to Mars, such as NASAs 2001 Mars Odyssey Orbiter spacecraft and its Gamma Ray Spectrometer, which began mapping the Red Planet during February 2002. They also shared water ice findings from the Mars Odyssey Mission and explained what this discovery might mean for the future of Mars exploration.
Dr. James Pawelczyk, assistant professor of applied physiology and kinesiology at Penn State and former NASA astronaut, discussed What Price a Martian? Human Limits to Exploring the Red Planet. Drawing on both his research and his experience with NASA, he answered the question of whether technology can overcome the limitations of human physiology to enable long-term habitation on nearby planets. His research focuses on the dynamic regulation of blood pressure and how atrophy caused by disuse affects the regulation of blood pressure.
Problems with moment-to-moment regulation of blood pressure lead to an inability to maintain adequate blood flow to the brain, known as orthostatic intolerance, which affects as many as 500,000 Americans, Pawelczyk explained. This condition is observed routinely following space flight.
Pawelczyk flew aboard the 90th mission of the space shuttle in April and May 1998, logging 16 days and 6.4 million miles in space, circling the Earth 256 times and conducting neuroscience experiments that addressed changes in the development of the nervous system, balance, blood-pressure regulation, sleep and control of movement during space flight.
James D. Burke, aeronautical engineer with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an adviser to the Planetary Society, presented a talk on Settling the Moon: The Challenge and the Possible Rewards. He discussed scientific developments that are needed for the establishment of a settlement on the Moon, including closed ecological life-support systems using lunar resources, research to reveal the nature of the putative lunar polar ices and fundamental knowledge of human interactive behavior under stress.
Robert M. Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society and former senior vice president of the National Space Society, gave the final lecture in the series on the topic of Mars Direct: Humans to the Red Planet within a Decade. The Mars Direct plan was devised under his leadership by a team at Lockheed Martin to send a group of American astronauts to the Red Planet.
Our Mars Direct plan uses Martian resources to support a human exploration program on Mars at a cost one-eighth that previously estimated by NASA, and it could send a group of American astronauts to the Red Planet within 10 years, Zubrin said.
Since 1995, the Lectures on the Frontiers of Science have focused on: The Origin and Evolution of the Universe (1995), The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth and Elsewhere (1996), On Becoming Human: Our Evolutionary History (1997), The Human Brain and the Human Mind (1998), How Things Work in Science and Technology (1999), Astrobiology: Looking for Life in the Universe (2000), Decoding Lifes Instruction Book: Genetics and Genomics (2001), Planet Earth: Our Role in Its Health (2002) and Beyond Earth: Living on Other Worlds (2003). Information about the lecture series is available online at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers/FrontiersIndex.html.