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ODU's History with NASA Celebrated at Aerospace Day

By Brendan O'Hallarn

Feb. 1 was Aerospace Day in Virginia, an annual celebration of the vital strategic and economic contributions of the aviation and aerospace industries to the Commonwealth.

Old Dominion's Paul Olsen and Ray Toll led a delegation of University faculty and students who attended the 2017 Aviation and Aerospace Reception at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. The Virginia Aviation Business Association event, which featured Gov. Terry McAuliffe as guest speaker, showcased the role played by NASA Langley Research Center, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority and other institutions in growing the aviation and aerospace industries.

Olsen, the director of programs and partnerships with Old Dominion's Office of Research, spoke of Old Dominion's long history with NASA. That relationship, he said, "is stellar."

He said the event was an opportunity to celebrate that partnership, as well as the University's other STEM and research partnerships. "Last year, ODU received less than 2 percent of the NASA funding for our Commonwealth universities," Olsen said. "I am happy to share that, so far in 2017, under the leadership of President John R. Broderick and many NASA leaders, we are poised to eclipse that percentage as we set our sights on new goals in scientific research."

Olsen and Toll, the University's director of coastal resilience research, discussed two projects involving robust partnerships between Old Dominion and NASA.

ODU engineering students and faculty members have been working on commercial and NASA scientific payload projects for more than a decade.

As part of that initiative, Old Dominion is working with Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and Hampton University on the Virginia USIP "cube-sat constellation," a student-led research project to determine drag in low-altitude earth-orbiting satellites with greater accuracy.

The project, which will launch a three-satellite constellation in 2018, is aimed at better predicting the rate at which small satellites, known as cube-sats, end their useful life. The multidisciplinary team features students in mechanical, electrical, computer and aerospace engineering, as well as computer science.

The ODU delegation also presented information about the Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) project, which provides the potential for a light-emitting device to be deployed aerially from buildings, surface vehicles and, soon, underwater vehicles. LiDAR devices remotely provide accurate measurements of atmospheric pollution and surface wave height, allowing more accurate models to be built for phenomena like the greenhouse effect or sea level rise.

The projects build on more than five decades of robust partnership between Old Dominion and NASA research facilities. A history of ODU's Batten College of Engineering and Technology, published in 2013, outlined the many partnerships formed between the two institutions, starting when the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik satellite in 1957 sparked the space race.

The late Gene Goglia, then-chair of Old Dominion's themal engineering department, became friends with John Duberg, who was associate director of NASA Langley Research Center.

"John Duberg kind of took ODU under his wing," engineering professor Bob Ash recalled in "Built From the Ground Up," a history of the first 50 years of engineering at Old Dominion. "They needed a strong local engineering school. By and large, what happened was Duberg encouraged people like Gene Goglia to come over there and kick the hubcaps."

Starting with the creation of the summer research institute at NASA Langley -- which still exists today -- research partnerships have spanned many engineering disciplines and resulted in millions of dollars of grants for both entities.

Samir Ibrahim, professor of mechanical engineering, helped develop an accurate and economical method for vibration testing. It was used on the first flight of the Columbia space shuttle. Starting in the late 1990s, aerospace engineers from Old Dominion took over operation of the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel, one of the largest government wind tunnel facilities in the United States.

Partnerships have extended far beyond NASA Langley. For nearly two decades, Old Dominion played a key role in keeping the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at Wallops Island on Virginia's Eastern Shore in operation, taking over management of the facility when NASA was looking to shed costs. Oktay Baysal, former dean of the Batten College, said the University oversaw the conversion of the facility into a commercial spaceport, eventually turning control of the facility back to the state.

"We conceived it, we developed it, we did the hard work behind it, sustaining it while resources were extremely rare," Baysal said.

The partnerships and outreach continue today. Recently, current Batten College Dean Stephanie Adams hosted a screening of the Hollywood blockbuster "Hidden Figures" for an audience of students from five public high schools in Norfolk.

Olsen sees parallels through that film.

"Having just seen the movie "Hidden Figures" with my daughter two weeks ago, I was struck by how both of our institutions thrive through our diversity and intellectual curiosity," he said. "With a shared foundation such as this, there is no reason why this relationship won't continue to thrive."

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