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Bruins in Space


By Brad A. Greenberg '04, Photos by Michael Tighe

Published Oct 1, 2009 8:00 AM

Wonder, and Wander


Anna Lee Fisher was the first mother in space.

What the future holds for space exploration is about as unknown as what exists … out there.

Are we going to keep pushing further into space? Will space tourism become available to more than just the uber-rich? And will we ever really set up colonies off Earth?

"Is it new and exciting enough just for people to be in space? Probably not," says Tony Reichhardt, senior editor for Air & Space magazine. "There are people up there right now, there are 13 between the shuttle and the station, and it is fairly routine. It is a great view by all accounts and weightlessness is cool, but it is no longer a novelty. We are at a point when we are going to have to ask ourselves whether, if we want to go places we've never gone before, it is better to do it with machines."

There are certainly some UCLA professors who would say so. In fact, UCLA has arguably done more through its faculty involvement in unmanned missions than by putting alumni into space.

Christopher Russell, a professor of geophysics and space physics, has been a NASA investigator for 36 years, most recently leading the Dawn mission to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where the unmanned spacecraft explored two of our solar system's first bodies.


Anna Lee Fisher.

David Paige, a professor of planetary science and principal investigator for the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment, is part of an unmanned mapping mission of the moon launched in June.

Andrea Ghez, a professor of physics and astronomy and a MacArthur Fellow, is researching a massive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

And Edward "Ned" Wright, the David Saxon Presidential Chair in physics, is leading the WISE mission, which in November plans to launch a satellite that will scan the sky for infrared light from nearby stars and bright galaxies.

"As we get more experience doing things astronomically, we learn more and it always opens up new questions," Wright says. "In the past decade or so we have seen the discovery of hundreds of planets outside of our solar system. Now people are looking at developing telescopes that could study planets outside other stars. You get a taste of something you do early, and you always want to be able to come back and learn more."

What seems certain is that wherever space exploration takes mankind, Bruins will still be involved. At least, Marissa Rosenberg '09 sure hopes so. While studying astrophysics, Rosenberg started the UCLA chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. Upon graduation she headed to the International Space University in France to earn a masters degree and then begin Ph.D. work. Her motivation?

You guessed it: she wants to be an astronaut.

"When I was three I saw a space shuttle take off. Ever since then I've wanted to be an astronaut. It never went away," Rosenberg says. "When you are a kid, it is the thought of being weightless and getting to bounce around on the moon. Now it is more a hope of finding intelligent life and getting to explore and collaborate with other intelligent life-forms. The hope that I could contribute, at least partially to that, is a driving force."