Brown/MIT team chosen for new NASA institute

November 6, 2013, Brown University

NASA has tapped a team of Brown and MIT researchers to be part of its new Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI). The team will help to develop scientific goals and exploration strategies for the Moon, near-Earth asteroids, and the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.

"These are the most accessible targets for robotic and human exploration beyond Earth," said Carle Pieters, professor of geological sciences and principal investigator for the Brown/MIT team. "They are diverse bodies that together may hold the key to understanding the formation and evolution of our solar system."

SSERVI builds on a previous NASA Lunar Science Institute of which the Brown team was a founding member. SSERVI's mission is to facilitate collaborative scientific research relevant to NASA's exploration goals. The Brown/MIT group is one of nine selected from a pool of 32 proposals.

"We look forward to collaborative scientific discoveries from these teams," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "These results will be vital to NASA successfully conducting the ambitious activities of exploring the solar system with robots and humans."

The Brown/MIT team will focus on the environment and evolution of the exploration targets. Among the questions the researchers will explore: How did the Moon form and what processes occurred as it cooled from its early molten state? What can asteroids reveal about the origins of planets and early planetary processes? How are water and other volatiles distributed on these bodies, and what can that tell us about the evolution of volatiles in the solar system?

The team that will address those questions consists of 19 Brown faculty members, seven from MIT, and researchers from four other institutions and seven foreign countries. Maria Zuber, who earned her Ph.D. from Brown, will lead the effort on the MIT side.

The research questions the team will explore each present new exploration challenges. One of the goals of the Brown/MIT team is to approach those challenges through "science and engineering synergism."

"The idea is to bring the scientists and the engineers together at the beginning of the process and build a mission from the bottom up," said James Head, professor of geological sciences and co-investigator on the team. "This is the approach that helped to make the later Apollo missions—Apollo 15, 16, and 17—so successful from both a technological and scientific point of view."

Two astronauts will help the team develop their science/engineering strategy. Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15, is a visiting professor at Brown. Jeff Hoffman, veteran of five space shuttle missions, is a professor at MIT.

"We're very excited about the team we've put together," Pieters said. "We're looking forward to working with the other great teams NASA has assembled."

Explore further: Science team outlines goals for NASA's 2020 Mars rover

Related Stories

Science team outlines goals for NASA's 2020 Mars rover

July 10, 2013

The rover NASA will send to Mars in 2020 should look for signs of past life, collect samples for possible future return to Earth, and demonstrate technology for future human exploration of the Red Planet, according to a report ...

NASA wants investigations for a Mars 2020 rover

September 30, 2013

( —NASA has released its announcement of an open competition for the planetary community to submit proposals for the science and exploration technology instruments that would be carried aboard the agency's next ...

NASA's asteroid initiative benefits from rich history

April 12, 2013

NASA's FY2014 budget proposal includes a plan to robotically capture a small near-Earth asteroid and redirect it safely to a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where astronauts can visit and explore it.

Next generation of explorers takes the stage

August 21, 2013

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on Tuesday formally welcomed the eight newest candidates to the astronaut corps and unveiled a space exploration roadmap that makes clear the global community is working together on a unified ...

NASA's Moon Mapper Beholds Home

August 3, 2009

( -- This image of Earth taken from 200 kilometers (124 miles) above the lunar surface was taken by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, one of two NASA instruments onboard the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan-1 ...

Recommended for you

Supermassive black holes are outgrowing their galaxies

February 15, 2018

The growth of the biggest black holes in the Universe is outrunning the rate of formation of stars in the galaxies they inhabit, according to two new studies using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes ...

Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm

February 15, 2018

Three billion miles away on the farthest known major planet in our solar system, an ominous, dark storm - once big enough to stretch across the Atlantic Ocean from Boston to Portugal - is shrinking out of existence as seen ...

Kepler scientists discover almost 100 new exoplanets

February 15, 2018

Based on data from NASA's K2 mission, an international team of scientists has confirmed nearly 100 new exoplanets. This brings the total number of new exoplanets found with the K2 mission up to almost 300.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.