A Knight’s Mission to Mars

by Dianne Mercado


By the end of the century, there could be fully functional human colonies on Mars, and UCF could have helped put them there.

Recently, the global space industry has seen immense progress and development in both private and public circles, which have turned attention to colonizing the Red Planet. UCF fosters strong ties to the space industry through contributions in space-related research and involvement in aerospace partnerships. In this race to get to Mars, there, has never been a better time for UCF students to reach for the stars and place themselves at the forefront of the space industry.

From its conception in 1963 – a time of booming space interest marked by the milestone of Project Mercury – UCF has made innumerable contributions to the field through innovative projects, many of which were led by students and faculty on campus. These projects have tackled challenges in vital areas of research and produced results crucial to advancing the vision of space exploration and travel, and UCF has never stopped making leaps and bounds as a leader in the space industry.

Recent highlights include:

  • A $55 million grant from NASA in 2013 to fund the GOLD mission and allowed UCF to become the first college in Florida to lead a NASA satellite mission
  • In 2015, two Knights became finalists for the Mars One project to colonize the planet by 2026
  • Last April, a team of UCF students and scientists became the first to go to space aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard for Project MEDEA

It is 2017, and the new year brings forward countless chances for students to become involved in the dynamic space industry, which has lately shifted focus to inhabiting Mars. If space exploration is your passion, now is the time to take advantage of many prospects available on campus.

Things you might consider getting involved with:

  • Apply for a joint master’s training program in industrial engineering taught by instructors at Kennedy Space Center
  • Apply for a master’s program in Space Systems Design and Engineering (MSAE) that prepares students for aerospace careers

  • Join Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, a registered student organization dedicated to promoting space interest and research which has recently participated in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative and the Florida Space Grant Consortium Hybrid Rocket Competition
  • Join the Astronomy Society, another RSO that takes part in different activities such as Knights Under the Stars and the Harmony Dark Sky Festival to stimulate interest in astronomy 

Current Research Opportunities include:

  • The Material Science and Engineering Program, which has made recent headlines for plans to research methods to turn Mars’ soil into material that can be used to 3D print habitats, tools, and other instruments on the planet itself
  • The Planetary Sciences Group in the Physics department, which works with the Florida Space Institute to offer academic tracks in space-related coursework as well as the opportunity to participate in research projects
  • The Center for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Center, whose focus is on detecting hazardous gases and leaks on spacecraft using low-cost LEDs

There are many options for students outside of UCF:

  • Kennedy Space Center, which offers internships, fellowships, and scholarships every semester
  • FSI Space Research Initiative, a joint program between UCF and UF to support only UCF or UCF-UF programs in space-related research and development such as the NASA Robotics Mining Competition
  • Florida Space Grant Consortium, an association of public and private Florida institutes that offers many programs for students to become involved in space-related projects
  • Space Florida, an Independent Special District in the state that aims to boost economic development in the aerospace industry by supporting state projects

While many of these opportunities may seem geared toward STEM students, most, if not all, space-related projects are multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. For example, Kennedy Space Center offers internships in STEM fields as well as business, human resources, economics, and communications. No matter your major, if you are interested in space, there is a place for you in getting involved in the vision of future space exploration and travel.

UCF students among all others have first-row tickets to the space race. With 54 years of experience, $124 million in total funding for space research, and dozens of groundbreaking projects in progress to concretize the vision of space exploration, UCF is at peak condition for generating forward momentum in going beyond Earth.

Who knows – maybe one day, UCF and its students will be learning in classrooms on the surface of Mars.


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