USU Hopes to Benefit from Plans for Space Exploration

USU Hopes to Benefit from Plans for Space Exploration

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LOGAN, Utah (AP) -- Utah State University and the Space Dynamics Lab hope to benefit from President Bush's plan to send astronauts to the moon, Mars and beyond.

"What President Bush is doing is elevating the space program at a time in which it needs to be elevated," USU President Kermit L. Hall said. "And I believe that for our university, which has such a heavy commitment in the area of space exploration, it is welcome and will be beneficial."

For Gail Bingham, chief scientist at the Space Dynamics Lab, the announcement was a dream come true.

"When I heard we were going to make a commitment to go to the moon, my wife got really disgusted because she had to spend the rest of the day holding my feet on the floor," Bingham said. "This gives us a license to dream again and to turn those dreams into real experience."

Bingham has worked closely with NASA officials over the past six months to develop a road map for the organization for the next decade, but some of those efforts have clearly lacked focus, he said. Bush's announcement brought much-needed direction to the effort and clarification of NASA's priorities.

"There is simply no reason to fly in space if we are not going to go somewhere," Bingham said. "Going to the ISS (International Space Station) is like a pilot taking off and flying in circles and then landing in the same place -- pretty soon it gets boring."

Much of the work of USU and the SDL over the past 20 years -- researching use of plants in space flight to generate oxygen, provide food and recycle carbon dioxide -- is difficult to do in micro-gravity in closed spaces like the space station because of space and power constraints, Bingham said.

On a planetary surface like the moon, there would be some gravity and plenty of room.

Bruce Bugbee, professor of crop physiology in the department of plants, soils and biometeorology at USU, is working on development of hybrid plants, such as dwarf tomatoes and peppers, which could be used for long-term stays in space.

Fresh vegetables would not only sustain, but also enhance the quality of life for people who would be gone for four years.

"It actually turns out to be cheaper to go to Mars without a space farm, but NASA doesn't really want to do that, to their credit," Bugbee said. "They want to have a nice environment for the people up there."

Bingham said he believes the mission set by President Bush on Wednesday eventually will come to pass.

"I'm sure that people will go to Mars. Whether it will happen in 2030, I'm pessimistic ... I would be really disappointed if we're not there at 2050," Bingham said. "At the same time, I wouldn't go to Mars until I had a thriving moon colony."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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