Bowie State’s First NASA Mission Comes to an End

November 6, 2012

(Bowie, Md.) – Eight years ago, undergraduate students began working as mission controllers at the Bowie State University control center, retrieving data from a NASA satellite. Now, the spacecraft will soon reenter Earth’s atmosphere and burn up completely, ending the NASA mission that trained about 50 Bowie State students to enter the high-demand aerospace industry.

Research on SAMPEX (Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer) is the first and longest-running mission managed by the Bowie Satellite Operations and Control Center at Bowie State, in partnership with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and Honeywell Technology Solutions. During the satellite’s 20 years in orbit, NASA scientists have credited it as one of the main sources of data on how the radiation environment around Earth has changed over time.

At Bowie State’s control center, students have gained hands-on experience and satellite controller certifications working with NASA engineers to collect data from SAMPEX and other satellites. As one of the first universities responsible for a NASA mission, Bowie State has provided students with training for certifications required by professional flight controllers to fly spacecraft.

“About half of the students who have ever been through this program have gotten jobs in the aerospace field, most of them locally,” said Todd Watson, Bowie State BSOCC lab director. Supporting the NASA missions has also prepared Bowie State students for a variety of competitive technology fields, such as networking and cybersecurity, he said.

On the SAMPEX mission, students retrieved data from the satellite, analyzed it, and sent it to NASA scientists, who used it to learn more about space particles and cosmic rays. Data collected from SAMPEX confirmed theories that cosmic rays from outer space were being trapped in Earth’s magnetic environment and even helped pinpoint the location where they gathered in a belt around Earth. Even in its final weeks of life, SAMPEX continues to yield useful data for science community, aiding a current NASA satellite mission probing the radiation belts.

“The NASA certifications and the mission control experience separate our students from their peers from similar academic programs in the job market. It has given them a valuable skill-set,” said Dr. Lethia Jackson, chair of the Computer Science Department.

Although the SAMPEX mission will officially end this month, students will continue to complete NASA certifications using archived data from the satellite.

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