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Space Research Work Involves Hundreds Of People At U-M

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Space Research Work Involves Hundreds Of People At U-M

(Editor's note: This Is the first article in a series on space research at the University. Subsequent articles will give more detailed information on this type of research in various U-M departments.)

By Larry Bush

Space research has become a major area of scientific investigation at the University. Scores of persons are directly concerned with the instrumentation of rockets and satellites, while hundreds more are indirectly contributing to man’s probes of space through basic research.

The new U-M Institute for Science and Technology has made space science and technology its first and major area for investigation during the current phase of its program, according to Dr. Robert R. White, institute director.

Background and interest in space age research was one of the principal reasons given for the selection in September of Dean Ralph A. Sawyer to fill the newly created post of U-M vice-president for research.

Although Russia’s space successes have spurred the U-M to greater research effort on the little-known depths beyond man’s environment, groups here were actively engaged in space probes long before Soviet Sputniks began circling the earth and Lunik II hit the moon.

Shot Rockets in ’46

The U-M Space Physics Research group in the department of electrical engineering and the High Altitude Laboratory in the aeronautical and astronomical engineering department, were involved in rocket firings as early as 1946.

The Space Physics group now expects to be making measurements of the moon’s atmosphere in about a year and a half, its director, Prof. Nelson Spencer, said. The High Altitude group, which has made important discoveries aiding rocket development, is planning future probes deeper and deeper into the far beyond, according to its director, Leslie M. Jones.

The U-M astronomy department, which longer than any campus group has been concerned with space research through its observations of celestial bodies, has begun work on designing equipment for a satellite astronomical observatory that will collect data while circling the earth 300 to 400 miles out in space, Prof. Leo Goldberg, chairman, said.

A lot of work coming under the U-M Research Institute (UMRI), an agency to assist in contract research, has been in this area. Work at the U-M Willow Run Laboratories under Project Michigan is related to rockets and rocket guidance systems.

Prof. Robert W. Parry and others in the U-M chemistry department have worked on boron compounds for the development of rocket fuels.

Other Departments Busy

Space research at the U-M even transcends the traditional boundaries of the physical sciences. Law School faculty members, for example, are busy working on the legal aspects of space flight and travel. Prof. Paul M. Fitts of the psychology department, while not working directly on the psychology of space travel on campus, carries on work of this type at the national level.

U-M research in which rockets are flown to collect data is largely supported by contracts from such agencies as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and divisions of the armed services, with the University furnishing quarters and facilities.

Basic research of many of the some 700 research projects at the U-M is indirectly related to space investigation, or at times becomes related through new discoveries. This research is largely supported by various foundations, private gifts and grants, and University funds.

Of some $26,000,000 being spent on research at the U-M, only about 1 per cent comes directly from state funds.

Nearly all of the work being carried on here, except for that at Willow Run, is largely of a non-military nature, although it could have indirect application to defense uses. More obvious practical application of the research in major projects includes weather forecasting and improvement of communications.

Another application, that of providing a basis for the establishment of new space age industries in this area and the state, is a major objective of the Institute for Science and Technology.

[image]:  PROBE SPACE: Frederick F. Fischbach (left), and William H. Hansen, researchers in the High Altitude Laboratory of the University department of aeronautical and astronautical engineering, work on the nose cone of a rocket in one of the many projects at the U-M dealing with investigations of outer space. The rocket will be sent aloft to test the properties of the earth’s upper atmosphere.