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NASA selections show how ASU researchers embody the spirit of exploration.
ASU to lead one space mission, contribute key device on another.
January 6, 2017

NASA mission selections show how the nation's most innovative university embodies the spirit of exploration

Throughout all the ages of man, there has been a particular type of person who asks the same question. 

Fur-clad early modern humans asked it as they pushed east across the rock and ice of the Bering Strait. Burton and Speke asked it as they crossed the East African veldt in search of the source of the Nile. Magellan couldn’t think about anything else, even if his terrified crew only thought of turning back. Aldrin, Armstrong and Collins asked it as they sailed to the moon across the great gulf of space.

“What’s over there?”

The two missions selected by NASA recently — one entirely run by Arizona State University, the other carrying an ASU-built instrument — embody that question, which is the essence of exploration.

That thrill of venturing into the unknown was palpable in Lindy Elkins-Tanton’s voice during a NASA teleconference announcing the two picks to fly, one a visit to a metal world, the other to study six primitive asteroids.

Strip away the modifiers, and the institution’s ultimate purpose stands starkly stated: the School of ... Exploration.

“This mission will be true exploration and discovery,” said Elkins-Tanton, the director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of the Psyche mission. “Our job is to make the biggest discoveries possible.”

NASA officials, usually the epitome of understated cool, even let excitement creep into their statements.

“Lucy and Psyche will take us to worlds we’ve never seen before,” was the first thing Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said. “With every mission, we learn about the solar system.”

Artist rendition of the asteroid Psyche. Image by Peter Rubin/ASU

But why? Why leave Earth and home to spend hundreds of millions to go out into the black void of space?

Elkins-Tanton took a stab at the answer in her KEDtalk a year ago about the mission.

“Exploration is a human imperative,” she said. “It’s built into us, everything from Magellan to Captain Janeway. Exploration aligns humankind looking outward, instead of allowing us to be distracted by the irritations that lie between us, both as people and as nations.”

We have seen planets made of rock, ice and gas. Psyche will voyage out between Mars and Jupiter, to a place that has never been visited, only glimpsed in photos as a pinpoint of light.

“We have never seen a metal planet,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We do not know what this will look like. ... So this would be true exploration and true discovery.”

The Lucy mission, meanwhile, will voyage to six primitive asteroids, measuring the surface temperatures on each with an ASU-designed and -developed thermal emission spectrometer, said Philip Christensen of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

"With each new mission, we're expanding the types of solar system objects we're studying here at ASU,” said Christensen, who is the instrument's principal investigator and designer.

Jim Bell teaches a class called “Exploration: The Human Imperative.” The planetary scientist is also deputy principal investigator on the Psyche mission. Bell said there’s no simple answer to why humans explore.

Sometimes it’s pragmatic. All the local resources have been exhausted and it’s time to move to another place, so a scout is sent out. Sometimes it’s for glory, to expand an empire like Alexander and conquer foreign lands. Sometimes it’s economic, searching for gold or timber or whales.

“Now we’re more in an era where it’s fulfilling our curiosity,” Bell said. “It’s understanding our planet’s and our species’ place in our solar system and galaxy. ... It’s become this mix of knowledge and thrill and inspiration that kind of drives explorers.”

"Every time we send a mission into space, we get surprises."

— Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration

Explorers are simply born that way, Bell said.

“In my experience that’s not trained,” he said. “People are born with it. A baby wants to get out of the crib. A kid wants to explore a cave. It’s built-in. ... It must be a good thing; otherwise, natural selection would have bred it out of us.”

Today’s explorers on the true cutting edge of discovery are sitting in air-conditioned offices and aren’t likely to worry about starvation, even if the vending machine goes empty. That doesn’t make them fundamentally any different from Lewis and Clark, Bell said.

“It’s a different modality,” Bell said. “We’re using different tools. We’re not using our bodies. ... In space science, 99.99 percent of us can’t go there, so we use these machines, telescopes, satellites, landers, rovers, orbiters — these machines are projections of our senses. It is different. None of us are in physical danger — maybe in danger of losing our jobs if our mission don’t get selected. But we’re not in physical danger, other than the distress of watching our rocket blow up. ... But it’s still a way of exploring and reaching out to new destinations and discovering them.”

Right now, humans are earthbound. That’s changing. We’re not going to be stuck here forever.

“At some point, in the far future it will be possible to go to these places,” Bell said. “Those people will be putting their lives on the line. ... There’s purpose to it. It’s an evolution. Galileo was an explorer. His tool of exploration was a telescope. There’s a continuity of explorers and reasons to explore. Those of us doing modern space science are explorers.”

And, being explorers, they are continually rewarded.

“Every time we send a mission into space, we get surprises,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The solar system surprises us and gives us things we don’t anticipate every time we send a mission out there.”

ASU has an official University Explorer. Scott Parazynski is an astronaut, doctor, mountaineer, pilot and polar explorer. We reached out to him, but he wasn’t available for comment.

He could be in space, for all we know.  


Top image: The Psyche mission will examine a metal asteroid, using devices that include a multispectral imager. Image courtesy of NASA Discovery Program

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Innovative ASU nursing center doubles in size.
Students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk.
January 6, 2017

At facility, students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk because patients are either actors or mannequins

In learning, practice makes perfect. In learning health care, it’s best if that practice doesn’t put patients at risk.

That’s the idea behind ASU’s 15-year-old Simulation and Learning Resources Center, where College of Nursing and Health Innovation students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk because the patients are either actors or uncannily lifelike mannequins.

The center’s method has been so successful that it recently expanded by 40,000 square feet — doubling its previous space. “And we’re not done yet,” said center co-founder Beatrice Kastenbaum.

Kastenbaum, clinical associate professor, said the simulation learning method is invaluable for students and community members, who later benefit from more experienced nurses and doctors. Without it, she said, students must rely solely on live experience in settings where they’re only allowed to observe.

Using actors and mannequins, said Bertie Estrada, clinical assistant professor and simulation nurse specialist at the center, allows students “to make mistakes without repercussions.”

On Friday, Estrada joined fellow CONHI faculty and colleagues at the Downtown Phoenix campus for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Simulation and Learning Resources Center representatives celebrate with ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation Dean Teri Pipe (center) at the grand opening Friday that marked a 40,000-square-foot expansion on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The facility now accommodates four simulation suites with nine patient rooms and six clinic rooms, four skills labs, a health assessment lab and a computer library.

At the ceremony, CONHI Dean Teri Pipe thanked former director Ruth Brooks and Kastenbaum, who together founded the center.

It was their advocacy, Pipe said, that led to the creation of “this amazing place [that exists] with the health and well-being of our community in mind” and helps students “emerge with excellence in their career.”

Pipe also thanked the many benefactors present, “without whose philanthropic donations this would not be possible.”

The expansion began in June, but center director Margaret Calacci — who took over in July — said it had been almost 10 years coming.

Calacci said that it is her goal “to continue to prepare students for a career in health care with this state-of-the-art facility, which provides an environment where they can develop clinical thinking and reasoning through safe practice.”

Among the added features are a range of different types of care environments: traditional doctor and hospital rooms as well as an apartment-like setting, where students can get a feel for what it’s like to give in-home care.

Within those environments, students can hone their skills by providing care for medical mannequins that exhibit “pretty much everything you’d want to monitor on a patient,” according to Shannon Brock, a simulation nurse specialist at the center.

Students can take the mannequins’ blood pressure and temperature, and measure their heart rate and oxygen saturation levels, among other things.

The mannequins — which can blink, breathe and talk — are controlled via computers by clinicians.

In other settings, such as a generic doctor’s office, students can interact with live patients in the form of actors, who are either community volunteers or ASU acting students.

Nursing grad student Lillian Chang said the opportunity to get “immediate feedback from an actual, live patient” in a safe, controlled environment is both unique and extremely helpful for students.

CONHI alum Kurt Brownsburger, who now works at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, had attended a few different schools before coming to ASU, where he spent several hours training at the Simulation and Learning Resources Center.

He noticed a huge difference from what was “almost purely lecture-based” learning to the center’s “much more integrative model.”

“It’s very realistic,” he said, “and you really get to see what works and what doesn’t, while being free to make mistakes. You can reset a mannequin; you can’t reset a human.”


Top photo: ASU alumni Norine Heinrich (center) and Marissa Starks-Banh (right) get a demonstration of mannequin "Victoria" by ASU clinical faculty Leann Dykstra during the grand opening of the Simulation and Learning Resources Center on Friday. The center has undergone a 40,000-square-foot expansion, doubling its previous size. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657