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Behind-the-scenes peek: How to build a deep-space instrument for NASA mission

Documentary on ASU space instrument to air Friday on PBS.
February 22, 2017

PBS to air documentary Friday about 1st space instrument to be built entirely at ASU, now on its way to asteroid Bennu

On Sept. 8, 2016, NASA and Arizona State University embarked on a new space mission, OSIRIS-REx. Now on its way to a rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, the spacecraft carries a number of important scientific instruments, including OTES, the OSIRIS-REx Thermal Emission Spectrometer.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” is a 30-minute program that documents the construction of OTES, the first space instrument to be built entirely on the ASU campus. It airs on Arizona PBS (channel 8.1) on Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The program, in the making since 2012, takes viewers behind the scenes as it follows the efforts of a team of engineers and scientists led by the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Philip Christensen.

A Regents' Professor of geological sciences, Christensen is the designer and principal investigator for OTES, which was "born" in the laboratories, workshops, and cleanroom of SESE's home, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4 on the Tempe campus.

Christensen and his colleagues are no strangers to space exploration, having played a critical role in mapping the surface of Mars. To build OTES, he reassembled key members of his Mars team and added new members as well, including several outstanding ASU students.

“Project Asteroid: Mapping Bennu” follows the OTES team as they count down to the mission launch date. The program also profiles selected team members, who give their personal perspectives of the challenges and rewards of this high-stakes undertaking.

View a preview here.


Top photo: Engineers William O'Donnell (left) and Greg Mehall prepare the completed OTES instrument for shipment to NASA. When OTES arrives in 2018 at target asteroid Bennu on NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, it will map Bennu's mineralogy and surface temperature. This data will help mission scientists choose a site to collect a surface sample to be returned to Earth in 2023. Photo by Philip Christensen/ASU 

Robert Burnham

Science writer , School of Earth and Space Exploration


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Among public universities, ASU is fifth in student Fulbright awards for '16-'17.
February 22, 2017

6 faculty members, 15 students sent abroad in prestigious national program

Arizona State University is one of the top producers of prestigious Fulbright scholars among research institutions for 2016-17, coming in at No. 6 for awards to faculty members, according to newly released rankings.

In addition, ASU is in the top 20 for research institutions producing student Fulbright scholars. Among public universities, ASU was ranked No. 5 in student Fulbright awards.

ASU has six faculty and 15 students in the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program.

“Part of the university’s mission is to engage with people and issues globally, and Fulbright scholars are the embodiment of that,” said Mark Searle, ASU’s executive vice president and university provost. “The exchange of knowledge and interest benefits the scholar as well as the community abroad, and it brings ASU’s academic rigor and innovation to the world stage.”

ASU’s 15 Fulbright students are abroad now, and the university has 29 students who recently were named semifinalists for next year’s awards.

“Year in and year out, ASU has been a consistent presence on the Fulbright ‘Top Producers’ list, which is a testament to our commitment to global engagement, service and leadership,” said Kyle Mox, who is director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU and the coordinator of the Fulbright program for ASU students.

“But given the recent growth and development of the university, there is considerable untapped potential at ASU. With the high quality of our international programs and our students’ commitment to leadership and service, I look forward to seeing up to double the number of applicants in the coming years.”

The Fulbright program, created in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries, provides the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research abroad. The program awards about 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 160 countries. The sponsor is the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Top-producing institutions are highlighted annually in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Faculty generally stay abroad anywhere from two months to a full academic year. This award is often taken in conjunction with research, development or sabbatical leave options. 

The student awards are for academic research or a position as an English teaching assistant. In addition, some 4,000 new foreign Fulbright students and scholars come to the U.S. annually to study for graduate degrees, conduct research and teach foreign languages.

The 21 faculty and students from ASU are currently studying and teaching in countries around the world including Vietnam, Germany, Kazakhstan and South Africa. They include Stephen Doig, a professor in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, who is a lecturer on social science tools for journalism at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, and Elise Alonzi, a doctoral student in the School of Evolution and Social Change, who is studying archeology in Ireland.

The other five faculty Fulbright Scholars from ASU are Amanda Clarke, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Chouki El Hamel, a professor of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, both in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Erik Luna, a professor of law in the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law; Mohan Gopalakrishnan, associate professor in the School of Supply Chain Management, W. P. Carey School of Business; and Rene Villalobos, associate professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

On March 21, ASU will hold a “Fulbright Day” at the Memorial Union in Tempe at 3 p.m., in which representatives from Fulbright will describe the program and answer questions.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now