Tester Applauds NASA Partnership with Montana Researchers to Test Technology in Space

Three research teams from MSU & UM will receive funding from NASA to complete studies “critical to the agency’s mission”

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is applauding three research teams from Montana State University and the University of Montana that have been selected to receive funding and develop their research with NASA.

Two of the teams will receive $750,000 to conduct their research over a three-year period, the results of which NASA plans to incorporate into the agency’s ongoing work. The third team will receive $100,000 and the opportunity to test their technology aboard the International Space Station.

“To be leaders in the 21st century economy, we have to invest in cutting edge research taking place at world-class universities like MSU and UM,” Tester said. “Montana has the potential to become a worldwide leader in scientific advancement, exploration and innovation. These researchers prove that the ‘Big’ Sky’s the limit.”

The funding comes through NASA’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Program, which supports ongoing research and development in areas critical to the agency’s mission. With research proposals from just 22 universities selected in Fiscal Year 2017, the program is highly competitive.

Dr. Angela Des Jardins, MSU Physics Professor and Director of Montana’s NASA EPSCoR Program, notes that all three proposals submitted by Montana researchers were funded by NASA this year. She says Montana Universities are becoming a hotbed for space-related research.

“NASA EPSCoR funds have high impact for both NASA as well as Montana,” said Des Jardins. “Montana researchers are pursuing novel work that benefits NASA. Low population states, however, often get passed over in large federal funding competitions. NASA EPSCoR opportunities bring our capabilities to NASA’s attention. As a result, not only are we providing NASA with strategic expertise in key missions but we are also creating valuable research infrastructure here at home.”

A great example of this is MSU’s new eXtreme Gravity Institute (XGI)- the only institute in the Mountain West for the study of black holes, neutron stars and other extreme gravity phenomena. One of the institute’s projects-“Exploring Extreme Gravity: Neutron Stars, Black Holes and Gravitational Waves”-received one of Montana’s two $750,000 EPSCoR awards.

“This is very exciting because it’s one of the first major grants the eXtreme Gravity Institute has received,” said Dr. Nicolas Yunes, MSU Physics Professor and founding member of XGI. “We’re trying to answer fundamental questions about how the universe works and the institute has really become a hub for this kind of education and research in the Mountain West. As a result we’re attracting many great students and faculty to study here in Montana and this NASA funding is indispensable to our growth and mission.”

Thanks in part to the institute’s success, the MSU Physics Department has hired four new tenure-track physics professors for the fall-half of whom are women. Montana is no stranger to groundbreaking women in science and space. Helena’s very own Dr. Dava Newman served as Deputy Administrator of NASA from May of 2015 to January of 2017, in addition to being a Professor of Astronautics and Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The other Montana recipient of EPSCoR’s $750,000 award is a collaboration between the UM, MSU, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which will integrate NASA technology and computer models to help Montana become one of the first states to develop new state-of-the-art technology to tackle the water challenges faced by farmers across the country.

“This will help us understand how farmers use water and land when confronted with water shortage, policy restrictions or shifts in agricultural markets,” said Dr. Marco Maneta, Professor of Geosciences at the University of Montana and the study’s principal investigator. “It will also permit us to simulate the impact of a range of climate and agricultural market scenarios on agricultural water use and revenues in Montana, and to inform water policy that promotes agricultural adaptation and resiliency. Understanding imbalances in the water supply and demand systems is a key component of addressing the vulnerability of Montana’s farming system.”

Maneta, Yunes and Des Jardins all note that EPSCoR funding is crucial to helping Montana become a leader in scientific advancement, innovation, and research. Tester wholeheartedly agrees and cites EPSCoR’s importance as one of the many reasons he opposes President Trump’s proposed budget.

“Under the President’s proposed budget, NASA’s Office of Education – which manages the EPSCoR Program and other important initiatives – would be entirely eliminated,” Tester said. “Eliminating innovative initiatives like EPSCoR would put America last when it comes to technological development and scientific innovation.”