University of Texas at Austin

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Notes on NASA and UT, 50 years and counting

I was walking down the hall of the administration building at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., when I saw an oil portrait of what appeared to be a familiar face. I looked more closely at the face and then at the identification and it was, indeed, Hans Mark, current professor of engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

Mark was the director of the NASA-Ames from 1969-1977 and chancellor of the University of Texas System from 1984-1992. He started teaching at UT-Austin in 1988.

His portrait was among those of other Ames directors hanging in the hall.

I was at NASA-Ames as part of the conferences of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science in Palo Alto, Calif., last week.

Some people toured a winery, others the Monterrey Bay aquarium and still others the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Me, I went to NASA.

Running into Hans Mark’s portrait goes to show that The University of Texas has strong ties to NASA, which is marking its 50th year.

Seven UT-Austin graduates have been astronauts and at any time there are several projects that university researchers have going on with NASA. Their departments range from astronomy to engineering to psychology to geology.

The university’s ties to the agency go back to the late 1950s when NASA used monkeys to help researchers understand the impact of space travel. As part of their training the rhesus monkeys were tested the Balcones Research Center, what is now the Pickle Research Campus.

Ernest Gloyna, a former dean of the engineering school worked at Balcones when the monkeys were there and remembers them … somewhat fondly.

Like human astronauts, the monkeys liked to blow off a little steam now and then.

“They’d get out and run all over the place,” Gloyna says. “We’d find their fingerprints on the glassware in our labs.”

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» Notes on NASA and UT, 50 years and counting

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