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NASA's Laurie Leshin discusses space exploration at ASU


September 29, 2010

Laurie Leshin, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, spent the day on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus discussing current challenges and opportunities of catalyzing a worldwide space exploration movement and the role ASU has to play.

In her current position, Leshin oversees NASA’s $4 billion annual investment in human space exploration beyond low Earth orbit, including planning and execution of the next generation of human exploration systems, as well as the robotic and technology development activities that support them. The program is working towards creating a sustained future for humanity beyond Earth. Prior to her leadership role in NASA’s human space flight program, Leshin was the senior scientist at NASA’s largest science center.

Returning to ASU is a homecoming for Leshin. After attending Tempe public schools, she received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from ASU, and her doctorate in geochemistry from the California Institute of Technology. She later joined the ASU geological sciences faculty. In 2003, she was appointed director of the Center for Meteorite Studies and also became the first College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty member to be named a Dean’s Distinguished Professor – the Dee and John Whiteman Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences.

“I am excited to see what ASU has been focused on in the five years since I left the faculty to join NASA. I look forward to discussions with faculty and students about how work at ASU can help us as we blaze the trail for humans to explore the Solar System,” she says. “ASU has a great history of innovative interdisciplinary programs, and the School of Earth and Space Exploration is a fantastic example of that.”

Leshin’s scientific expertise is in cosmochemistry, with a primary interest in deciphering the record of water on objects in our solar system. During her career at ASU, Leshin played an important role in the university’s astrobiology program. Today’s agenda involved meetings with several ASU faculty members, including a discussion with Ariel Anbar, principal investigator of the NASA Astrobiology Institute team at ASU.

“It was extremely beneficial to sit down with Laurie and tell her about the Beyond Center and the Origins Project and their relevance to NASA’s interests in astrobiology,” says Anbar, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) and the department of chemistry and biochemistry who is also an associate director of the Origins Project and a faculty affiliate of the Beyond Center. ”She was also one of the visionaries behind the creation of SESE so it was especially valuable to learn from her how some of ASU’s most exciting research enterprises align with NASA’s goals in space exploration.”

Leshin also met with university administrators, toured the Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation in Biodesign, engaged in a roundtable discussion with faculty from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and presented an engaging public lecture titled “Inventing a New Space Exploration Enterprise: Addressing Grand Challenges from Space.”

 

Inventing the Future of Spaceflight

ASU President Michael Crow kicked off the special lecture by introducing Leshin to the full-house and welcoming her back to ASU. Though geared toward the scientific community, her lecture was open to the public and was understood by those with limited science backgrounds.

“Laurie gave a visually inspiring talk about the future of human exploration,” says Hallie Gengl, an undergraduate majoring in Earth and Space Exploration. “Focusing on students, she was able to clearly portray NASA’s plans and hopes for what is to come for our future in space.”

A strong proponent of exploration, Leshin drove home the point of the importance of exploring beyond our home planet. She stated that NASA must engage new partners, invent new approaches, explore new places and engage the public.

“One reason I like talking at universities is because I like students who will be entering the field to understand and talk about the challenges that are ahead for travel outside the Earth’s atmosphere,” says Leshin, adding, ”because they are the ones who will someday be working on it.”

The lecture was followed by a Q&A and a light reception.