The University of New Hampshire celebrated its latest accomplishment in scientific research and funding as it invited NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) to the University of New Hampshire (UNH) on Thursday, Aug. 29, to commemorate a $107.9 million grant to UNH. 

Bridenstine’s and Shaheen’s arrivals came nearly a month after NASA announced that a research group headed by Joe Salisbury, a research associate professor in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, had won the grant, which will support the building the Geosynchronous Littoral Imaging and Monitoring Radiometer (GLIMR), an instrument designed to study recent trends in phytoplankton, or small algae, in the Gulf of Mexico, a species the area has struggled to deal with in recent years.  

Bridenstine and Shaheen spent the visit at Morse Hall, home to the Space Science Center, where a group of faculty and researchers that, along with their graduate and undergraduate students, study aspects of space ranging from lightning to radiation. 

After meeting with UNH President James W. Dean, Jr., Bridenstine and Shaheen began a tour of the space research conducted at UNH. Salisbury began the tour with an overview of the grant project. GLIMR, “will give the sharpest, highest resolution, most frequent science data…that’s ever been taken the Gulf of Mexico.” Salisbury said.   

Bridenstine and Shaheen made their way down the first floor of Morse Hall, which had been decorated with banners hinting at the variety of research housed at UNH and Morse Hall, from oceanography to space physics.  

As spectators looked on from floors above, Bridenstine and Shaheen were greeted by a variety of researchers stationed at the banners, including recently graduated graduate students. The researchers presented projects, such as the Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation (CRaTER), another NASA-funded project designed to determine if the levels of radiation in space are low enough and thus safe for an astronaut to experience.  

At this presentation station, Bridenstine took time to connect the research he was seeing to future missions to Mars.  

“What is happening here at the University of New Hampshire, with this mission, is informing when and how we’re going to send our astronauts not just to the moon, but eventually to Mars,” he said. 

The presentations continued in a research laboratory labeled Mechanical Flight Parts, with Bridenstine and Shaheen meeting undergraduates and Space Science Center researchers and professors that work on NASA-funded projects. These researchers presented several projects, from the Interstellary Boundary Explorer (IBEX), an instrument studying solar wind, to a project that required “bunny suits,” or head-to-toe covering with the researchers behind a wall of glass as they operated an instrument to determine an electric field.   

Bridenstine and Shaheen asked questions of the researchers, aiming to understand the reasoning and science behind projects. Bridenstine stopped to take a selfie with undergraduates that worked in the lab. A joke ran throughout the presentations, urging Shaheen to encourage funding of the projects she was observing. As a senator, Shaheen serves on the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. Although this does not allow Shaheen the ability to determine awardees of NASA grants, Shaheen has jurisdiction over NASA. 

“I think there’s a lot of bipartisan support for [the Space Grant] program…people understand how important they are, and what a difference it makes for you all.” Shaheen said. UNH is a Space Grant institution, which, according to NASA’s website on STEM Engagement, refers to a number of higher-level educational institutions whom share an academic relationship with NASA. NASA supports everything from faculty development to public outreach with the Space Grant program. 

The presentations concluded on the second floor of Morse with statements from President Dean, Bridenstine, Shaheen and Harlan Spence, the Director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space, also housed in Morse. 

“We are delighted to welcome NASA Administrator Bridenstine and Senator Shaheen to discuss UNH’s space science research, and our partnership with NASA, which is even more extensive than I knew an hour ago.” President Dean said. “UNH is proud of its 60-year relationship with NASA.”  

He then introduced Shaheen. “Senator Shaheen is a great friend and advocate for UNH, especially when it comes to research and science which we are incredibly grateful for.”  

“We are thrilled to have Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, here to see all the amazing work that’s going on at UNH, and to hear the history of what a difference UNH has made for NASA and our space program,” Shaheen said as she noted her role on the Subcommittee.  

Shaheen also discussed the role New Hampshire businesses had in the Apollo moon landing. The 50th anniversary of the landing was celebrated in August.  

“The Granite State has really played a huge role in space science and exploration…we’re so thrilled that Administrator Bridenstine is here to hear some of that history and to see firsthand what’s happening at UNH, and of course we’re here also to celebrate the $107.9 million contract through the Earth Venture program to fund project GLIMR…I’m a huge fan of space of the work that NASA’s doing and of the work that our businesses and all of the work that our students and faculty here are doing to support mission.” 

Bridenstine, meanwhile, explained the inspiration for supporting the GLIMR mission.  

“The National Academy of Sciences puts together what we call decadal surveys, and there is an earth science decadal survey that gives us guidance on what we ought to be studying as an agency, NASA specifically,” he said. “The first two elements of that earth science decadal survey tell us to look at…energy cycles and water cycles and how they are coupled together and also look at ecosystem change…this mission is going to do both of those. 

“This mission GLIMR…is going to do great benefits, not just for the United States of America, but for the world and the science community at large,” he added.  

GLIMR, Bridenstine noted, will be on a “hosted payload,” or will share space with a communications satellite. This hosted payload, per Bridenstine, would reduce costs and increase access to space and economic efficiency, among other benefits.  

“…it’s very innovative, very unique capability is really going to be led here at the University of New Hampshire,” he said. “In the future we’re going to have the ability to get a lot more science for a lot less money and be able to transform how we do this kind of research, and the University of New Hampshire should be get great credit for being willing to step up to the plate and deliver on this.”  

Bridenstine and Shaheen ended their visit at UNH with an hour with local business leaders, whose businesses supply NASA with the necessary tools and technology, before they traveled on to Hampton and toured Mikrolar, a robotics company that has supported NASA missions.