Michigan Engineering News

A variety of images from the Apollo 15 mission arranged with a film strip decorative border.

Apollo 15 at 50: A celebration of the all-Michigan crew’s mission and the future of space exploration

July 30 virtual event highlights future lunar and deep space missions, the technologies to get there, and U-M’s research contributions to space exploration.

The fourth mission to the moon, Apollo 15 had its share of firsts—the first space walk in deep space, the first use of a lunar rover to explore the moon’s surface, and the first satellite deployment by a crewed spacecraft. 

The mission, which ran from July 26, 1971 to August 7, 1971, was also a first for the Ann Arbor campus, as astronauts David Scott, James Irwin, and Alfred Worden all attended the University of Michigan (U-M). 

On Friday, July 30 at 1:00 pm Eastern time, the U-M will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 15 and its all-Michigan crew with an online event featuring history-making research accomplishments and a glimpse into future space exploration. Click here to view the event. Webinar ID: 910 8067 5509 | Passcode: 122311
Or join by phone: US: +1 312 626 6799

Apollo 15 50th Anniversary virtual event poster
Apollo 15 50th Anniversary virtual event poster

Keynote speaker S. Pete Worden, chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation and former director of NASA Ames Research Center, will present, “A Journey to Alpha Centauri 2071,” an ambitious project to send an unmanned spacecraft to a neighboring solar system. About 4.3 light years away from Earth’s solar system, Alpha Centauri is a three-star system and scientists believe it has a planet similar to Earth. 

Mark Hilburger, NASA principal technologist for structures, materials, and nanotechnology, will present “Building a Sustainable Presence on the Moon.” U-M students from the Bioastronautics & Life Support Systems (BLiSS) team, which develops innovative design ideas and technologies in support of NASA’s Artemis program, will give a presentation on a voice-activated system similar to Amazon’s Alexa that could be deployed aboard the Lunar Gateway, a sustainable staging outpost that will allow humans to return to the moon and someday even venture to Mars. 

Astronauts would use this new system to control the space station autonomously with voice commands through a tablet or smartwatch. This technology would replace the outdated buttons and switches used in the past. 

Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Ben Jorns will present “Next Generation Propulsion for the Next Frontier in Space.” Jorns will discuss the need for new propulsion technologies to extend humanity beyond the moon and how the Plasmadynamics and Electric Propulsion Laboratory is leading the way in innovating these new concepts.

U-M researchers are well known for their work on miniature spacecraft called CubeSats. Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor James Cutler and his students, for example, have built and launched CubeSats that are collecting data to monitor hurricanes and better understand deep-space communication challenges. 

In a collaboration with industry, Cutler’s research team is also adapting its CubeSat technology to be incorporated into mini-walking rovers produced by the company Spacebit for moon exploration. 

A look back

Michigan’s pre-eminence in space exploration research began in 1946 with the founding of the Space Physics Research Laboratory (SPRL), which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. SPRL Managing Director Patrick McNally will present “75 Years of Science Instruments from Earth to the Moon and Beyond.”

Using V2 rockets that were captured from Germany after World War II, SPRL researchers were among the first to launch payloads into space.  The SPRL team has developed instruments supporting faculty research of the sun, our Earth’s atmosphere and moon, and the exploration of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and comets. 

In addition to new instruments now being designed for Lunar Gateway and the surface of the Moon, SPRL engineers and technicians are taking on the challenge of protecting astronauts from radiation on a long journey to Mars.

U-M’s storied Department of Aerospace Engineering, the first such department at any university in the country, has a number of alumni and faculty who made important contributions to space technology and exploration. Among them are: 

  • Professor Harm Buning, an expert on the motion of space vehicles, taught the first group of astronauts about orbital mechanics at the Johnson Space Center. 
  • Alumnus and astronaut Ed White performed the first walk in space in 1965 during the Gemini 4 flight.
  • Alumnus and astronaut Jim McDivitt commanded the Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 missions.
  • Alumnus and astronaut Jack Lousma was a crew member on the Skylab 3 space station and he commanded the third space shuttle mission. 

Once again, the event begins at 1:00 pm Eastern Time and runs until 5:00 pm. Meeting specifics:


Webinar ID: 910 8067 5509
Passcode: 122311
Or join by phone:
US: +1 312 626 6799

The complete agenda is available here. Click to join the event

The Apollo event is sponsored by the Michigan Space Grant Consortium, U-M Space Institute, and U-M Space Physics Research Laboratory in collaboration with the U-M Departments of Aerospace Engineering and Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering