December 1, 2004

N.D. Consortium Wins NASA Research Job

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) -- NASA has awarded control of its DC-8 research aircraft to the Upper Midwest Space Consortium at the University of North Dakota, a move officials say will create new jobs at the university and give it added national prestige.

The plane will be stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base during a five-year partnership, starting in March, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said Tuesday.

"UND now has the opportunity to be part of scientific research on the global scale," he said, adding that it likely will mean at least a dozen new jobs as well as opportunities for UND students and researchers.

George Seielstad, UND's associate dean of aerospace science, said several new NASA-funded positions will be created at the university, ranging from a project director to a software engineer and a mechanic.

He said the plane also will benefit the area economy. During missions, which will number three or four a year, "there will be as many as 100 scientists in Grand Forks working on their instrumentation," Seielstad said.

The McDonnell Douglas DC-8 jet transporter is one of NASA's premier research facilities. The plane can carry 30,000 pounds of equipment and can fly up to 12 hours at a time. It is used in the collection of data for atmospheric, environmental, biological and even archaeological research, Dorgan said.

It currently is stationed at the Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Seielstad said the focus of that center is working on experimental aircraft, not on earth science.

"What UND convinced NASA of (is), 'Let's look at this as a laboratory,"' he said. "It's for research, it's for education, it's for about learning about the earth and teaching the next generation about learning about the earth. The fact that it flies is just a means to an end."

He said the fact that students also will be involved in the research was another factor in NASA's decision to move the plane.

"One of the big advantages was, we were going to be involving students," Seielstad said. "You need to be generating the next generation" of scientists.

The plane's first mission under UND oversight will begin next summer and will involve the study of hurricane origins. The mission will be launched from Costa Rica.

UND's proposal to house the plane beat out several other proposals, including one from Dryden. Seielstad said just maintaining the plane is about a $5 million per year operation.

"It's a wonderful thing for the university," he said. "This is truly a national resource."

The Upper Midwest Space Consortium includes participants from academic fields, industry and government in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.


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