seal  Purdue News

December 3, 2003

Purdue University experts can talk about several topics related to the 100th anniversary of manned flight on Dec. 17. Topics include aviation and space exploration history, the allure of flight, limitations on research, pilot training and artificial environments in outer space.


1. Lots of work before space colonies become a reality

2. Before a trip to Mars, astronauts should revisit the moon

3. Corporate courage and consumer purse strings likely keys to aviation future

4. Purdue writer can discuss aviation pioneers, history of flight

5. One hundred years later, flight still captures imagination

6. Technology developments increase emphasis on simulation in flight training


Lots of work before space colonies become a reality

Science fiction images of people living in colonies on the moon or another planet might someday be a reality, but scientists have many questions to answer first, says a Purdue researcher.

Cary A. Mitchell, a professor of horticulture and director of the NASA Specialized Center of Research and Training in Advanced Life Support at Purdue, said technology that would allow humans to live in space is being developed, but it is still a long way from fruition.

"We'll go really carefully and do this in stages," Mitchell says. "It will take a lot of research and testing to answer the questions that we need to answer before we can send anyone to live in space."

Mitchell says it is paramount that scientists determine ways for artificial environments to be self-contained and self-sustaining. A round trip to Mars, for example, is likely to take three years, and astronauts will not be able to take everything they need with them.

"Creating artificial environments can be looked at in terms of closing a series of loops," Mitchell said. "We are close to closing the water loop and will soon have the technology for astronauts to recycle water. The last loop we will be able to close will be growing plants as a food source."

CONTACT: Mitchell, (765) 494-1347,


Before a trip to Mars, astronauts should revisit the moon

While many scientists involved in space flight have set their sights on a manned trip to Mars, one Purdue scientist says it is important to return to the moon first.

Gioia Massa, a researcher in Purdue's horticulture department who is developing light-emitting diodes that will help plants grow in a space environment, says it is important that NASA and astronauts give untested technology a "dry run" before taking a crew to Mars.

"If something were to go wrong on a Mars expedition, there would be nothing we could do help the astronauts," Massa says. "The moon is only a four-day trip. That is close enough that we could at least attempt a rescue."

Massa says that because it would be impossible to duplicate all of the factors that would affect an artificial environment in space, there would be no way to be certain if the mission would be successful. Without understanding the effects of these factors, a trip to Mars should be out of the question, she says.

"There are so many variables that there is no way to know how the environment would work. We can't duplicate the situation realistically enough on Earth," Massa said. "For example, how will plant growth change in the lower gravity of space? How will the human mind react to such a long period in a space shuttle? Until we know everything will work, we need to have an escape plan."

CONTACT: Massa, (765) 496-2124,


Corporate courage and customer purse strings likely keys to aviation future

If aviation technology is to continue the rapid development it has experienced over the past 100 years, it will likely depend on what airline customers are willing to pay for increased speed and comfort, a Purdue aviation expert says.

Steven Schneider, an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says the technology for significant advancements in the speed and fuel efficiency of aircraft is on the horizon, many because of a research and development commitment from the military. However, for these advancements to reach the commercial sector, a major financial commitment from commercial airlines or other companies is needed.

"The question is, are we willing to pay the development cost for the improvements in the technology?" Schneider said. "People would like to be able to fly to Japan in less time. They would like to fly to Australia in less time. But are they willing to pay for it and make it a viable business model?"

Schneider points to the Concorde, a supersonic trans-Atlantic jet that recently went out of business due, in part, to a lack of customers willing to pay the high ticket costs. Technology has advanced to a point where manufacturers could make a much better supersonic jet, but there is little public demand, he says.

"Until someone is willing to take the risk, we are lacking at every step," Schneider says. "In the 1950s, '60s and '70s, everyone wanted to go faster and higher. Now, the rate at which these advances occur is controlled by cost and the public's willingness to pay to go faster and higher."

CONTACT: Schneider, (765) 494-3343,


Purdue writer can discuss aviation pioneers, history of flight

Since the first manned flight by Orville and Wilbur Wright on Dec. 17, 1903, Purdue University has played a crucial role in shaping the course of aviation and space travel, says the author of a recently released book.

"Lots of people know about Purdue's 22 astronaut alumni, but you could also call Purdue the 'cradle of pilots.' If you look at the history of flight, at every major development, every important achievement, Purdue alumni have been involved," says John Norberg, a senior writer at Purdue.

Norberg's book, "Wings of Their Dreams: Purdue In Flight," tells the stories of people connected with Purdue who have played key roles in the development of flight, including Neil Armstrong, Amelia Earhart and other aviation pioneers. Purdue University Press released the book in November.

"While many people know about Purdue's most famous pilots and astronauts, they don't know the full impact the university has had since nearly the beginning of manned flight," Norberg says. "For example, as early as 1909, Purdue engineer J. Clifford Turpin was working with the Wright brothers to improve the engine that powered their fragile flying machine."

Norberg can talk not only about Purdue alumni and their roles in the advancement of aviation and space exploration, but also about the general history of the field.

CONTACT: Norberg, (765) 496-7783,


One hundred years later, flight still captures imagination

As technology has advanced and aviation has become commonplace, flight still holds a luster for its next generation of aviation pioneers, a Purdue professor says.

John Sullivan, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics, works with Purdue engineering students who are interested in airplanes.

"Flight is still unique in that way," Sullivan says. "A significant number of our students became interested in flight as early as the first grade. They like the excitement of it all. The fact that a human can actually fly is still a neat thing to do. Our students are very passionate about that."

Part of that excitement, Sullivan says, comes from the blazing speed at which advancements in the field have been made and the possibilities for the future.

"If you look at how far flight has come in the past 100 years, it is staggering, but there are still amazing advancements on the horizon," he says. "There is a lot of uncharted territory out there – a lot of new things to be explored in aviation. That is an exciting thing for these young people to be involved in."

CONTACT: Sullivan, (765) 494-5148,


Technology developments increase emphasis on simulation in flight training

A professor who has been involved in flight training at Purdue for more than 30 years says that as technology has made airplanes more complicated, it also has increased educators' dependence on flight simulators.

"The fundamentals haven't changed much since I started teaching," says Tom Carney, head of the aviation technology department at Purdue. "As airplanes and cockpits have become more complicated, we have had to change some of our methods, but the principles the students need are the same."

Carney says the biggest change in flight education has been a heavy reliance on simulators at every level of training. Advancements in avionics, airspace regulations, safety and security concerns, and other changes have made flight more complicated and training more complex. More sophisticated technology in simulators, however, has helped educators provide training for these new, complex situations with which today's pilots must deal.

"Simulators have become more and more lifelike," Carney says. "We can duplicate almost any situation that a pilot will have to deal with in the air. That type of training is invaluable for pilots and will just continue to improve in the future."

CONTACT: Carney, (765) 494-9954,