Universities Space Research Association

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) was incorporated on March 12, 1969 in Washington, D.C. as a private, nonprofit corporation under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Institutional membership in the association has grown from 49 colleges and universities when it was founded, to the current 105 institutions. All member institutions have graduate programs in space sciences or technology. Besides the 95 member institutions in the United States, there are two member institutions in Canada, four in Europe, two in Israel, one in Australia and one in Hong Kong.[2][3]

Universities Space Research Association
The letters "USRA" in black sans-serif type, overlapping the grey outline of a circle
FormationMarch 12, 1969
FounderJames E. Webb et al.
Founded atWashington, D.C.
Legal statusNonprofit organization
Purpose"To advance the space- and aeronautics-related sciences"[1]
Headquarters7178 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, Maryland 21046
Official language
Jeffrey Isaacson
Chair of the board of trustees
William F. Ballhaus, Jr.
SubsidiariesLunar and Planetary Institute


USRA provides a mechanism through which universities can cooperate effectively with one another, with the government, and with other organizations to further space science and technology, and to promote education in these areas. Its mission is carried out through the institutes, centers, divisions, and programs. Administrative and scientific personnel now number about 420. A unique feature of USRA's management is its system of standing panels of technical experts, drawn from the research community, to provide oversight for USRA's institutes, centers, divisions and programs.


USRA's origins extend back to 1966, when the NASA Administrator requested the help of the NAS in forming a national consortium to assume management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. The president of the NAS, Dr. Frederick Seitz, first turned to the Universities Research Association (URA), which had recently been created to operate the National Accelerator Laboratory. Seitz raised the issue of NASA's involvement at a URA meeting in the fall of 1966. However, because of budgetary concerns with the National Accelerator Laboratory, URA did not wish to assume any additional responsibilities.[4]

To satisfy its immediate needs, NASA took upon itself the management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory but left open the possibility of wider participation of the academic community through an institute. At this time, the idea of a Lunar Science Institute (LSI) took form. To develop further the concept of the LSI, the NAS created a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Kenneth Pitzer to study NASA/University Relations. In the fall of 1967, the Pitzer Committee recommended the establishment of the LSI initially to be operated by Rice University under a subcontract with the NAS, but eventually to be operated by a university consortium. The Pitzer committee concluded that the pattern established at LSI could form the basis for the development of a much broader link between NASA and the academic community.


On March 1, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson announced the creation of the Lunar Science Institute (LSI), and USRA was chartered the following year as the parent organization of LSI. The initial headquarters of USRA was at the University of Virginia, where Professor A. R. Kuhlthau served as the first president of the association.

In 1976, Dr. Alexander J. Dessler became the second USRA president. Dessler moved the headquarters of the association to Rice University, where he served as chairman of the Department of Space Physics and Astronomy.

In 1978 USRA headquarters moved to Columbia, Maryland.

Dr. David C. Black was appointed USRA president in 2000. Black served as director of USRA's Lunar and Planetary Institute from 1988 to 2001, and is internationally recognized for research in theoretical astrophysics and planetary science.

Dr. Jeffrey Isaacson was named president and CEO of USRA, effective October 20, 2014.

Other programs

USRA initially concentrated on the management of Lunar Science Institute (later renamed the Lunar and Planetary Institute) but, armed with its broad charter, the consortium began to explore other ways to serve the university space research community as early as 1970. Today, USRA researchers are involved with university, government and industry scientists and engineers in a broad array of space and aeronautics related fields, including astronomy and astrophysics, earth sciences, microgravity, life sciences, space technology, computer science, and advanced concepts.

Most USRA research activities include related educational components.

The presidents of USRA have been:

  • A. Robert Kuhlthau (1969–1976)
  • Alexander J. Dessler (1976–1981)
  • Paul J. Coleman, Jr. (1981–2000)
  • David C. Black (2000–2006)
  • Frederick A. Tarantino (2006–2014)
  • Donald Kniffen (2014) [acting]
  • Jeffrey Isaacson (2014–present)

Institutes and programs

  • Astronomy program at the Arecibo Observatory[5]
  • Center for Advanced Space Studies (CASS)
  • Center for Program/Project Management Research (CPMR)
  • Cooperative Program in Space Science (CPSS)
  • Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR)
  • Division of Space Life Sciences (DSLS)
  • Education Programs Office at CASS
  • Earth Sciences Applications Research Program (ESARP)
  • Earth System Science Education for the 21st Century (ESSE 21)
  • Earth System Science Program (ESSP) in Huntsville
  • NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program
  • NASA Summer Faculty Research Opportunities (NSFRO)
  • Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI)
  • National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE)
  • National Center for Space Exploration Research on Fluids and Combustion (NCSER)
  • Navy Astronomy Programs (NRL and USNO)
  • Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS)
  • Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts - Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Program
  • Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)
  • Technology Development and Aerospace Environments (TDAE)
  • USRA Astronomy Program in Huntsville
  • Visiting Researcher Exchange and Outreach (VREO) Program


  1. ^ "Purpose & Mission". USRA.edu. Universities Space Research Association. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  2. ^ "The History of USRA". USRA. Archived from the original on 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2006-10-31.
  3. ^ "All Member Universities". USRA.
  4. ^ "The History of USRA". USRA. Archived from the original on 2006-10-24. Retrieved 2006-10-31.
  5. ^ "Universities Space Research Association Part of Team Selected by the National Science Foundation to Manage Arecibo Observatory". USRA. Retrieved 2011-12-07.

External links


209P/LINEAR is a periodic comet discovered on 3 February 2004 by Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) using a 1.0-metre (39 in) reflector. Initially it was observed without a coma and named 2004 CB as a minor planet or asteroid, but in March 2004 Robert H. McNaught observed a comet tail which confirmed it as a comet. It was given the permanent number 209P on 12 December 2008 as it was the second observed appearance of the comet. Prediscovery images of the comet, dating back to December 2003, were found during 2009. Arecibo imaging in 2014 showed the comet nucleus is peanut shaped and about 2.4 km in diameter. The comet has extremely low activity for its size and is probably in the process of evolving into an extinct comet.

209P/LINEAR was recovered on 31 December 2018 at magnitude 19.2 by Hidetaka Sato, but not officially announced yet.

D-Wave Two

D-Wave Two (project code name Vesuvius) is the second commercially available quantum computer, and the successor to the first commercially available quantum computer, D-Wave One. Both computers were developed by Canadian company D-Wave Systems. The computers are not general purpose, but rather are designed for quantum annealing. Specifically, the computers are designed to use quantum annealing to solve a single type of problem known as quadratic unconstrained binary optimization. As of 2015, it is still heavily debated whether large-scale entanglement takes place in D-Wave Two, and whether current or future generations of D-Wave computers will have any advantage over classical computers.

Joan T. Schmelz

Joan T. Schmelz is the Associate Director for Science and Public Outreach at the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) for the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). Previously, Dr. Schmelz was the Deputy Director of Arecibo Observatory and the Director of USRA Operations at Arecibo from 2015 through 2018. Before joining USRA, Dr. Schmelz was an NSF Program Director in the Astronomical Sciences Division, where she oversaw the Astronomy & Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellowship program, and a professor of physics at the University of Memphis from 1996 to 2017. Schmelz's research focus is heliophysics, specifically investigating the coronal heating problem as well as the properties and dynamics of the solar atmosphere. She uses spectroscopic and image data in the X-ray and ultraviolet wavelength ranges obtained from NASA satellites and rockets. She has published over 80 refereed scientific journal articles and authored three books.

Dr. Schmelz was the chair of the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS’s) Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy for 6 years (two terms) and has been the Vice President of the AAS since June 2018. In December 2015, Dr. Schmelz was named by the scientific journal Nature as one of the ten people who mattered in 2015 because of her significant work as a voice for women in science, specifically because of her behind-the-scences efforts to expose sexual harassment in science .


Kuratite, named for Dr. Gero Kurat (1938–2009), meteorite researcher and Curator of the Meteorite Collection at the Vienna Natural History Museum, was first recognized as a new mineral by the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification in 2014 from a small meteorite sample.

List of NASA contractors

The Top 100 Contractors Report on the Federal Procurement Data System lists the top hundred NASA contractors ('NASA 8000' worksheet).The following is a list of on-site contractors at NASA facilities that contribute to NASA's missions and objectives. They can either be prime contractors or subcontractors under a prime.

Louise Prockter

Louise Prockter is a planetary scientist and former supervisor of the Planetary Exploration Group at the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory. In 2016 the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) announced the appointment of Dr. Prockter as Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, effective September 6, 2016. She is the first woman to serve as LPI Director and succeeds Dr. Stephen J. Mackwell who led the LPI from 2002 to 2016.

Lunar and Planetary Institute

The Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is a scientific research institute dedicated to study of the solar system, its formation, evolution, and current state. The Institute is part of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and is supported by the Science Mission Directorate of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Located at 3600 Bay Area Boulevard in Houston, Texas, the LPI maintains an extensive collection of lunar and planetary data, carries out education and public outreach programs, and offers meeting coordination and publishing services. The LPI sponsors and organizes several workshops and conferences throughout the year, including the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) held in March in the Houston area.

Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

The Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), jointly sponsored by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) and NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC), brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science. Since its beginning in 1970, the LPSC has been a significant focal point for planetary science research, with more than 2000 planetary scientists and students attending from all over the world.

Marc Reagan

Marcum "Marc" Reagan (born c. 1967) is a Station Training Lead in Mission Operations at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He leads a team of instructors who together are responsible for developing and executing complex simulations for International Space Station (ISS) assembly and operations. Reagan also serves as an ISS "Capcom" from Mission Control, communicating with ISS astronauts in orbit. In May 2002, Reagan served as an aquanaut on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations 2 (NEEMO 2) crew. He subsequently served as Mission Director for multiple NEEMO missions.

NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts

The NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) is a NASA program for development of far reaching, long term advanced concepts by "creating breakthroughs, radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts". The program operated under the name NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts from 1998 until 2007 (managed by the Universities Space Research Association on behalf of NASA), and continued under the name NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts from 2011 to present. The NIAC program funds work on revolutionary aeronautics and space concepts that can dramatically impact how NASA develops and conducts its missions.

Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab

The Quantum Artificial Intelligence Lab (also called the Quantum AI Lab or QuAIL) is a joint initiative of NASA, Universities Space Research Association, and Google (specifically, Google Research) whose goal is to pioneer research on how quantum computing might help with machine learning and other difficult computer science problems. The lab is hosted at NASA's Ames Research Center.

Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science

The Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) was founded June 1, 1983 as a joint collaboration between the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the NASA Ames Research Center. The Institute was created to conduct basic and applied research in computer science, covering a broad range of research topics of interest to the aerospace community including supercomputing, computational fluid dynamics, computational chemistry, high performance networking, and artificial intelligence.

Since its inception, a goal of the Institute’s research has been to support scientific research and engineering from problem formulation to results dissemination, combining concurrent processing systems with intelligent systems to allow users to interact in the language of their discipline. This goal has since expanded to support a broad range of activities associated with space exploration and science, including mission operations and innovative information systems for technology research and development.

An underlying philosophy and approach of the Institute is that successful research is interdisciplinary, and that challenging applications associated with NASA’s mission provide a driving force for developing innovative information systems and advancing computer science. To implement this approach, research staff undertakes collaborative projects with research groups at NASA, integrating computer science with other disciplines to support NASA’s mission.

Over its nearly twenty five-year history, RIACS has acted as a bridge between academia and government research, engaging talented researchers from around the world to collaborate with NASA on challenging research topics. RIACS has also acted as a bridge between industry and the government to mature information technologies for infusion into NASA operations, enabling broader public benefit from research results.

For NASA, RIACS has collaborated most closely with the Intelligent Systems Division and the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division (NAS) at the NASA Ames Research Center – NASA’s Center for Excellence in Information Technology. RIACS, which was formed the same year as the NAS, worked closely with the division in its early years to develop a strong competency in supercomputing and computational fluid dynamics at NASA. RIACS helped establish the Intelligent Systems Division, and has since collaborated closely with the division to develop and infuse a number of software innovations in the areas of autonomous systems; intelligent information management and data understanding; and human-centered computing.

Robert Gomer

Robert Gomer (born 24 March 1924, Vienna, Austria; died 12 December 2016) was an Austrian scientist known for his research on field electron emission and field ionization, and his role as an adviser to the United States government.

He was educated at Pomona College and the University of Rochester, where he received his doctorate in 1949. From 1949 to 1950, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University and worked with G. B. Kistiakowsky. He subsequently moved to the University of Chicago, where he was a professor of chemistry in the James Franck Institute and the Department of Chemistry.From 1977 to 1983 he served as director of the James Franck Institute and in 1984 he was appointed Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor. He has been honored with numerous awards, including the A. von Humboldt Society Senior U.S. Science Award, the Davisson-Germer Prize of the American Physical Society, the Medard W. Welch Award of the American Vacuum Society, and the Arthur W. Adamson Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Surface Chemistry. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981. Prior to his retirement he worked on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Chemical Physics, Applied Physics, and Annual Review of Physical Chemistry.

He served on numerous scientific committees, including the President's Science Advisory Committee (1961-1965) and the Advisory Committee for the Directorate of Physical Sciences, Air Force Office of Scientific Research (1961-1975), and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Universities Space Research Association (1976-1978).

He is the author of Field Emission and Field Ionization (American Vacuum Society Classics), a pioneering vacuum text based on four lectures presented at Harvard University in 1958. He was also a member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group, where he worked to discourage the use of nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War.

Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals

Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) is an ultraviolet Raman spectrometer that uses fine-scale imaging and an ultraviolet (UV) laser to determine fine-scale mineralogy and detect organic compounds designed for the Mars 2020 rover mission. It is constructed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with major subsystems being delivered from Malin Space Science Systems and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Principal Investigator is Luther Beegle, and the Deputy Principal Investigator is Rohit Bhartia.

SHERLOC will have a calibration target with possible Mars suit materials, and it will measure how they change over time in the Martian surface environment.

Scott Pace

Scott Norman Pace (born January 23, 1959) currently serves as the Executive Secretary of the National Space Council. Pace was formerly the Director of the Space Policy Institute at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, where he was also a Professor of the Practice of International Affairs.

Soft gamma repeater

A soft gamma repeater (SGR) is an astronomical object which emits large bursts of gamma-rays and X-rays at irregular intervals. It is conjectured that they are a type of magnetar or, alternatively, neutron stars with fossil disks around them.On March 5, 1979 a powerful gamma-ray burst was noted. As a number of receivers at different locations in the Solar System saw the burst at slightly different times, its direction could be determined, and it was shown to originate from near a supernova remnant in the Large Magellanic Cloud.Over time it became clear that this was not a normal gamma-ray burst. The photons were less energetic in the soft gamma-ray and hard X-ray range, and repeated bursts came from the same region.

Astronomer Chryssa Kouveliotou of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center decided to test the theory that soft gamma repeaters were magnetars. According to the theory, the bursts would cause the object to slow down its rotation. In 1998, she made careful comparisons of the periodicity of soft gamma repeater SGR 1806-20. The period had increased by 0.008 seconds since 1993, and she calculated that this would be explained by a magnetar with a magnetic-field strength of 8×1010 teslas (8×1014 gauss). This was enough to convince the international astronomical community that soft gamma repeaters are indeed magnetars.

An unusually spectacular soft gamma repeater burst was SGR 1900+14 observed on August 27, 1998. Despite the large distance to this SGR, estimated at 20,000 light years, the burst had large effects on the Earth's atmosphere. The atoms in the ionosphere, which are usually ionized by the Sun's radiation by day and recombine to neutral atoms by night, were ionized at nighttime at levels not much lower than the normal daytime level. The Rossi X-Ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), an X-ray satellite, received its strongest signal from this burst at this time, even though it was directed at a different part of the sky, and should normally have been shielded from the radiation.

Known soft gamma repeaters include:

The numbers give the position in the sky, for example, SGR 0525-66 has a right ascension of 5h25m and a declination of −66°. The date of discovery sometimes appears in a format such as 1979/1986 to refer to the year the object was discovered, in addition to the year soft gamma repeaters were recognized as a separate class of objects rather than "normal" gamma-ray bursts.

Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is an 80/20 joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) to construct and maintain an airborne observatory. NASA awarded the contract for the development of the aircraft, operation of the observatory and management of the American part of the project to the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in 1996. The DSI (Deutsches SOFIA Institut) manages the German parts of the project which are primarily science and telescope related. SOFIA's telescope saw first light on May 26, 2010. SOFIA is the successor to the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. It will observe celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets, nebulae, and the galactic centre.

Traces of Catastrophe

Traces of Catastrophe: A Handbook of Shock-Metamorphic Effects in Terrestrial Meteorite Impact Structures is a book written by Bevan M. French of the Smithsonian Institution. It is a comprehensive technical reference on the science of impact craters. It was published in 1998 by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), which is part of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA). It was originally available in hard copy from LPI, but is now only available as a portable document format (PDF) e-book free download.The book has become very influential in the field of impact crater research, appearing as a common reference for papers and web sites on the topic. The Earth Impact Database lists it among the suggested reading on its introductory page about impact craters. The Impact Field Studies Group Impact Database says it is required reading before submitting an observation of a proposed impact site. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) lists it among general references relevant to Planetary Science across the solar system. NASA GSFC also has a Remote Sensing Tutorial site which calls Traces of Catastrophe an "exceptional summary of impact cratering."


USRA may refer to:

Undergraduate Student Research Award of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC USRA), a prestigious research award for top Canadian undergraduate researchers

União dos Sindicatos Revolucionarios de Angola (Union of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Angola)

United Slot Racers Association, a slot racing organizations

United States Racquetball Association, former name of USA Racquetball

United States Railroad Administration (1917-1920), the nationalized rail system during World War I

USRA standard locomotives built by this administration

United States Railway Association (1974-1987), the corporation that oversaw the creation of Conrail

Universities Space Research Association, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit corporation under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences

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