NASA donates space shuttle computer to NSU

When NASA announced the end of its manned-flight program in 2009, its once respected reputation among Americans seemed to dwindle.

No longer considered an up-and-coming feature of the nation’s technological progress, NASA’s old shuttles are being emptied and placed in museums across the country. These shuttle “skeletons” will remain on display, while their contents — priceless mementos to the space age of the U.S. — will serve a different purpose; universities and other educational institutions are being offered the chance to request donations, and NSU was fortunate enough to receive a bid in early January.

NSU secured the valuable donation thanks to the efforts of Eric Ackerman, associate professor and interim dean of NSU’s Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences. When he heard of NASA’s need to get rid of its old technology, he sent in an application and waited nine months in anticipation. In early January, he received notification that several pieces were ready for him to pick up from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Cape Canaveral, Fla. According to Ackerman, because the technology was being kept at KSC, and not Houston, this means NSU is receiving actual equipment — not unused test pieces.

The set NASA gave to NSU is comprised of about 40 pieces of space paraphernalia, including a titanium switch board, space food, an Apollo era glove, a shuttle laptop, spacesuit boots and, most notably, a $1.2 million computer.

The computer, one of a set of seven that controlled all functions aboard multiple NASA shuttles, has a total of 6,000 flight hours.

“The computer itself is actually priceless, because it’s been into space and back,” said Ackerman, who is currently keeping the artifacts in his office, among his many years’ worth of nostalgic space technology.

Ackerman’s longtime interest in NASA and space technology is profound, as is his experience. In 1992, he and a team of NSU professors and students, including Barry Perlman, Dimitrios Giarikos, Heidi Mederos, Richard Sung, James Rothrock and Hui Fang Huang Su, conducted a Tin Crystal experiment in the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences chemistry research laboratory.

The team’s work on growing pure crystals in the near-zero gravity of space was tested and approved by NASA within three months, and was deemed so successful, they secured a flight package on NASA’s space shuttle Columbia. The experiment went on to fly on a total of four shuttles, which was a huge accomplishment for the researchers.

Ackerman’s latest space venture is bit closer to home; he is striving to revive intrigue in space exploration and inspire young people in the community to contemplate the technology of the future.

Ackerman said, “The goal is to inspire younger generations to just think, ‘What little robots have to be built, what satellites need to be designed, how much longer will it be until we send a man to Mars?’ Unless we remind them of the past, they’ll forget about the progress that has yet to be made.”

The inspiration he is eager to deliver will be on display on the first floor of the Alvin Sherman Library this summer, where students, faculty, staff and members of the community will be able to examine the NASA donations up close, free of charge.

After the library exhibit closes, the entire collection will be moved permanently to the Emil Buehler Research Center for Engineering, Science and Mathematics (EBRC), the third floor of the Center for Collaborative Research (CRC) on NSU’s main campus. The seven-floor CRC will be complete in 18 months, and the EBRC will serve as a training ground to advance teacher education and retention in the critical fields of aerospace, mathematics, science, technology and engineering. Ackerman hopes to eventually coordinate field trips to the center, where NSU Computer and Information Science graduate students will be available to explain the history and purposes of the technology.

Ackerman said, “These space items are a symbol of the progress we made in terms of space exploration, but there are so many advancements yet to be made in science, medicine and technology. I want to be remembered for contributing to that base of knowledge.”

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