Arizona State University, which is rapidly gaining a reputation as a forerunner in space research, had connections to two of the science projects aboard space shuttle Columbia.
One, developed by an ASU professor, examined photosynthesis in different levels of gravity, lending insight on how to capture light energy.
Another experiment, developed by an ASU graduate now working at NASA, looked at how to turn urine into drinking water, a measure that could drastically reduce the costs of lugging up heavy water in space missions.
"ASU has a long standing interaction with NASA from everything ranging from small research projects to big space missions," said Professor Laurie Leshin, a geology researcher who is one of four finalists to put a project to gather dust and gas on the next Mars mission. "We consider ourselves part of the NASA family. That's partly what makes today so hard."
Professor Petra Fromme, who was developing the photosynthesis experiment, was in Florida on Saturday ready to glean results of her experiment. Her husband, Raimund Fromme, said she was disappointed about the experiment.
"But it's not the same as seven lost people," he said.
Fromme theorizes that nature produces energy much more efficiently than the methods that man has developed. Studying photosynthesis, she said before she left for Florida, could turn up new ways to create energy.
"Nature is much more efficient in energy conversion than anything man has developed," she said. "The first step in duplicating it is knowing exactly what the process looks like in nature."
Fromme has participated in several space shuttle launches, will now have to play the waiting game that space researchers know well -- waiting for another shuttle launch and a precious research spot. Raimund Fromme said it could take years to put another experiment on board a space shuttle, especially as NASA investigates Saturday's crash.
The experiment in turning urine into water is being developed by 1986 ASU graduate Cindy Hutchens, who now works as an aerospace engineer for NASA in Huntsville, Ala. She hoped to use the cleansed water for drinking, cooking and hygiene.
"The early pioneers in this country could find water along their way, but that's a luxury space explorers don't have," Hutchens said in a statement before the space shuttle flight. "It's a technology we will need to explore the space frontier."