Two experiments with an ASU connection were on board Space Shuttle Columbia — not surprising given the university’s growing reputation in space research.
One project, developed by an Arizona State University professor, looked to create a new type of energy by examining photosynthesis in different gravity settings.
Another, developed by an ASU graduate now working at NASA, hoped to turn urine into drinking water, a measure that could drastically reduce the costs of lugging up heavy water on space missions.
"We consider ourselves part of the NASA family," said professor Laurie Leshin, a geology researcher who is one of four finalists to work on an upcoming NASA Mars project. "That’s partly what makes (Saturday) so hard."
Professor Petra Fromme, who was developing the photosynthesis experiment, was in Florida on Saturday ready to glean results from the mission.
Her husband, Raimund Fromme, said she was disappointed to lose the data, but more worried about the crew’s families.
"It’s not the same as seven lost people," he said.
The ASU professor theorized that studying photosynthesis could turn up new ways to create energy.
"Nature is much more efficient in energy conversion than anything man has developed," Fromme said. "The first step in duplicating it is knowing exactly what the process looks like in nature."
ASU graduate Cindy Hutchens, now an aerospace engineer for NASA in Huntsville, Ala., hoped to test a new system that could turn astronauts’ urine into water for drinking, cooking and hygiene.
ASU is home to many NASA researchers. ASU aeronautical engineer Avi Singhal has designed space probes for 30 years, including MARS probes that circled Jupiter.
Like others, Singhal is eyeing the heat tiles that covered the Columbia spacecraft as a possible culprit in the crash. He also wonders if the back of the shuttle suffered a structural failure.
Either scenario would speak poorly of the maintenance of the 22-year-old space shuttle, Singhal said.