Hans Mark

Aerospace engineering professor Hans Mark is working with students to develop a blueprint for using current technology to visit Mars without exceeding the United States’ space exploration budget.

Mark, also a former UT System chancellor, said he thinks the U.S. has an obligation to go to Mars. The group aims to show that putting humans, and not just robots, on Mars is both feasible and economic.

“The critical reason for putting people on Mars is that it’s fairly easy for people to identify things like fossil rocks,” Mark said. “Designing a robot to sort through and identify those debris would be even more expensive than merely sending people.” 

Mark, who spent 12 years working in the Pentagon, is no stranger to government delays in space exploration. Following George H.W. Bush’s 1989 call to visit Mars, Mark and a group of UT researchers put together a report arguing for a more ambitious timeline to keep the Mars mission from being pushed back.

“No president is going to take up something like that, so we dropped the ball,” Mark said.

But recent research has renewed interest in a Mars landing. New techniques have made possible the imaging of large swaths of Mars’ surface, and shown the need for further discovery.

Though skeptical of the necessity of an immediate return to Mars, Jack Holt, research professor in the Jackson School of Geosciences, said there is much more to learn about Mars’ surface.

“The more we look, the more we’re finding ephemeral ice deposits on Mars’ surface,” Holt said. “[But] we don’t know enough about these ice deposits to know if they could maintain habitats.”

Mark said he sees investigating the origins of life as a major motivation for a visit to Mars.

“I don’t think we’ll find life on Mars, but I do think we’ll find signs of the origin of life,” Mark said.

But Mark said he hopes the benefit of his work won’t be only scientific. Stressing what he said is America’s penchant for innovation, Mark argued that part of the obligation to explore Mars is ethical. 

Trey Curran, an aerospace engineering freshman and student of Mark’s, said he is thrilled by the prospects of working on a Mars mission.

“Going to Mars is certainly the next big step forward in space exploration and it’s really invigorating to me as an aspiring aerospace engineer to have that possibility on the horizon,” Curran said.

Conflicts between members of the UT System Board of Regents and the Texas Legislature are nothing new to the two bodies, but their relationship changes with differing political and economic climates, according to current and former members of each entity.

Former UT System Chancellor Hans Mark, who served from 1984 to 1992, said legislators did not involve themselves in the board’s affairs during his tenure, which he attributes to a lack of apparent partisanship on the board, a different economic climate and conflicts among regents over relatively minor topics.

“I can say certainly during my time, nothing was as serious as it is today,” Mark said.

Mark said the closest parallel to this session’s events, which stem from perceived efforts by regents to oust President William Powers Jr., is the board’s dismissal of President Homer Rainey in 1944. Regents fired Rainey when he refused to remove economics professors accused of teaching communist theories.

“That was a much tenser period because none of us really expected that the Soviet Union would be an enemy just a few years after the end of World War II,” Mark said. “Hell, I was around, I didn’t expect it.”

A bill that attempts to limit regents’ power over individual institutions passed the Texas Senate 29-2 on Thursday. State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, authored the bill and said he hopes his bill along with the board’s decisions last week — to disclose information requested by legislators and to pursue an investigation of the UT Law School Foundation through the Texas Attorney General’s office — will bring the conflict to a close. 

Seliger said he spoke to a regent, whom he declined to name, at a social event and pointed out to the regent that they had not spoken to each other since the Senate confirmed the regent’s appointment.

“I’d like to go back to a system where regents never heard from legislators except when it comes to budgetary issues,” Seliger said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said the current conflict between legislators and regents is a more specific and direct conflict than previous ones.

“Part of the reason I think that’s happened is [that] the regents have not been clear about why they’re doing certain things,” Watson said. “They’ve created, by their lack of clarity, a context in which certain things get assumed to be negative.”

Former board Chairman Charles Miller, who served from 2001 to 2004, said tension arose during the debate to deregulate tuition in 2003, which allowed the System to set its own tuition.

Miller said the current conflict between regents and legislators is more focused on personality than policy disputes, which legislators should acknowledge when proposing policies that could affect governance structure.

“I don’t think there’s a problem at all with governance structures in Texas,” Miller said. “What we have today is a more political and personal fight. When you respond to those kinds of conflicts by trying to change the structure, that’s a mistake.”

Air travelers have a lot competing for their attention: the probing procedures of TSA employees, the lack of legroom, the fascinating pages of SkyMall. Few likely stop to consider how much the plane weighs. But because weight is perhaps the most important technical aspect of air travel, it is ever-present on the aerospace engineer’s mind. The Boeing 787 twin-engine, mid-size wide-body jetliner is the new featherweight on the block. And though critics have  found fault with this newcomer to the world of air travel, the 787 incorporates revolutionary facets of design that are, I hope, here to stay.

Aircraft stay in the sky by forcing themselves against air. Their wings are designed in such a way that when this happens, the air exerts a perpendicular force back and causes the aircraft to rise. This is called lift. Intuitively, the more a plane weighs, the more lift is required. To generate more lift, planes need  big engines and more fuel, which doesn’t come cheap.

Herein lies the 787’s advantage. Until now, jetliners have been made primarily of aluminum. Aluminum is historically proven to be a metal with a lot of utility, but the composites that make up more than half of the 787 are even lighter and stronger. As a result, the 787 requires less fuel, which, ideally, could mean a cheaper plane ticket.

Hans Mark, former secretary of the Air Force, professor of aerospace engineering  and former deputy administrator of NASA, says,  “What’s revolutionary about the 787 is that it is primarily made of composite materials.” Mark would know. He was involved in the development of the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit “Stealth Bomber,” a flying wing made entirely out of those materials. After the B-2’s success, Boeing knew the composites were a viable option. “Without pioneering aircraft like the B-2, the 787 would never have been built,” Mark says.

But, like all new aircraft, the 787 has its problems. Fifty 787 Dreamliners have been delivered to date, and every single one is currently grounded. Don’t take that as a necessarily bad sign, though. New aircraft require comprehensive post-production testing; that’s just how the aviation industry works. But in the 787’s case, the testing process has been somewhat complicated. Because of the new technologies employed on the aircraft, the Dreamliner is behind schedule, over budget and experiencing some interesting problems.

In a typical jetliner, the turbofan engines suck in air, compress it, mix it with fuel and explode it out the back. A lot of energy is used to compress that air, so in a standard process, some of that hot pressurized air is redirected to other uses in the aircraft, like de-icing and cabin pressurization. This is not the case with the 787. Instead, the Dreamliner uses the engines as generators to supply heavy duty lithium ion batteries which then power separate air compressors to meet the aircraft’s needs. This results in more control over the pressurized air and an engine that is 20 percent more efficient than its predecessors. That’s part of the reason the 787 has the potential to reshape air travel.

Unfortunately, this new technology may also result in fires. These new systems are having problems that were apparently hard to predict. There has been at least one fire and one account of smoke present on different 787 flights, as well as some other electrical and fuel leak problems. However, these should hardly be construed as a death sentence for the 787. Rather, they expose the dangers of inadequate testing and the price paid for it. Mark is confident that these battery problems are a “non-issue” in the long run, one he believes will be sorted out quickly. And for the consumer, it’s not cause for concern. The FAA will not allow an unsafe aircraft to fly. 

Birthing pains aside, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the way of the future. Composite materials have proven themselves and are now ready to be integrated into commercial air travel. A few years and ironed-out kinks down the road, other commercial aircraft manufacturers will be forced to follow suit or risk extinction. Mark predicts that, with this new design, Boeing is going to “beat the world.”

Simmons is an aerospace engineering  junior from Austin.

As 2012 Hertz Fellows, seniors Kelly Moynihan and Anjali Datta receive a $250,000 science fellowship for their graduate studies. According to Moynihan, in about the past 50 years, only 12 others at UT have received this competitive fellowship in applied physical, biological and engineering sciences.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

After sifting through 600 applicants from across the nation, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation named two UT students as 2012 Hertz Fellows.

Biomedical engineering senior Kelly Moynihan and Plan II senior Anjali Datta are among 15 students from coast to coast chosen to receive the $250,000 science fellowship lasting up to five years. The Hertz Foundation Fellowship is the highest valued and one of the most competitive fellowships in the applied physical, biological and engineering sciences, said Hans Mark, engineer professor and senior Hertz Foundation board member.

Mark said the fellowship will provide the recipients academic freedom throughout their graduate studies.

“Both these girls are absolutely first class,” Marks said. “To even make it to the interview process they had to have 4.0 averages and all kinds of publications from undergraduate work.”

Mark said after going through the paperwork, 600 applicants are reduced to 150, then after the interviews, 50 finalists remain in which the 15 fellows are chosen.

“The recipients are chosen in a meeting where all the board basically fights for two days about who should get it, because they are all so qualified,” Mark said.

Janice Odell, The Ford Odell Group partner and client services director, which corresponds with the Hertz Foundation, said having two recipients from UT is a great honor because Hertz Fellows go on to truly make a difference in the world.

“Just to have a lady scientist is a rare and special thing and to have a Fellow chosen from UT is an even rarer and special thing, so two Fellows that are both women is just amazing,” Odell said. “I am just so happy for UT because this is such an honor.”

Datta, who is 19, will receive honors in electrical and computer engineering, natural sciences and liberal arts upon her graduation in May. She has won many awards and served in leadership roles in many campus organizations.

“I am passionate about engineering because I can make a real difference through it,” Datta said. “You can help find ways to diagnose diseases sooner and see the effect of your work in people.”

Datta said she aspires to be a researcher and professor after finishing graduate school at Stanford, MIT or UC Berkeley.

Moynihan said she will attend MIT next semester to receive a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. She was inspired to study in this area when her father was diagnosed with cancer her senior year of high school.

“My teachers in high school were telling me I should go into math or science because I had excelled in those areas,” Moynihan said. “Then my father was diagnosed with cancer in December of that year, so everything just fell into place. I knew I wanted to help people.”

Moynihan said she also hopes to be a professor and researcher so she can share her findings with others.

Printed on Monday, April 2, 2012 as: Students receive scholarships from John Hertz Foundation