ASU is involved in space exploration from the earliest days of the space race. In 1961, the university opens the Center for Meteorite Studies, which has become one of the largest university-based meteorite collections in the world. It houses more than 40,000 pieces from more than 2,100 distinct meteorite falls and finds. Researchers at ASU and around the world use the collection to learn about the origins of our solar system.


In the 1970s, ASU begins its long-standing relationship with NASA with the arrival of Ronald Greeley, one of the founders of planetary geology. Before coming to ASU, Greeley helped select landing sites for NASA’s Apollo missions and assisted in geologic training for astronauts. He participated in numerous space missions to Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.


Another planetary geologist, Philip Christensen, launches ASU’s foray into building space instruments. In the early 1980s, he begins developing infrared spectrometer systems that help us understand the physical makeup of the surface of Mars. These devices include the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) and Mini-TES.


In 1990, NASA launches the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits outside of Earth’s atmosphere, taking high-resolution images of deep space. ASU researchers are involved in Hubble projects from its inception, producing images recognized around the world.


Pillars of Creation

ASU astronomers Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen image a portion of the Eagle Nebula using the Hubble Space Telescope. The iconic “Pillars of Creation” image shows three columns of cold gas bathed in the scorching UV light from a cluster of young, massive stars.


Mars Global Surveyor

NASA launches the Mars Global Surveyor, which carries a Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) designed by ASU planetary geologist Philip Christensen. MGS is the first successful U.S. mission to Mars since the Viking mission in 1976.


Studying Earth from space

NASA’s Terra satellite launches, carrying the ASTER radiometer. ASTER helps monitor Earth’s environment and ongoing changes in its climate system. Philip Christensen is a co-investigator.


Mars Odyssey

NASA’s Odyssey orbiter launches, carrying Philip Christensen’s THEMIS instrument, which will help determine the distribution of minerals on the Martian surface — particularly those that form in the presence of water.


Mars Express

The European Space Agency launches
the Mars Express spacecraft. ASU planetary geologist David Williams is co-investigator on the spacecraft’s high-resolution stereo camera, which takes a mosaic image of Greeley Crater on the red planet.


Roving Mars

ASU-designed Mini-TES instruments touch down on Mars aboard each of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity (launched in 2003). The rovers search for signs of past water activity on Mars.


Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA’s MRO enters orbit. ASU planetary scientist Jim Bell is a science team member on the orbiter’s Mars Color Imager and Context Camera. Planetary scientist Mark Robinson is
a science team member on the
Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).


Shooting the Moon

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launches. ASU planetary geologist Mark Robinson leads
the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), a system of three cameras that capture high-resolution photos of the Moon’s surface.

Revisiting the Moon landing

The ASU-led LROC photographs the Apollo 12 landing site, which clearly shows the Surveyor 3 spacecraft; lunar module descent stage, Intrepid; and Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP). It also shows tracks made in 1969 by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean.


Curiosity rover

Three ASU researchers are members of the instrument science teams for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover: Jim Bell (Mastcam, MAHLI, MARDI cameras), Jack Farmer (CheMin instrument) and Meenakshi Wadhwa (SAM instrument).


Galactic discovery

ASU astronomers discover a faraway galaxy that is ranked among the 10 most distant objects currently known in space — 13 billion light-years away. The research team, led by James Rhoads, Sangeeta Malhotra and Pascale Hibon, identifies the remote galaxy using the Magellan Telescopes at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.


Meteorite molecules

Scientists led by ASU chemist Sandra Pizzarello find that the Sutter’s Mill meteorite, which exploded in a blazing fireball over California in 2012, contains organic molecules not previously found in any meteorites. This suggests a greater availability of extraterrestrial organic molecules than previously thought.



ASU isotope cosmochemist Meenakshi Wadhwa is a science team member on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s sample return mission to the asteroid Ryugu.

The Moon’s north pole

By combining 10,581 narrow angle camera images collected over four years, the LROC team produces a complete picture of the Moon’s northern polar region in stunning detail.

Martian mineral map

ASU’s THEMIS instrument on board the Mars Odyssey orbiter provides data to create the most detailed map yet made of Martian surface properties. The map was developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with ASU.


Dawn reaches Ceres

After orbiting Vesta for more than a year, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reaches Ceres. Vesta and Ceres are the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt. ASU’s David Williams is a science team member.

Exoplanet discovery

A team of researchers co-led by ASU discovers a Jupiter-like exoplanet — the first exoplanet discovery by the Gemini Planet Imager. The planet, called 51 Eridani b, could serve as a “decoder ring” for understanding how planets formed around our Sun.


Giant Magellan Telescope

ASU joins the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, a consortium of international universities and institutions, taking a leap toward exploring deep space in higher focus.

Young galaxies discovered

ASU astronomers Sangeeta Malhotra and James Rhoads, working with international teams in Chile and China, discover 23 young galaxies, seen as they were 800 million years after the Big Bang.


OSIRIS-REx discovery

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrives at
the asteroid Bennu, carrying OTES, the first complex spaceflight instrument designed and built at ASU. OTES is creating mineral and temperature maps and gathering information on sample locations. Early OTES data indicates that the asteroid’s rocks have interacted with water in the past.

Dwarf star super flare

ASU astronomer Evgenya Shkolnik and postdoc Parke Loyd capture a red dwarf star in a violent outburst, or superflare, via Hubble Space Telescope. The blast of radiation was more powerful than any such outburst ever detected from the Sun.

Affordable, accessible space science

ASU, Lockheed Martin and GEOshare launch the MILO Space Science Institute, a consortium designed to make space science more affordable and accessible.

Starbirth research named a ‘Breakthrough of the Year’

Physics World recognizes ASU cosmologist Judd Bowman and his research team for detecting evidence of the earliest stars in the universe, born a mere 180 million years after the Big Bang.


Super BLAST-TNG balloon telescope

Astrophysicists Chris Groppi and Phillip Mauskopf are co-investigators on this project to launch a telescope from Antarctica on a 28-day balloon flight, carrying instruments designed to investigate star formation.

Phoenix CubeSat

This NASA-funded 3U CubeSat to study Earth observations and heat islands is a mission run by undergraduates in majors including engineering, sustainability, communications and design. The faculty principal investigator is Judd Bowman.


Lunar Polar Hydrogen Mapper (LunaH-Map)

This CubeSat mission, led by principal investigators Craig Hardgrove and Jim Bell, will search for hydrogen deposits at the Moon’s south pole. This will help NASA understand how much water might be available, guiding their strategy for sending humans farther into the solar system.

ShadowCam on the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter

NASA selects ShadowCam, being developed by Mark Robinson at ASU and Malin Space Science Systems, to map the terrain of the Moon and search for evidence of frost or ice deposits in permanently shadowed regions. ShadowCam will be a U.S. contribution to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s first lunar exploration mission.

NASA Europa Clipper mission

ASU involvement on NASA’s robotic mission to investigate whether conditions suitable for life exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa includes:

  • Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) (principal investigator Philip Christensen)
  • Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) and SUrface Dust Mass Analyzer (SUDA) (co-investigator Mikhail Zolotov)
  • MAss Spectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX)
    (co-investigator Everett Shock)

EMIRS on United Arab Emirates
al-Amal (Hope) orbiter

Philip Christensen is working with Emirati scientists and engineers to build the Emirates Mars Infrared Spectrometer (EMIRS). This instrument will measure the global thermal structure of the Martian atmosphere and the abundance of water ice, water vapor and dust in the atmosphere.

Mastcam-Z on Mars 2020 rover

This rover, a NASA Flagship mission, will investigate Jezero Crater, a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life. The rover will collect samples of regolith and rock for return to Earth by a future mission. ASU’s Jim Bell leads the Mastcam-Z camera system.


Lucy mission

The Lucy mission, selected for NASA’s Discovery program, will investigate a collection of primitive asteroids that share Jupiter’s 12-year orbit. The ASU-designed and -developed L’TES instrument, led by instrument principal investigator Philip Christensen, will measure asteroid surface temperatures. ASU’s Jim Bell is a co-investigator on the mission.

Star-Planet Activity Research
CubeSat (SPARCS)

This NASA-funded 6U CubeSat will be designed at ASU, led by ASU astronomer Evgenya Shkolnik with co-investigators Judd Bowman, Daniel Jacobs and Paul Scowen. It is the first-ever mission dedicated to monitoring the high-energy radiation environment of exoplanets that orbit low-mass stars.


NASA Psyche mission

Planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton is leading a NASA deep space mission to the asteroid Psyche. Psyche appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system. Other ASU scientists on the Psyche mission team include deputy PI Jim Bell and co-investigators David Williams and Cassie Bowman.


This mission, under development by the European Space Agency, will explore Jupiter’s moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. All three moons are believed to harbor internal liquid-water oceans and thus have potential to support life. ASU scientists David Williams and Jim Bell are on the science team for the mission’s JANUS camera system.