UTEP Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 Mission with Former NASA Astronaut, Alumnus Danny Olivas
Last Updated on July 16, 2019 at 12:00 AM
Originally published July 16, 2019
By UC Staff
The University of Texas at El Paso College of Engineering marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission with a celebration event Friday, July 19, at the Union Cinema.
A 5 p.m. panel discussion led by Danny Olivas, Ph.D., former NASA astronaut, UTEP alum and special assistant to the dean of engineering, will precede a screening of the 2019 documentary film “Apollo 11,” which focuses on the first manned spaceflight that landed on the moon. After the film, Olivas will answer questions and sign copies of his book, “Endeavour’s Long Journey.”
“Apollo 11 not only demonstrated that we could meet President Kennedy's challenge to send humans to the moon and return them safely within the decade, it demonstrated that with hard work and determination, no challenge, even ones never before attempted, could be conquered by pulling together for a common cause,” Olivas said.
Olivas, who graduated from UTEP in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, participated in two space shuttle missions, Atlantis in 2007 and Discovery in 2009. He is the former director of UTEP’s Center for the Advancement of Space Safety and Mission Assurance Research (CASSMAR). Olivas said the success of Apollo 11 reassured the nation’s confidence as it was embroiled in a heated space race with Russia.
“Apollo 11 and the subsequent space missions firmly established America as the global leader in space,” Olivas said. “From Apollo to shuttle to ISS (International Space Station), the United States has been seen as the pointy end of the spear which pierces the untapped truths of our universe. Furthermore, our open and engaging exploration of space for peaceful purposes has allowed us to bring the global community along to truly make this a worldwide endeavor.”
Ahsan Choudhuri, Ph.D., associate vice president for strategic initiatives and founding director of UTEP’s NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR) said a surge in interest in careers in science and engineering came as a result of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo human spaceflight programs.
“The space program brought a transformational change in U.S. science and engineering ecosystems,” Choudhuri said. “More importantly, what it did post-World War was inspire a Sputnik generation of engineers and scientists.”
At cSETR, faculty and students are working on developing lander technology for lunar and other planetary exploration. That represents a portion of the varied research related to space exploration being pursued on campus. Olivas said those opportunities could grow as the planet contends with issues such as climate change and the possibility of asteroid strikes.
“As people passionate in space find how to harness their talents and skill in pursuit of that passion, the universe will continue to reveal her secrets to us, helping us understand the most fundamental question, ‘Why are we here?’” Olivas said.