DURHAM — The head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration got a first-hand look Thursday at the Space Science Center at the University of New Hampshire, which was recently awarded a $107.9 million contract — the largest NASA contract in the university’s history.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine toured the center along with U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., the lead Democrat who serves on the Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds the space agency.
They also visited Hampton-based Mikrolar, a NASA contractor, and held a roundtable discussion with several other New Hampshire businesses that work for NASA.
The latest NASA contract was awarded through the Earth Venture program and will allow UNH to develop an instrument known as a Geostationary Littoral Imaging and Monitoring Radiometer (GLIMR), which will collect data that can be used in coastal science, resource management and hazard mitigation.
Officials said it will improve the way ocean health is monitored and assess risks for coastal communities, including hazards caused by algal blooms, hypoxia and oil spills.
Bridenstine said the GLIMR project would benefit not only the United States but the world and the entire science community as the climate and Earth are changing.
“To be clear the University of New Hampshire had to compete and it was really some of the brilliant minds and the great ideas that came from this institution that led to this award,” he said.
Shaheen spoke about the role New Hampshire has played in space science and exploration.
She praised NASA’s work and the contributions UNH and other New Hampshire businesses are making.
“I think the important thing I can do as a member of the appropriation subcommittee that oversees NASA is to work with my Republican chairman and make sure that the programs that provide these grants are funded in the way that we need to to get research and to have the new talent in the future that’s going to continue this research,” Shaheen said.
UNH President James Dean Jr. said the university is proud of its 60-year relationship with NASA.
Joseph Salisbury is a UNH research associate professor and the project’s principal investigator.
“GLIMR’s high frequency oscillations will allow us to see variability in phytoplankton communities as they evolve over the course of the day,” he said. “The sun coming up and going down is the most important geophysical influence on phytoplankton communities. We have little information on this from space: When do they grow the fastest? When do they start to slow down? Do they sink, or do they rise up?”