Focus Area: Exploration of Planetary Surfaces

Lead: Dr. Alan Whittington

Planetary surfaces (including our Moon, the moons of other planets, and asteroids) are an emerging frontier in human exploration of the universe, which can provide important clues for understanding the history of our solar system, as well as potential sites for resource extraction and extraterrestrial habitation.

The Center will focus on three related research directions within this theme:

  1. Research into the processes that shape planetary surfaces, including remote sensing studies and analog experimental research (e.g. studying volcanoes on other worlds).
  2. In-situ resource utilization and the science and technology of sustainable construction and habitation on other worlds (e.g. making bricks from lunar regolith for launch/landing pad construction).
  3. Robotic exploration technology, including rover design and autonomous guidance and navigation systems (e.g. for exploration of lava tubes).

Center students will have hands-on opportunities to work on NASA-funded research projects, to learn valuable research skills and apply them to exploration of the solar system.


measuring the viscosity of lava in the lab


taking thermal video of cooling lava samples in the lab

soda volcano

analog lava fountain (soda)

lava flow

sampling active lava flows at Kilauea, Hawaii

lava flow

drone's eye view of the 1960 lava flow at Askja, Iceland