Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Incredible Academics: Rocket Science

What's the old adage? "It's not rocket science." Regardless of whether you mean it figuratively or literally, as it turns out, there are a few things around here that actually ARE rocket science. LeTourneau University has some interesting new connections to NASA that have formed this Spring and Summer.

The Parrott Reflection Room

Earlier this year, we dedicated the Parrott Reflection Room, shown at left, out at LeTourneau University's Abbott Aviation Center. This room now houses Bob Parrott's significant collection of NASA memorabilia,  including Bibles that have been to the moon and back. Parrott, known as the "minister to astronauts," was the senior pastor of Seabrook Methodist Church, located close to NASA Mission Control on the outskirts of Houston. Church members included many of the Apollo astronauts and mission control specialists. LETU's Abbott Center is now home to more than just students destined for aviation greatness.

Dr. Jonathan Demko's Cold Work

As much as the Parrott Reflection Room honors NASA's past, current work being done with NASA by our engineering faculty and students continues this unique connection. LETU's Dr. Jonathan Demko, shown at right, is working with LETU students this summer on cryogenic research for NASA. In conjunction with the Cryogenics Test Laboratory of NASA's Kennedy Space Center (equipment shown below), the Thermal Energy Laboratory of LeTourneau University will be conducting independent research to validate NASA's measurements and methodologies in testing of thermal insulators. 

Extensive testing on thermal insulators hasn't been done in the past in regard to extreme cold, and Dr. Demko and his students will work this summer to help NASA complete this important science. 

Dr. Demko came to LETU this past fall after spending years working for both Sandia and Oak Ridge National Laboratories as well as working on the Superconducting Supercollider project. He is extremely respected in his field and has received a ton of recognition for his work. We are proud to have him on our team at LETU

Welcome to LeTourneau, Dr. Byron Lichtenberg

And speaking of faculty, we have yet another rocket scientist joining us this fall as a visiting scholar who has actually orbited the earth on more than one occasion. Dr. Byron Lichtenberg is an engineer and decorated U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who flew 238 combat missions in Vietnam before his time aboard two NASA Space Shuttle missions as a payload specialist, STS-9 in 1983 and STS-45 in 1992. He spent a portion of his career working as a researcher for M.I.T. as well as having owned several of his own companies and as a captain for Southwest Airlines. 

See a brief video highlighting Dr. Lichtenberg's 1992 Space Shuttle Atlantis mission below.

We at LeTourneau University are prone to looking toward the heavens for many reasons. We often say that our students at LETU "don't see borders." That may just be an incredible understatement. It seems that the LETU dreamers and doers don't let anything stop them. Not extreme cold. Nor the constant pull of gravity that holds our feet to the ground. 


  1. Will LETU be doing anything for the Inspiration Mars university competition to design parts of that mission? The Mars Society is sponsoring the competition, and it's open to alumni as team members as long as the university team is running it. I tried to get my university interested but they have an architecture program (Judson University).
    Kent Nebergall
    My dad was R G LaTourneau's chief pilot in the 1960's. I'm a volunteer NASA speaker and commanded an MDRS mission last February. I'd love to visit your campus at some point if you want a chapel speaker or something.

  2. Kent, I'm not sure of the answer to this question, but I have passed it along to some folks who might. Sounds like you'd be a fascinating speaker that I know our students would enjoy hearing. I'm passing your message on to our dean of engineering.

    Tom Barnard
    Creative Director
    University Marketing Communications
    LeTourneau University