Mars: Bringing Together the Best and the Brightest Here on Earth

Sending humans to Mars and returning them safely back to Earth will take an unprecedented amount of ingenuity and innovative engineering. It will take some of the world’s brightest engineering minds coming together and tackling the space industry’s toughest engineering challenges.

In order to help advance the nation’s space exploration goals, Lockheed Martin recently selected several Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) to work on Orion, NASA’s deep-space exploration capsule.

Similar to how suppliers provide parts and services for programs, Lockheed Martin has awarded each of four MSIs from around the country a five-year contract for up to $5 million. Students at the universities will analyze, test and produce components for Orion – which Lockheed Martin builds for NASA – and for additional Lockheed Martin space programs in development and production.

“Through these contracts, students have the opportunity to do real-world design, manufacturing and analysis work,” said Michelle Butzke, supplier relations manager at Lockheed Martin. “At the same time we are establishing valuable partners to help contribute cutting edge technology and new ideas.”

Orion UNLV

Look at how students at the four selected schools will help make history:

1. UNLV: Las Vegas, Nevada

Through its contract with Lockheed Martin, students at UNLV’s Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering will use their expertise in machining and advanced manufacturing to study composite materials for the spacecraft’s Launch Abort System and Service Module.

Rama Venkat, dean of the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, is thrilled about the partnership and said, “This will provide unique opportunities for our students to enhance their knowledge and research capabilities in exciting new areas and help accelerate the efforts of Lockheed Martin research activities and the nation’s ambitious space program.”

2. NCA&T: Greensboro, NC

NCA&T, whose expertise lies in materials science and nanotechnology, will use this niche skillset and sophisticated instrumentation technology to have its students test parts and materials for Orion. This will help Lockheed Martin’s materials and process team with challenges like part defects and material obsolescence.

“When a program works with a new material, extensive testing must be done to ensure it meets the stringent customer and industry qualifications,” said Dr. Barry Burks, vice chancellor for Research and Economic Development at NCA&T. “We’re excited that our students and faculty are being entrusted with that vital process.”

3. FAMU: Tallahassee, Florida

FAMU, which is known for its advanced composites and structural engineering, will work on complementary material verification efforts for Orion’s Launch Abort System and Service Module. Both UNLV and FAMU recently received their specific Requests for Proposal (RFPs) from Lockheed Martin.

"The benefits to the university and Lockheed Martin are enormous, as this will help in creating the workforce necessary for the mission to Mars and beyond," offered Okenwa Okoli, an FAMU engineering professor.

4. CAU: Atlanta, GA

CAU’s skillset is primarily the fabrication and characterization of polymer matrix composites (PMCs), nanostructured composites, additive manufacturing and development of young entrepreneurs. In fact, Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics business area has already partnered with faculty and students there to develop critical materials for warfighter aircraft.

“The work that CAU did for us on the F-22 and Advanced Development Programs (ADP) was really outstanding, and I’m very glad to see that they’re bringing their skills back to the table for the Orion mission,” remarked Robert Koon, who served as the technical lead for CAU’s Aeronautics work.

Advancements in space exploration are enabled by what is accomplished on Earth, and Lockheed Martin is working with the best and the brightest minds to do what’s never been done. Through local community outreach, STEM programs, and partnering with MSIs and universities everywhere, preparing for future deep-space missions has an added benefit – readying the engineers and explorers of tomorrow.

Diversity & Inclusion: Did You Know?

  • The pipeline of new STEM talent is shrinking. By 2022, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for aerospace, electrical, mechanical and computer engineers will grow by 16 percent; creating a 500,000 deficit of qualified graduates.
  • To remain competitive, we must recognize this gap and emphasize the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education. We also must inspire students to pursue these disciplines, which are critical to our national security and economic strength.
  • Research shows that minority groups are the fastest growing segment in the labor market. By 2020, they will make up nearly 40 percent of the workforce.
  • In 2014 Lockheed Martin launched a Minority Serving Institution strategy to help address shifts in the labor market and continue to recruit and empower a more diverse workforce.
  • Over the past five years, Lockheed Martin has contributed more than $70 million and 643,000 hours of volunteer service to STEM causes. We are committed to supporting programs, events and campaigns that focus on student achievement, teacher development, and gender and ethnic diversity.