NASA’s M-Star Grants COD $900,000 for Mars Exploration Research

Collaborative Partner Exquadrum Furthers Learning and Resource Opportunities

The future of space exploration continues to reach astronomical new heights at College of the Desert with the recent announcement of a landmark $900,000 grant from NASA. The M-Star Grant Award, totaling $14 million and distributed to just 19 U.S. colleges and universities, aims to foster a diverse Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) workforce by enhancing student learning opportunities. COD proudly stands as the only California community college to receive this prestigious award, once again showcasing the College’s momentum in remaining on the front lines of a fast-growing field.

One catalyst for this success is COD’s pioneering project, “A Penetrolyzer for Extracting Oxygen and Hydrogen from Mars Regolith.” Spearheaded by an outstanding team that includes COD professors Dr. Ahmed Elshafie, Dr. Amira Elsenousy, Professor Michael Gariety and COD student David Jackson, this project holds the key to sustainable living on Mars. Dr. Elshafie notes, “The M-Star Grant will contribute to our human exploration of planet Mars in the 2030s.” Dr. Elsenousy acknowledges the challenges of extracting oxygen and hydrogen from the Martian surface while Professor Gariety explains, “Hydrogen will be utilized as fuel, and oxygen will be used for breathing.”

Another major factor behind the College’s monumental receipt of grants like the M-Star funding from NASA are the strategic partnerships COD has cultivated with key leaders in the healthcare, communications, automotive, solar energy and STEM sectors. These synergistic industry connections, along with COD’s next-level professors and innovative programming, are helping students reach their full potential both in class and for years to come.

Alliance With Exquadrum Led to Grant Opportunity, Signals a Need for Local Aerospace Talent

Exquadrum, a leader in aerospace research and development, and COD’s STEM program are currently working together to experimentally develop a capability to test CubeSat thermal performance. CubeSats are miniaturized satellites used for scientific research and technology demonstration in space. Exquadrum’s cutting-edge, multi-pulse propulsion system aims to broaden CubeSat capabilities for more efficient and higher velocity missions. COD students are pushing light years ahead in their paths as they unite with Exquadrum experts to achieve breakthroughs in space.

Over the last few months, Exquadrum leaders have generously given of their time and knowledge by touring COD faculty and students through the company’s Victorville headquarters and virtually coaching students as part of this unique brand of student-professional teamwork, a trailblazing effort as together they move through uncharted territory in the field.

Eric Schmidt, President of Exquadrum, expresses admiration for COD’s faculty and students, commending their exceptional aptitude for high-level experimental science. “Their passion and proficiency have not only caught our attention but also inspired us to collaborate with them. We have been especially impressed by COD students’ resilience and their unwavering tenacity for learning,” Schmidt says. “Exquadrum is delighted to join forces with COD, aiding in the development of their program, providing essential experimental hardware and generating valuable empirical data for our CubeSat multi-pulse solid propulsion technology. This partnership underscores the immense potential that arises from the synergy between academia and industry.”

The profound level of support from Schmidt and from Exquadrum has elevated the credibility of COD’s STEM program and ultimately led to the College’s receipt of M-Star Grant funding from NASA. Going forward, Exquadrum’s two decades of expertise in aerospace research and development will play a crucial role in advancing COD’s Engineering offerings for the aerospace and defense communities.

COD Professor Michael Gariety lauds the collaboration as an extraordinary opportunity for students, enriching their educational journey and empowering them to contribute meaningfully to space exploration and technology. “Our partnership with Exquadrum is a remarkable testament to the value of hands-on learning and industry-academic cooperation in shaping the future of our aspiring scientists and engineers.”

Exquadrum has in fact articulated the need for a new crop of California-based graduates who want to be involved in the future of aerospace engineering. Traditionally, jobs in the field have required a move to Florida or Alabama. Connections with companies such as Exquadrum – who may consider designing their future workforce by hand-picking COD as a training ground for the talent they seek –will invite COD’s brilliant young minds to meet industry demand close to home.

As an innovating community college, COD and its STEM program have attracted the likes of NASA and Exquadrum and gained their highly respected support. This speaks to both the recent feats and the upcoming prospects of the COD Foundation, the College, the professors and the students.

COD Foundation’s Turning Point Introduction to Exquadrum

The awarding of the milestone M-Star Grant from NASA can be traced to an initial introduction by the COD Foundation, who initiated what became a thriving relationship between Exquadrum’s aerospace experts and College staff and administrators.

COD’s Interim President/Superintendent, Laura Hope, expresses gratitude to the COD Foundation for facilitating this dynamic partnership. She envisions a future where collaborative efforts lead to transformative impacts, opening doors to similarly pioneering opportunities for COD students and graduates.

“Our partnership with Exquadrum lays the foundation for remarkable possibilities,” she shares. “The teamwork we are witnessing will propel our students to new heights, with the potential for them to be at the forefront of testing rockets that will soon carry payloads to the moon. Collaborations such as these exemplify the triumphs that can be achieved when education and innovation converge. Thank you to the COD Foundation for bringing our two entities together for the betterment of our students.

A Shining Star: Cal Poly Recognizes Value of COD STEM Program, As Do Students

Preliminary conversations regarding the possibility of a bachelor’s degree through Cal Poly Pomona in cooperation with COD’s STEM Program attest to the progressive nature of COD’s offerings. The discussions mark another pivotal moment for students, who appreciate the growing opportunities to develop an exciting career in a cutting-edge field while remaining close to their families in the Coachella Valley.

Students earning a Bachelor’s in Instrumentation would be an asset to aerospace companies like Exquadrum as well as employers in the automotive industry.

“The MSTAR program allows us to perform real-world research and development for a project that contributes to NASA’s future Mars mission plan.”

Cody Frank is a UC Davis alumnus, a COD student earning perquisites for medical school and a passionate member of the STEM program’s M-STAR Grant research team. “I find myself at the intersection of two worlds: evolutionary anthropology and the ambitious push by NASA to put people on the moon by 2030 and on Mars by 2050. This is an exhilarating chapter in history, and I’m grateful to play a part in it.”

Frank adds that COD’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program has been instrumental in offering unparalleled research opportunities, resources and coursework that go beyond expectations for a two-year community college. “While medical school and an engineering project may appear unrelated, the M-STAR Grant has opened my eyes to myriad opportunities for doctors at NASA. It’s an exciting exploration of new frontiers, both in space and in the integration of diverse fields of knowledge. It’s a testament that progress continues, driven by the dedication of good people doing meaningful work. This experience has fueled my enthusiasm for the future, showcasing the potential for positive change and the unity that underlies the vast spectrum of scientific disciplines.”

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