Tiffany Swarmer hopes to use her new degree to be part of a human-crewed roundtrip mission to Mars

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Tiffany Swarmer hopes to use her new degree to be part of a human-crewed roundtrip mission to Mars

Tiffany Swarmer squeezed into an analog space suit, climbed the jagged surface of a Hawaiian volcano, lost three pounds doing it, and laughs today about that unique experience.

The self-titled "military brat'" who calls Colorado Springs, Colo., home, graduates on Friday, Dec. 19, with a master of science in space studies from the University of North Dakota John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Selected from a pool of several hundred people for a six-person, 120-day mission at a space simulation lab in Hawaii last year, Swarmer is no stranger to Earth-bound space missions. She's helped two UND teams endure the rigors of confinement in UND's own Inflatable Lunar Mars Habitat (ILMH) ? a 10 day mission last year and a 30-day mission this year, where she monitored, among other complex tasks, the safety and wellbeing of the team inside. Her master's thesis was about simulated space missions.

The ILMH is an inflatable habitat designed, built, and deployed by students here at UND. The unit's first mission took place in the parking lot of Clifford Hall (home to the Space Studies Department and to the Human Spaceflight Laboratory, run by Argentine aerospace engineer and UND Space Studies faculty member Pablo de León). The ILMH is funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"I learned a lot about team cohesion, psychological factors and how to function well in the isolated, extreme environment on the slopes of Mauna Loa," said Swarmer, who also helped to crew the mission control unit for UND's ILMH 30-day mission. Those experiences shaped her career ambition to be part of the international effort that eventually will fly a human crew on a roundtrip mission to Mars.

Pablo De León, lead investigator on the ND Planetary Exploration Initiative, foresees that UND will be testing and working a lot more with NASA as well as with the space industry and international partners to make lunar and Mars missions a reality ? with the help, he points out ? of capable students including Swarmer, a key aide in the ILMH experiments so far.

Swarmer dreamed of one day becoming an astronaut; but a sports-related injury shattered those plans.

"It took me awhile to realize that I could still pursue my space travel dreams without necessarily flying out there myself," said Swarmer, who, after several years of painful rehab, now runs several miles weekly. "I hope to go onto a Ph.D. program or work with flight crew operations for a company such as SpaceX or Bigelow Aerospace."

With a fresh Space Studies graduate degree from UND and her own drive, Swarmer will soon have her name on a Mars mission planning team.

Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer

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