The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Interstellar research: UI alum at NASA hosts space technology panel

Cristian Hidrogo
Dr. Prasun Desai prepares to discuss his career at NASA on April 26.

University alumni Prasun Desai held a panel on Friday discussing NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and his journey while working at NASA for the past 33 years. 

The NASA STMD focuses on transforming future missions while ensuring American leadership in aerospace. Desai serves as a deputy associate administrator of the STMD, where he works with experts to define and invest in innovative space capabilities such as landing systems and advanced propulsion systems. 

“My journey of how I started where I am, was not planned and what I am doing now is something I swore I’d never do as my natural career but here I am at NASA Headquarters doing it,” Desai said. “It is a journey and as our organization is evolving, opportunities will arise because of that evolution, be open to those possibilities.”

NASA is divided into distinct mission directorates, and Desai helps coordinate and plan all of NASA’s next-generation space technologies through his role as deputy associate administrator of the NASA STMD. 

“I think 15 years ago was the last time I’ve been on campus after spending a number of years here getting my graduate degree,” Desai said. “We are actually as we speak, pivoting in how we organize and we think about making investments after 13 years and lessons learned and how we are looking to change and evolve.”

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

In Desai’s role at the STMD, he also supports executive leadership, strategic planning and effective management for all elements of the space technology programs. The STMD has a $1.2 billion budget, and Desai helps coordinate the full range of space technology programs such as budget execution and formulation. 

Desai spoke about the human interest in visiting Mars, as rovers and landers have been present on the planet. Recent technology highlights, such as the LOFTID Inflatable Decelerator were discussed and the effects they could have on future exploration on the surface of Mars.

LOFTID’s demonstration of a large aeroshell involves the benefits of utilizing the inflatable decelerator design for space applications such as landing heavy payloads and landing at higher altitude locations. 

“If we want to send humans, which we as humans will do at some point due to the desire, we are trying to make that happen sooner rather than later,” Desai stated. “We are able to land a car right now, but we need to be able to land a house and because of the way the atmosphere is on Mars we are currently not able to do that.”

Desai has contributed to the development, design, analyses and flight operations of multiple innovative NASA missions. Such missions include the Mars Exploration Rover, Stardust and Genesis

The Space Technology Research Grants Program is an STMD program that accelerates the development of low TRL space technologies to support future space science and exploration that NASA or government agencies might need. 

“Space Technology Research Grants are how we really aim to go towards academia, the University of Illinois has been our second largest awardees,” Desai said. “We have 40 grants that we have worked with at the University of Illinois, we have 17 active right now.”

Desai has been honored with multiple awards from NASA for his contributions, including two Exceptional Engineering Achievement medals, an Exceptional Achievement medal, an Outstanding Leadership Medal, a Presidential Rank Award and an Exceptional Service Medal in recognition of his substantial impact during his tenure at NASA. He was bestowed with the 2005 National Engineer of the Year Award by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.


[email protected]

More to Discover
ILLordle: Play now