Universities Space Research Association

The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) was incorporated on March 12, 1969 in Washington, D.C. as a private, nonprofit corporation under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Institutional membership in the association has grown from 49 colleges and universities when it was founded, to the current 105 institutions. All member institutions have graduate programs in space sciences or technology. Besides the 95 member institutions in the United States, there are two member institutions in Canada, four in Europe, two in Israel, one in Australia and one in Hong Kong.[2][3]

Universities Space Research Association
FormationMarch 12, 1969 (1969-03-12)
FounderJames E. Webb et al.
Founded atWashington, D.C.
Legal statusNonprofit organization
Purpose"To advance the space- and aeronautics-related sciences"[1]
Headquarters7178 Columbia Gateway Drive
Columbia, Maryland 21046
Official language
Jeffrey Isaacson
Chair of the board of trustees
William F. Ballhaus, Jr.
SubsidiariesLunar and Planetary Institute


USRA provides a mechanism through which universities can cooperate effectively with one another, with the government, and with other organizations to further space science and technology, and to promote education in these areas. Its mission is carried out through the institutes, centers, divisions, and programs. Administrative and scientific personnel now number about 420. A unique feature of USRA's management is its system of standing panels of technical experts, drawn from the research community, to provide oversight for USRA's institutes, centers, divisions and programs.


USRA's origins extend back to 1966, when the NASA Administrator requested the help of the NAS in forming a national consortium to assume management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. The president of the NAS, Dr. Frederick Seitz, first turned to the Universities Research Association (URA), which had recently been created to operate the National Accelerator Laboratory. Seitz raised the issue of NASA's involvement at a URA meeting in the fall of 1966. However, because of budgetary concerns with the National Accelerator Laboratory, URA did not wish to assume any additional responsibilities.[4]

To satisfy its immediate needs, NASA took upon itself the management of the Lunar Receiving Laboratory but left open the possibility of wider participation of the academic community through an institute. At this time, the idea of a Lunar Science Institute (LSI) took form. To develop further the concept of the LSI, the NAS created a committee under the chairmanship of Dr. Kenneth Pitzer to study NASA/University Relations. In the fall of 1967, the Pitzer Committee recommended the establishment of the LSI initially to be operated by Rice University under a subcontract with the NAS, but eventually to be operated by a university consortium. The Pitzer committee concluded that the pattern established at LSI could form the basis for the development of a much broader link between NASA and the academic community.


On March 1, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson announced the creation of the Lunar Science Institute (LSI), and USRA was chartered the following year as the parent organization of LSI. The initial headquarters of USRA was at the University of Virginia, where Professor A. R. Kuhlthau served as the first president of the association.

In 1976, Dr. Alexander J. Dessler became the second USRA president. Dessler moved the headquarters of the association to Rice University, where he served as chairman of the Department of Space Physics and Astronomy.

In 1978 USRA headquarters moved to Columbia, Maryland.

Dr. David C. Black was appointed USRA president in 2000. Black served as director of USRA's Lunar and Planetary Institute from 1988 to 2001, and is internationally recognized for research in theoretical astrophysics and planetary science.

Dr. Jeffrey Isaacson was named president and CEO of USRA, effective October 20, 2014.

Other programs

USRA initially concentrated on the management of Lunar Science Institute (later renamed the Lunar and Planetary Institute) but, armed with its broad charter, the consortium began to explore other ways to serve the university space research community as early as 1970. Today, USRA researchers are involved with university, government and industry scientists and engineers in a broad array of space and aeronautics related fields, including astronomy and astrophysics, earth sciences, microgravity, life sciences, space technology, computer science, and advanced concepts.

Most USRA research activities include related educational components.

The presidents of USRA have been:

  • A. Robert Kuhlthau (1969–1976)
  • Alexander J. Dessler (1976–1981)
  • Paul J. Coleman, Jr. (1981–2000)
  • David C. Black (2000–2006)
  • Frederick A. Tarantino (2006–2014)
  • Donald Kniffen (2014) [acting]
  • Jeffrey Isaacson (2014–present)

Institutes and programs

  • Astronomy program at the Arecibo Observatory[5]
  • Center for Advanced Space Studies (CASS)
  • Center for Program/Project Management Research (CPMR)
  • Cooperative Program in Space Science (CPSS)
  • Center for Space Nuclear Research (CSNR)
  • Division of Space Life Sciences (DSLS)
  • Education Programs Office at CASS
  • Earth Sciences Applications Research Program (ESARP)
  • Earth System Science Education for the 21st Century (ESSE 21)
  • Earth System Science Program (ESSP) in Huntsville
  • NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program
  • NASA Summer Faculty Research Opportunities (NSFRO)
  • Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI)
  • National Center for Earth and Space Science Education (NCESSE)
  • National Center for Space Exploration Research on Fluids and Combustion (NCSER)
  • Navy Astronomy Programs (NRL and USNO)
  • Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS)
  • Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts - Academic Linkage (RASC-AL) Program
  • Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)
  • Technology Development and Aerospace Environments (TDAE)
  • USRA Astronomy Program in Huntsville
  • Visiting Researcher Exchange and Outreach (VREO) Program


  1. "Purpose & Mission". USRA.edu. Universities Space Research Association. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  2. "The History of USRA". USRA. Archived from the original on October 24, 2006. Retrieved October 31, 2006.
  3. "All Member Universities". USRA.
  4. "The History of USRA". USRA. Archived from the original on October 24, 2006. Retrieved October 31, 2006.
  5. "Universities Space Research Association Part of Team Selected by the National Science Foundation to Manage Arecibo Observatory". USRA. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
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