One Small Step for Man,
One Giant Leap for UCF

UCF has been committed to space exploration since before man’s first step on the moon.

By Angie Lewis ’03

Ever notice how the street names on campus represent constellations, galaxies and spacecraft? Gemini Boulevard, Andromeda Loop and Apollo Circle aren’t just happy coincidences. They reflect UCF’s beginnings as a space university.

And they’re not the only UCF connection that’s out of this world. In 1968, our first president, Charles Millican, established the motto “Reach for the Stars” to represent the university’s promising aerospace education in engineering, electronics and other technological professions. The theme continued with his presentation of the university’s seal, Pegasus, which was intended to “bridge the gap between the humanities and space technology.”

It was the height of space exploration in America, so given the university’s proximity to Kennedy Space Center (KSC), it meant our then-little campus would be a big part of educating future generations of NASA engineers, administrators and even astronauts. And our connections to space have continued to grow over the past 53 years.


Galactic Grants

In 1968, UCF received its first research grant — $12,500 from NASA. Nearly 45 years later, NASA helped UCF make history again by awarding the single largest grant in the university’s history, $55 million, to fund the GOLD mission. The GOLD mission will build and launch an instrument that will provide unprecedented imaging of Earth’s upper atmosphere, also making UCF the first Florida university to lead a satellite mission for NASA. To date, UCF has received more than $124 million in space-related research grants.

1968 NASA Grant
2013 NASA Grant
Total Space Grants


Model Mascot

FTU’s first suggested mascot paired Florida’s citrus and space industries, with the introduction of the Citronaut — a character with an astronaut’s head and an orange for a body — which made its debut on the cover of the 1968-69 Student Handbook.



Picture Perfect

On April 12, 1981, UCF students watched from campus as NASA’s first space shuttle, Columbia, launched from KSC. Rocket launches can still be seen from the main campus.


Gravitational Gauge

Florida’s first disc to measure Earth’s gravitational field was installed at UCF in 1986.


Savvy Scientists

The Florida Space Institute (FSI) is based at UCF. Founded in 1990 as the Space Education and Research Center, FSI’s research ranges from studying the Earth’s upper atmosphere and the origin of the planets to the workings of asteroids and propulsion technologies for high-Mach aerospace vehicles. (To read more about space research, see Knights in Space.)


Star Searching

The Robinson Observatory was dedicated on UCF’s main campus in 1996 and provides hands-on learning for astronomy students. (See Knight View.)

Robinson Observatory



Alumni Astronauts

UCF boasts two astronauts: Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro ’95 and Nicole Stott ’92. On Aug. 28, 2009, as a mission specialist on space shuttle Discovery, Stott became the first UCF grad to blast off into space and the first UCF grad to live on the International Space Station. She flew again on Feb. 24, 2011, on the final mission of Discovery. (To read more about Stott, see Such Great Heights.)

International Space Station


Astronomical Archives

UCF Libraries hold 8,400 print publications from NASA as well as 28,000 NASA publications on microfiche, and Special Collections & University Archives has 42 boxes and 33 volumes of NASA photos, spacecraft models, reports, manuals and memorabilia.

NASA Print Publications
NASA Microfiche Publications
Boxes In The Space Collections

Expert Explorers

As home to NASA’s Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science, UCF is a leader in the area of solar system exploration, providing critical research in areas key to future robotic and human space exploration missions. (To read more about space research, see Knights in Space.)


Extraordinary Exoplanet

UCF had a planet named after it. In 2012, UCF researchers discovered an exoplanet candidate they named UCF-1.01, which is only two-thirds the size of Earth and 33 light-years away, with surface temperatures of more than 1,000° F.


Powerful Partnerships

UCF partners with a range of agencies and companies to conduct research, including NASA, SpaceX and Blue Origin. In addition to conducting research in the stratosphere and beyond, UCF has partnered with NASA to offer a joint master’s training program for industrial engineering, where UCF instructors teach courses at KSC.


Space Stamina

In November 2014, a team of UCF engineering students debuted a method to administer IVs in space, which will be important when astronauts begin long-range space missions.


Engineering Education

A 2015 Aviation Week workforce study named UCF the No. 1 supplier of engineers to aerospace and defense industries.


Mission: Mars

Two Knights are standing by as finalists for a one-way flight to Mars as part of the Mars One project to colonize the planet. Crews are scheduled to begin departing in 2026.

Mars One Project
Mars One