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Reaching New Horizons in Space Exploration Studies

Space exploration impacts our daily life — from technology advancement to medical research to scientific discoveries. Two of the astronauts who launched into space are UCF alumni: Nicole Stott ’92MS and the late Fernando “Frank” Caldeiro ’95MS. For over 50 years, the university has played a big role in educating future engineers, administrators and space explorers — something we will continue over the next 50 years and more.

At the Forefront of Space Exploration

Space study at UCF involves exploring the big questions and the unknowns about our planetary systems, including Earth’s tiny part in it. Like the late legendary physicist, Stephen Hawking, our researchers are probing the cosmos to explain its greatest mysteries. UCF’s Stephen W. Hawking Center for Microgravity Research and Education — the first American research center to bear his name — builds on Hawking’s groundbreaking discoveries. Hawking’s family chose the university because of our shared passion for science and the next generation of students. The center builds on his groundbreaking discoveries about how the universe formed and fulfills his wishes to advance microgravity research. It will also explore ways of making space travel safer and inhabiting Mars or the moon.

America’s Destination for Space Science

Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the country’s gateway to the universe, is only 35 miles away from UCF’s main campus. Here, faculty and students have the opportunity to partake in cutting-edge efforts. In fact, UCF has had more interns than any other university at KSC. The opportunity provides students with on-the-job training, soft-skills development, and involvement in research. Some go on to convert their internships into jobs after graduation. As students look to the stars and see endless possibilities, they’re reminded how the discoveries made today and tomorrow impact future generations to come.

Taking Space Research Above and Beyond

Founded in 1963 with the mission to provide talent for Central Florida and the growing U.S. space program, UCF has been making an impact on our state, our nation — and outer space — ever since. The Florida Space Institute, based at UCF, is made up of researchers and educators from UCF in partnership with those at other State University System of Florida institutions. Many of these researchers are tied to major space missions exploring Pluto, Saturn, the Kuiper Belt, Mars, the moon, comets, asteroids, Jupiter and exoplanets.

UCF faculty are part of several NASA missions, including OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons. But our faculty aren’t the only ones doing research in space. UCF alumni have also gone on to take giant leaps in the space industry with companies such as NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, SpaceX and Blue Origin.


Experiments sent to space since 2019 aboard Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic rockets


NASA projects with UCF involvement
as of Oct. 2022

$204 Million

in NASA awards since 1991
as of Oct. 2022


Kennedy Space Center employees are UCF alumni


UCF researchers have asteroids named after them in recognition of their work.


The planet UCF researchers discovered and named in 2012

photo of Nicole Stott
(Photo by Bill Stafford)

Alumni Spotlight: Nicole Stott ’92

Two space shuttle missions. A three-month stay on the International Space Station. The 10th woman to perform a spacewalk. Nicole Stott ’92 broke barriers during her time as an astronaut. From her start as an operations engineer at Kennedy Space Center, she held different positions before achieving what once seemed like a far-fetched idea: becoming an astronaut. After her last mission, Stott led several groups at NASA before stepping aside to try something new: Inspiring students to blend art with science. While sharing her love of both subjects, she spreads a motivational message that “this is our planet, and we need to take care of it.”

Learn about how she soared to new heights.

UCF’s relationship with NASA is really providing a reservoir of scientific talent that enables the goals of our space program. That kind of talent is not found in most universities in the country.”

— Dan Britt, Pegasus Professor

Reputation for Research Excellence

UCF’s reputation opens the doors to unique instruments such as the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes. Hubble and Spitzer give us unprecedented views into the galaxy — now our faculty are among the first to conduct advanced research using the James Webb space telescope. UCF also manages the U.S. National Science Foundation Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. Even though the main dish collapsed in 2020, scientists are conducting research with the extensive data already collected. Other parts of the observatory are operating, and UCF is working with stakeholders to ensure the facility’s scientific legacy continues.

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UCF is America’s Space University

With innovative research in physics and planetary science, UCF professors are developing the science and tech to get us back to the moon, Mars and beyond.

How UCF faculty are leading space science

Philip Metzger, Adrienne Dove, Humberto Campins

Space Degrees

As new space programs continue to take off from the Central Florida region and beyond, students have an opportunity to break into this exciting industry with a number of space degrees offered at UCF.

Bachelor’s Degrees

Best bachelor’s degrees for a career in space exploration and research

Graduate Degrees

Top master’s and doctoral degrees for advancement in the space industry

Business Degrees

Leading business degrees that can be applied to the space field

UCF Online Degrees

Nationally recognized online space degree programs

Rankings and Accreditations

top 20 most innovative university in the nation - U.S. News & World Report 2024

Top 20 Most Innovative University in the Nation
U.S. News & World Report ranks UCF as one of the most innovative in its annual list of best colleges.


Top 50 Best Atomic/Molecular Physics Schools
U.S. News & World Report ranked UCF as one of the best Aerospace schools in the nation.


Best Undergraduate Engineering Program
University of Central Florida is ranked No. 75 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Program in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

engineering accreditation commission abet badge
ABET Accredited
The Bachelor of Science programs in Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering are accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission of ABET.

View all of UCF’s Best Colleges rankings.

Creating Stellar Connections

Throughout Florida and the nation, UCF has built a number of relationships with partners who share similar values — striving toward excellence in any endeavor they may undertake. NASA is an example of one such partnership. The university is participating in several major NASA planetary missions and has the Center for Lunar and Asteroid Surface Science. Having established programs in space and planetary sciences, UCF has significant input into the nation’s space program. The partnership allows leading researchers at both NASA and UCF to ensure that robotic and human missions are done safely and efficiently.

Nearby Central Florida Research Park is also home to over 120 companies and serves as a hub for the nation’s military simulation and training programs. With its close proximity to UCF’s main campus, researchers and students have an opportunity to collaborate with industry leaders — working together on projects in the sciences, engineering, photonics and optics, and modeling and simulation.

Space Companies Employing UCF Graduates

  • NASA
  • Boeing
  • SpaceX
  • Blue Origin
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • L3Harris Technologies
  • Lockheed Martin
  • Northrop Grumman
  • Siemens
  • JPL
  • Made in Space

Institutes, Associations and Affiliations

  • Florida Space Institute
  • Unmanned Aerial Systems Research
  • Florida High Tech Corridor
  • Institute for Simulation and Training
  • Federal Aviation Administration
  • FIEA (Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy)
  • Townes Laser Institute
  • Advanced Materials Processing and Analysis Center (AMPAC)

Knights Under the Stars

A series of free events held at the Robinson Observatory throughout the academic year are open to the community to learn more about the solar system. See the wonders of the night sky through telescopes and gain a better understanding of it through knowledgeable volunteers.

View Knights Under the Stars schedule.

Areas of Excellence

Innovation. Access. Impact. Our integrated approach to teaching and learning prepares students for the future of work and lifelong careers, making a difference in their communities and around the world.

Aerospace and Defense
Digital Arts and Entertainment
Hospitality and Tourism
Modeling and Simulation
Transportation Science