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Katerina Frances Winters, 19, a sophomore at Morehead State University and a space science major, puts away her math books and clothes from the previous night's slumber homework party in the dark so she does not wake her roommate and her roommates's chihuahua still sleeping in their dorm room.

Reaching for the moon

story by Joseph Barkoff

Is there water on the moon? Students at Morehead State University think they know how to find out and are building a satellite the size of a cereal box that NASA plans to send into space.

The rural green hill country at Morehead may seem an unlikely scene for a cutting-edge space program, but MSU already has yielded two satellites now circling the earth and is laying plans for more. They are coming from MSU’s Space Science program, where  students such as 19-year-old sophomore Katerina Frances Winters from Pleasureville in Henry County are learning by doing.

Katerina, “Kat” to her close friends and classmates who call themselves “Space Gals,” currently is on the team responsible for the creation of a satellite called Lunar IceCube. It follows the CXBN, launched in 2012, and its newer and improved upgrade CXBN-2, which was launched last March by NASA. These two CubeSats are measuring cosmic x-rays with the goal of better understanding the origins of the universe. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kentucky is a leader in space hardware.

In 2016, it was the nation's largest exporter of civilian aircraft, engines and parts and second to Washington State in aerospace fabrication. The CubeSat currently underway involves Katerina working in both the machine shop and the high bay where the actual assembly of the module takes place, inside a clean room.

“You have students like Katerina who get it,” says Dr. Dirk Grupe, 53, assistant professor of astrophysics and space science. “She is doing great in her classes.”

The students think the area on the moon where the dark and light sides meet may hold the secret to answering the question about water. There, as the sun’s radiation hits the surface, the temperature will rise almost 500 degrees, from minus 243 F to 250 F. In this area, if water is present, their satellite could detect it. The satellite is projected to launch in Katerina’s senior year, 2020.

"To see the launch (in) my senior year is going to be the payoff," she says.    


The space gals and a couple other friends study math in MSU's library. While everyone is doing some form of math and engineering, the space gals are leading the way.


Michael and Katerina study in the library working on their math homework.


Katerina and Akira walk home from their library party, a math studying session with the space gals and other select friends who need extra help with math.


Katerina takes a break from her studies and practices sight reading and piano.


Katerina and Kristen work on a program to fabricate pieces needed for their model of a sattelite, Lunar IceCube, in MSU's space science machine shop.


Katerina and Kristen work as safety engineers in the high bay alongside MSU’s clean room. The women are checking MUA’s, material usage agreements, and MIUL’s, material identification usage lists, to assure the components they plan to use are compliant with NASA specifications. Inside the clean room the assembly of the satellite Lunar IceCube, projected to be launched in 2020, takes place.


Katerina helps Kristen with her math homework while some of the other space gals prepare dinner in the kitchen.

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