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USRA Selected as Member of the PHaSER Program Supporting NASA Goddard’s Heliophysics Division

Linda Neergaard Parker, Ph.D. Named Associate Director

Columbia, Maryland—July 13, 2021. NASA recently awarded a cooperative agreement entitled “The Partnership for Heliophysics and Space Environment Research” (PHaSER) to the Catholic University of America (CUA), Institute of Astrophysics and Computational sciences and five other partners including Universities Space Research Association (USRA). This cooperative agreement will support the scientific and technical program of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Heliophysics Science Division (HSD).

The six-member team includes the Catholic University of America, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), University of Maryland College Park (UMCP), Howard University, George Mason University, and Universities Space Research Association (USRA). Dr. Robert Robinson from CUA serves as the Director of the program supported by five Associate Directors from partner universities and USRA. Dr. Linda Neergaard Parker, Director of Science and Technology Institute (STI), will serve as an Associate Director representing USRA.

Dr. Linda Neergaard Parker

Dr. Linda Neergaard Parker

Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Senior Vice President, Science, noted, “This is a unique opportunity for USRA and we are pleased to be a member of PHaSER team which allows us to support formally the NASA Goddard Heliophysics science program for the first time, and Dr. Linda Neergard Parker is uniquely qualified to serve as an associate director for this exciting partnership between the universities and HSD at NASA/GSFC.” Dr. Asrar also stated, “This effort  will also provide USRA another opportunity to continue engaging universities in NASA science and exploration programs, and in supporting the development of the Artemis generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.”

The USRA research focus on heliophysics at STI includes space weather assessments that benefit human spaceflight and operations in low Earth orbit and the exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. Studies on space radiation, space weather, and space environmental testing conducted at STI contribute significantly to the NASA science and exploration programs.

The purpose of the PHaSER program is to:

  • sustain and strengthen the existing partnerships with HSD civil service researchers
  • nurture early-career scientists by providing a broad range of opportunities for students and newly minted Ph.D. scientists
  • facilitate collaborations with visiting scientists and the broader research community
  • strengthen diversity and inclusion through aggressive programs for underrepresented groups and
  • integrate PHaSER staff in heliophysics science planning, technology development and all phases of mission implementation.

The overall goal is also to assist Goddard HSD using PHaSER institutions that have the scientific and technical expertise aligned with all the laboratories in HSD, including current staff working in those organizations and university faculty members with access to students, university resources, and recruitment programs aimed at minority populations.

PHaSER will primarily support HSD through the recruitment, hiring, and retention of high-quality scientists and students in cooperation with HSD scientists responsible for specific research areas.

“PHaSER represents a network as much as a partnership, leveraging the many linkages the member institutions have to help move HSD scientific and technical projects forward,” according to the proposal submitted by the group. “This is particularly important for being well positioned to support new initiatives in HSD by providing access to people and resources with little delay and optimum results”

Similarly, PHaSER supports special programs to stimulate collaborations, connections, and scientific interchanges between HSD and the external science communities through visiting scientists, postdoc and sabbatical appointments, student and internship activities, and organizing and hosting scientific and technical conferences and workshops.



Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities, and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu.