Craig Kluever’s dream was born as he found himself awestruck in front of a grainy black-and-white television screen watching Apollo 11 land on the moon. He was in kindergarten. As he puts it, “that just made a big impact on me. Of course, the first thing I wanted to be was an astronaut.” Those early dreams of becoming an astronaut turned instead into a pursuit of the science behind the rockets. Today, the MU Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering works behind the scenes to solve the kind of problems involved in designing space travel—such as how to take off, how to reach a target, and, more importantly, how to return safely to Earth.
For the first six years as an assistant professor, Kluever primarily focused on space missions that used electric propulsion. He worked with NASA on a lot of feasibility studies—aka “paper studies” (e.g., missions to the moon, to Mars, to the outer planets, to Pluto), studies that go into rounds of proposals that compete for selection. Unfortunately, none of the studies Kluever worked on have been selected, though he has come close. He worked on Diana, an early version of Dawn, which did get selected. Kluever has also worked with the X-33 program. In this project he looked at the approach and landing guidance system for this unpowered vehicle, which would have been the next-generation space shuttle (if the program had not been cancelled). Now the hot topic is the Crew Exploration Vehicle, the capsule in which NASA hopes to send astronauts to the moon and to Mars. Kluever is focusing on the atmospheric phase of the entry guidance system, particularly the Earth return, and also working on the ascent guidance system for the vacuum-flight phase of the Crew Launch Vehicle.