Robert L. Ash

As a lad in Kansas, Bob Ash, now associate vice president for research and economic development, built model airplanes. As an adult, he tested a life-sized model of the Wright brothers’ glider in the wind tunnel at NASA Langley Research Center.

But the aerospace engineer’s aspirations went even higher. While working on turbulence at NASA Langley in 1974, he discovered that incorporating “riblets” into the skin of an aircraft reduced air friction. Also a noted expert on Mars, Ash has studied the red planet for nearly 30 years. He and Warren Dowler originated in situ resource utilization (including oxygen production) for round-trip Mars missions when Ash was at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1978. It is currently considered to be NASA’s baseline approach for future human missions to Mars.

Named an eminent scholar of engineering in 1989, Ash since 1988 has brought in more than $2 million per year in research funds and has an impressive publications record. When he arrived on campus in 1967, there was no research in mechanical engineering.

Over the years, he has successfully moved back and forth between research and teaching. As recipient of the Friends of the ODU Library Outstanding Achievement Award in 2000, Ash was cited for “his teaching skills ... and his ability to reveal the wonders of aerospace dynamics to students, inspiring them also to look above and beyond their earthly environment.”


Quest Fall 2005 • Volume 8 Issue 2