Mars Exploration Rover Team and James Van Allen are Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Trophy Winners
The National Air and Space Museum Trophy, the museum's highest honor, has been awarded this year to the team responsible for the ongoing Mars Exploration Rover missions, and pioneer space scientist Dr. James Van Allen. The MER team is honored in the category of Current Achievement and Van Allen in the category of Lifetime Achievement.
The awards were presented at a private ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum building in Washington on March 9. Van Allen, who did not attend, was represented by his daughter. Established in 1985, the award recognizes outstanding achievement in scientific or technological endeavors relating to air and space technology and exploration. As in past years, trophy winners received a miniature version of "The Web of Space," a sculpture by artist John Safer.
For more information on the National Air and Space Museum Trophy and other awards in the museum's collections, visit www.nasm.si.edu/research/aero/trophy/.
The National Air and Space Museum building on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va. near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25) Admission is free but there is a $12 fee for daily parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Shuttle bus service runs between the facilities with a roundtrip ticket costing $12. (Group discounts are available)
The 2006 National Air and Space Museum Trophy event was made possible through the generous support of Lockheed Martin Corp.
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The Mars Exploration Rover Team
The Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Team is honored for its design, construction, deployment and management of two robotic rovers that began exploring the Red Planet in January 2004.
On Jan. 3, 2004, the rover “Spirit” landed on Mars in Gusev crater, followed on Jan. 25 by "Opportunity" landing in the Sinus Meridiani region, halfway around the planet from its twin. In both cases, the unique entry, descent and landing system of heat shields, parachutes, rockets and airbags worked to perfection. Because of the 12-minute time delay in sending radio signals to and from Mars, a safe landing depended on each rover’s autonomous execution of a complex sequence of operations within a 6-minute framework.
Following the landings, scientific discoveries came in quick succession. A sophisticated robot arm called the Instrument Deployment Device enabled each rover to deploy tools precisely as needed. Among those was the Rock Abrasion Tool, the first such device to allow scientists to scour beneath dust-coated rock surfaces on Mars. Such devices, combined with on-board systems, allowed the rovers to duplicate many of the activities of a human geologist and achieve remarkable success. A key mission highlight was the discovery of evidence that both sites once had considerable water present—the primary scientific objective of the entire mission.
Both rovers have operated well beyond their designed minimum lifetimes of 90 days. They also have driven many times the 600-meter distance NASA established as a criterion of success—covering more than 12 kilometers with both rovers.
At the end of 2005, both rovers remained in good working condition, although showing some wear-and-tear after almost two years of operation in the Martian environment. Their continuing exploration is a clear testament to the robust nature of the engineering behind the vehicles and the rigorous mission operations activities required to guide each vehicle.
James A. Van Allen
James A. Van Allen is honored for a lifetime devoted to the space sciences. Trained in nuclear physics, Van Allen applied both his theoretical and practical knowledge to the design and production of the radio proximity fuse in World War II. After the war, leading a group of scientists and engineers at the Applied Physics Laboratory, he adapted his wartime expertise to prepare delicate cosmic-ray detectors as packages for test flights on captured German V-2 missiles fired at White Sands. He continued using payloads of this sort into the 1950s, first to study particle radiation itself, and then to explore the structure of the Earth’s magnetic fields in the uppermost portions of the atmosphere. Van Allen was one of the first to combine balloons and rockets to achieve highly efficient means of exploring the upper atmosphere.
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