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Niwot’s Alan Stern Lands Prestigious Lowell Thomas Award

September 26, 2018

Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, was named this week as the recipient of the 2018 Lowell Thomas Award in Engineering Exploration.

Alan Stern, principal investigator of the historic Boulder-born New Horizons mission to the Pluto system and beyond, has notched an honor linking his name to some of the world’s best known names of science and exploration.

Stern, 60, was named this week as the recipient of the 2018 Lowell Thomas Award in Engineering Exploration, which has previously gone to the likes of Sir Edmund Hillary, astronaut Buzz Aldrin , Isaac Asimov, Chuck Yeager, Sir David Attenborough and Lowell Thomas himself, the American writer broadcaster and traveler for whom the award was named, best known for building the legend of Lawrence of Arabia.

“I’ve received many awards by professional societies in engineering and science, but the Lowell Thomas recognition by the Explorer’s Club is quite different and uniquely special because it is a recognition by the world’s leading association of explorers and exploration. No words can say how special that is to me,” Stern said in an email.

Stern is the associate vice president of the space science and engineering division at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder.

The Lowell Thomas Award in Engineering Exploration, which is presented by The Explorer’s Club, celebrates those who have engineered groundbreaking expeditions and expeditionary science.

Since it was launched in 1904, The Explorers Club has promoted the scientific exploration of land, sea, air and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences.

Already this year, Stern garnered the National Award of Nuclear Science & History from the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. In both 2016 and 2007, Time Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the year. Also, in 2016, Stern received the Carl Sagan Memorial Award from the American Astronomical Society and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the space agency’s highest civilian honor.

Stern is best known for directing NASA’s New Horizons mission, which made headlines around the world with its July 14, 2015 flyby of Pluto and its moons , brushing past the surface of Pluto at a distance of about 7,750 miles, yielding the most intimate imagery and telling data of that region ever attained by science.

But New Horizons’ work was not finished there. It has continued racing outward through the Kuiper Belt, a region of icy objects at the outer frontier of the solar system, and now has its sights set on a flyby of the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU 69, known also as Ultima Thule , which it will encounter at closest proximity at 10:33 p.m. MST Dec. 31.

Stern was asked if well into his storied career, New Horizons is destined to be remembered as his greatest contribution to space exploration,.

“Was leading the farthest exploration in history and the only first mission to a new planet led by an individual scientist my greatest achievement? Probably,” he said, “except for my three kids.”

Stern, a longtime advocate of suborbital, orbital and planetary space commercialization, has led NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, overseeing 93 flight missions and more than 3,000 grants. And he has many more plans, well beyond New Horizon’s New Year’s Eve date at Ultima Thule.

“I have significant goals left in my career,” he said. “I expect to soon fly in space on suborbital vehicles to do research and I hope to fly in orbit after that. I’m also involved in the science teams of several new NASA space missions like Europa Clipper and Lucy and am leading a major new NASA mission proposal to explore the origin of our solar system.”

Stern will collect his award on Oct. 27 at the Museum of Science in Boston.

Charlie Brennan: 303-473-1327, brennanc@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/chasbrennan

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