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For Immediate Release

October 4, 2012

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Paulette Campbell
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MESSENGER Mission Receives Prestigious IAA Award

The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has awarded its 2012 Laurels for Team Achievement to the team leading NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission to the innermost planet. The award was presented Sept. 30 at the opening ceremony of the 63rd International Astronautical Congress, which is being held this week in Naples.

MESSENGER Project Scientist Ralph McNutt, co-investigator Stamatios Krimigis, and Mission Design Lead Engineer James McAdams — all from The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. — accepted the award before 300 attendees, including heads of 14 space agencies. APL built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA. The spacecraft launched on Aug. 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 18, 2011, beginning a yearlong primary mission to study its target planet. MESSENGER’s extended mission began on March 18, 2012.

Yannick d’Escatha, director of the French Space Agency, vice president of IAA and chair of the awards committee, calls MESSENGER a “fantastic and extraordinary accomplishment.” The IAA citation lauds the mission for providing “an extraordinary, comprehensive scientific overview of the planet, its makeup, its exosphere and its magnetosphere, providing the text for a new and overdue chapter of humankind’s knowledge of the smallest of the terrestrial planets.”

APL Space Department Head John Sommerer adds: “To have accomplished such a complete characterization of this little-known planet, within the low-cost Discovery mission class, is a testament to the vision and skill of the science, engineering, and operations team responsible for MESSENGER.”

The Laurels for Team Achievement Award is one of the two major awards given by IAA every year; the other celebrates individual success. The team award was established in 2001 to recognize extraordinary performance and achievement by a team of scientists, engineers and managers in the field of astronautics. Past awards have gone to the teams of the Cassini-Huygens program (2006), the Hubble Space Telescope (2004) and the space shuttle (2002).

“This is a special honor for MESSENGER, when one knows that previous winners include Hubble, Cassini, SOHO, and the space shuttle team, among others,” says Krimigis. “We are in select company, indeed.”

“From the outset of this mission, MESSENGER has been a team effort. Our scientists, engineers, managers and operations staff have worked in close cooperation for more than 12 years to maximize the effectiveness and impact of this hardy and well-traveled spacecraft,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “It is appropriate that this honor be shared across the entire mission team, and all team members share my gratitude that the International Academy of Astronautics has seen fit to acknowledge the accomplishments of the MESSENGER mission with this wonderful award.”

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