The International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has awarded the 2012 Laurels for Team Achievement Award to the MESSENGER team. The award was presented September 30 at the opening ceremony of the 63rd International Astronautical Congress, which is being held this week in Naples.
MESSENGER Project Scientist Ralph McNutt, MESSENGER Co-investigator Stamatios Krimigis, and MESSENGER Mission Design Lead Engineer James McAdams were on hand to accept the award before an audience of 300, including 14 heads of space agencies. In introductory remarks, Yannick d'Escatha, director of the French Space Agency, vice president of IAA and chair of the awards committee, called the MESSENGER mission a "fantastic and extraordinary accomplishment."
The citation for MESSENGER's award reads: "To the team of scientists and engineers whose creativity and expertise made possible the development and operation of the MESSENGER Mission, the first to orbit Mercury, as a breakthrough in scientific solar system exploration. During its unprecedented one-year primary mission, this robotic explorer has provided 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. This unique achievement of technology was conducted by the JHU APL and accomplished with the collaboration of NASA."
John Sommerer, the head of the Space Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which built and operates the spacecraft, said: "APL is very pleased with this international recognition. 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 Team Achievement Award is one of the two major awards given by IAA every year, the other for individual recipients. 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 recipients of the award have gone to the teams of the Cassini-Huygens Program (2006), the Hubble Space Telescope (2004) and the U.S. Space Shuttle (2002).
"This is a special honor for MESSENGER, when one knows that previous winners include Hubble, Cassini, SOHO, and the U.S. Space Shuttle Team, among others," said Krimigis of APL. "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."