President Barack Obama Recognizes NASA Employees' Public Service

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2013


President Obama met with two NASA employees and 32 fellow public servants in the East Room at the White House in Washington to express gratitude and acknowledge their selection as recipients and finalists of the prestigious 2013 Samuel J. Heyman Service of America Medals or Sammies. The medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to recognize the outstanding achievements of federal workers and their significant work for our nation.

David Lavery, program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington, and scientist William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Centers in Moffett, Field, Calif., were the agency's honorees. Lavery and his Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team received the Science and Environment medal for their work on the successful development, launch, landing, operations, and science activities of the Curiosity rover. Borucki was honored as a finalist for the Career Achievement medal for his visionary work on the Kepler mission launched in 2009. The mission was designed to search for potentially habitable extra-solar planets or exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system.

"It's my pleasure to congratulate these two exemplary public servants on behalf of the entire NASA Family," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "David Lavery and William Borucki have demonstrated the very best that NASA has to offer -- a commitment to innovation and discovery that strengthens our nation and improves lives around the world. Their work has deep and lasting value and they most certainly deserve recognition with the Sammie award."

The MSL mission lowered the rover Curiosity on the Martian surface in August 2012 using precision landing technology. Within the first eight months of a planned 23-month primary science mission, Curiosity has already met its major objective of finding evidence of a past environment well suited to supporting microbial life. The rover is currently studying the geology and environment of selected areas in the crater and analyzing samples drilled from rocks or scooped soil from the ground.

"The Mars Science Laboratory project once again showcased NASA's ability to dream big, and then deliver on those aspirations," said Lavery. "At first, the plan for Curiosity was so audacious that it sat at the intersection of imagination and magic. But then the team made it real. And with that, we brought inspiration and pride to America and the world."

Borucki, who conceived and implemented the Kepler mission, has worked for more than 50 years at Ames. Through the first three years of data, Kepler has already discovered more than 3,500 exoplanet candidates and confirmed 156 as exoplanets. Borucki and his team continue to analyze four years of collected data. They expect hundreds, if not thousands, of new discoveries from detailed analysis.

"The results of the Kepler mission show that our galaxy is filled with planets; many of them Earth-size and some of them in the habitable zone," said Borucki. "To continue our exploration for life, we need to find the closest planets and whether these have conditions suitable for life."

The Sammies have been presented since 2002. Known as the "Oscars" of public service, the Sammies are named in honor of Samuel J. Heyman, an American businessman, hedge fund manager, and philanthropist. Individuals are chosen from submitted nominations with finalists announced in mid-spring of each year. After a detailed review, nine awardees are selected in the fall.

This year's medals honored work ranging from eradicating polio in India to saving the Air Force more than $1 billion in 2012 by reducing energy consumption. The top medal that acknowledges the Federal Employee of the Year was presented to a National Institutes of Health team of doctors for revolutionizing the way hospital-acquired infections can be identified and halted through genetic sequencing of the bacteria.

For information on the Sammies and the honorees, visit:

Information about Curiosity's activities are available online at:

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit:


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