Press Release

Cornell News: Houck celebrates NASA medal

By SpaceRef Editor
July 2, 2005
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ITHACA, N.Y. — Jim Houck, the Cornell University Kenneth A. Wallace Professor of Astronomy at Cornell University and developer and principal investigator for the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared spectrograph, celebrated a top NASA award with colleagues in the Space Sciences Building on Wednesday, June 29, on the Cornell campus.

Houck, who received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 22 for his work on the spectrograph, was quick to share credit for the achievement.

You guys are the ones who have made this scientifically successful, he told colleagues. So why the medal is coming to me is a bit of a mystery.

The spectrograph, one of three instruments on the orbiting space telescope, has been giving astronomers new views of distant galaxies since the telescope’s launch in August 2003. Unlike optical telescopes, the spectrograph allows researchers to see into dense clouds of dust and take infrared snapshots of objects in distant galaxies. And its work isn’t over — the instrument, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. under Houck’s direction, is projected to send images back for another three and a half years.

Over blue-iced cake topped with yellow stars Houck noted (perhaps because such treats oblige a little gentle musing) that the spectrograph could have taken a number of different forms in development. That prompted a colleague to ask: Would Houck have been happier if the instrument had taken an alternate form?

Houck shrugged. I don’t know how it would have turned out, he said. But I’m happy now.

SpaceRef staff editor.