Status Report

NASA MESSENGER Mission Gains Deputy Principal Investigator

By SpaceRef Editor
May 10, 2012
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NASA MESSENGER Mission Gains Deputy Principal Investigator

Larry Nittler, a staff scientist in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, has been named deputy principal investigator of the MESSENGER mission. MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of CIW, delivered the announcement this morning at the first plenary of the 26th meeting of the MESSENGER Science Team meeting in Vancouver, B.C.

Solomon, a research scientist and director emeritus at CIW, has led NASA’s orbiting exploration of the planet Mercury since its inception. In July, he will assume the directorship of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Nittler received a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Cornell University in 1991, and a Ph.D. in Physics from Washington University in 1996. After a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at CIW, he took a position as an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where he worked on the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission to the asteroid 433 Eros. His analysis of NEAR measurements helped provide the first chemical analyses of a minor planet.

Nittler returned to Carnegie as a staff scientist in 2001. In addition to remote-sensing geochemical measurements, his research focuses on the laboratory study of extraterrestrial materials, including meteorites and interplanetary dust particles, to understand the formation of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe and to identify the materials involved. In particular, he has led investigations of the analysis of samples returned by NASA’s Stardust and Genesis missions.

“I’m delighted that Larry has agreed to shoulder new responsibilities for the MESSENGER mission,” says Solomon. “He’s been a Participating Scientist on MESSENGER for the past five years, he’s served as deputy chair of the Science Team’s Geochemistry Discipline Group for the past four, and he is leading the analysis of X-Ray Spectrometer observations of Mercury’s surface composition. That he is now taking on a still larger role will enable a smooth transition in the partitioning of mission management tasks even as I assume additional duties in a new position.”

“I’m honored and excited to take on this expanded role in MESSENGER,” says Nittler. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to help ensure the continued success of a ground-breaking planetary mission.”

SpaceRef staff editor.