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Alan Stern wins Lowell Thomas Award


October 5, 2018

Ian McKinney

Niwot resident Dr. Alan Stern has received the Lowell Thomas Award in Engineering Exploration, an honor bestowed by The Explorer’s Club.

An intrepid adventurer, reporter Lowell Thomas’s trailblazing work in the 1900s meant an award carrying his name would be synonymous with pioneering exploration and epic voyages. Planetary scientist, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, author, and Niwot resident, Alan Stern was recently bestowed the Lowell Thomas Award in Engineering Exploration for his accomplishments and ongoing endeavors.

The Rocky Mountain Explorers Club, one of 30 international chapters of the professional society that determines winners of this prestigious award, brought Stern’s name forward for this year’s honor. He learned by phone that he was selected.

“I was ecstatic, it was fantastic news,“ Stern said. “I had been told that I was nominated, but I thought that will never go through. I’m not an explorer, I don’t climb mountains or visit the Antarctic. I was pretty surprised, pleasantly, of course.”

The Explorer’s Club is a global group that, according to its website, “promotes the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space by supporting research and education in the physical, natural and biological sciences.” Past winners of the award have included astrophysicist, astronomer and author Carl Sagan, astronaut Buzz Aldren, and explorer Sir David Attenborough.

The organization’s website reads, “As a community dedicated to preserving the instinct to explore, we have always valued curiosity, determination, and ingenuity. For our 2018 Lowell Thomas Awards, we celebrate individuals who have demonstrated the skills necessary to engineer groundbreaking expeditions and expeditionary science.”

One of four winners, Stern will be honored on Oct. 27 in Boston. Other 2018 awardees are Aerospace biomedical engineer Dava Newman, Egyptologist Sarah Parcak, Organismic & Evolutionary Biologist Peter Girguis, and Nobel prize-winning physicist Rainer Weiss.​

Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division of Boulder-based Southwest Research Institute, as reported in two earlier articles in the Courier, was announced as a winner of the 2018 National Award of Nuclear Science and History by the National Atomic Museum Foundation, and was recognized as co-author of Chasing New Horizons, Inside the Epic Mission to Pluto, a book co-authored with David Grinspoon. Stern’s new book, Launch to Leadership, will be on shelves next year.

Stern’s credentials are extensive and touch on many major space exploration missions. He has been the principal investigator on numerous missions since the 1990s. He is presently the head of the team at New Horizons mission, which made history when the spacecraft flew closer to Pluto than any other had previously, allowing it to capture astonishing images and data in July 2015.

Continuing on its journey, New Horizons is heading toward an object in the Kuiper belt dubbed Ultima Thule, more than a billion miles past Pluto, once again making it the farthest object in the Solar System to be visited by a spacecraft.

“We’re on final approach now to our next flyby and things are very busy. A lot of people in the Boulder area, including Niwot residents are involved in New Horizons,” Stern said of the next milestone set to take place on December 31, 2018.

Keep an eye on New Horizons’ progress here.


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