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MESSENGER Mission News
June 22, 2011

MESSENGER Science Team Member Receives NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal
MESSENGER Co-Investigator Scott Murchie, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., will be awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest honor that NASA bestows to an individual working outside the government. The award is granted only to individuals whose singular accomplishments contributed substantially to the NASA mission.

Murchie is receiving the honor in recognition of his leadership of the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) investigation. CRISM, flying aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), is one of NASA's high-technology instruments designed to seek traces of past and present water on the Martian surface.

Murchie is also accepting two NASA Public Service Group Achievment Awards on behalf of the MRO CRISM Team: one for developing and operating the CRISM instrument and processing and distributing the data, and one for analyzing the data and publishing the results, thus advancing the understanding of the Martian surface, its composition, and its evolution.

MESSENGER Co-Investigator Maria Zuber, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will also receive a Group Achievement Award on behalf of the MRO Gravity Science Team for conducting the gravity science investigation, calculating static and time-varying gravity fields, and providing constraints on interior processes and volatile transport.

Murchie will receive the Public Service award during a ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., on June 30, 2011; the Group Achievement awards will be presented July 19, 2011 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

“I’m incredibly flattered by this honor from NASA, which is really an acknowledgement of the fine team of people I work with, on CRISM and also on MESSENGER and a decade ago on NEAR,” Murchie said. “APL has a great team mentality, and it’s an honor to be part of that.”

Murchie studies the surface composition of Mars, asteroids, and the Moon using imaging and spectroscopy. He participated in the development of MESSENGER’s Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) and contributes to the mission imaging strategy, and he is participating in the analysis of MDIS and Mercury Atmospheric and Surface Composition Spectrometer spectral measurements of Mercury’s surface.

“The MESSENGER Science Team is extremely fortunate to include individuals such as Scott and Maria who have led and continue to direct scientific investigations on other spacecraft missions,” added MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “Their experience on MRO and other missions ensures that the scientific return from MESSENGER will substantially advance our understanding not only of Mercury but of all the inner planets.”

Exploring Mercury’s Plasma Environment

The Sun is continually hurling its atmosphere into space, forming a solar wind that fills interplanetary space with charged particles or plasma. Now and then, there are major explosions in the solar atmosphere that release a large flux of plasma with speeds up to 3000 kilometers per second. As the closest planet to the Sun, Mercury has a ringside seat on these events, which MESSENGER tracks with its Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer. Read more in this week’s Science Highlights from Mercury’s Orbit.

MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 18, 2011, to begin a one-year study of its target planet. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.

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