SETI Institute Garners NASA Awards

nasa awards
top row: Daniel Huber, Planetary Lake Lander team camp site, SOFIA aircraft bottom row: PLL robot, artist impression of Kepler spacecraft, Tom Pierson

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA – Today, NASA bestowed honors on SETI Institute scientists and educators, both as individuals and as members of research teams, citing their outstanding efforts on behalf of science, outreach and education.

Daniel Huber, an astrophysicist at the Institute’s Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe and winner of an Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, was cited for significantly increasing the accuracy with which the diameters of exoplanets found by the Kepler spacecraft can be determined. Kepler senses planets by measuring the very slight dip in brightness they cause as they pass in front of their home stars. But knowing the size of the planets requires accurate knowledge of the size of the stars. Until Huber’s work, the precision of the latter was only 40 – 50 percent. His careful application of a technique known as asteroseismology has reduced this uncertainty to less than 5%. Huber was one of only 13 people nationwide to receive this medal.

Tom Pierson (deceased) earned a Distinguished Public Service Medal for founding the SETI Institute, and spearheading its leadership as CEO for nearly three decades. With approximately 130 employees, the Institute has long been in the forefront of astrobiology research, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and in outreach and education activities related to science. It has an especially large presence in the data processing activities for Kepler.

Planetary Lake Lander Team (PLL), comprising 17 researchers, was cited for its work in developing instrumentation that can be used in the future exploration of Saturn’s moon, Titan. The team is the winner of a Group Achievement Award. Titan is the only place in the solar system other than Earth that we are certain has liquid bodies on its surface – lakes of ethane and methane. To investigate these reservoirs is difficult, as temperatures on Titan are exceedingly low and communication with Earth would be slow. The PLL Team developed robotic devices able to measure the depth of lakes, the occurrence of storms, and other situations that may occur on this intriguing Saturnian moon. The team includes SETI Institute scientists Nathalie Cabrol as Principal Investigator, Eric Fleming, Edmond Grin and Pablo Sobron as Co-Investigators, and educator Pamela Harman as education and outreach lead. The PLL Team includes collaborators at NASA Ames Research Center, Universidad Católica del Norte in Chile, Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, University of Tennessee, Centro De Astrobiología in Spain, and Carnegie Mellon University.

The 13-member SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) Outreach Team was also presented with a Group Achievement Award. Bringing the science of this world-class flying telescope to the public via publications, articles and media appearances is one half of the team’s two-pronged efforts. The second is to engage teachers and students, which includes training teachers to join SOFIA research flights, and 56 educators so far have done so. Their experiences are taken back to classrooms and communities nationwide, and have long-lasting impacts on the next generation of scientists. The team includes SETI Institute members Dana Backman, Pamela Harman, Jeonghee Rho, Jennifer Savage, Darlene Weidemann and John Johnson plus collaborators at NASA, Astronomical Society of the Pacific and DLR, the German Aerospace Center.

“The broad diversity and high quality of the programs and effort that have resulted in these awards is a gratifying tribute to our organization,” says Institute CEO David Black. “We couldn’t be more pleased by this achievement.”

Complete member list for winning teams:

Planetary Lake Lander: Nathalie A. Cabrol, Trey Smith, Leslie Bebout, Guillermo Chong, Cecilia Demergasso, Angela Detweiler, Eric Fleming, Terrence Fong, Edmond A. Grin, Pamela Harman, Susan Lee, Jeffrey Moersch, Victor Parro, Liam Pedersen, Eric Smith, Cristian Tambley, Pablo Sobron, and David Wettergreen

SOFIA Outreach Team: Dana Backman, Kassandra Bell, Coral Clark, Elizabeth Hagenauer, Pamela Harman, James Harrington, John Johnson, Norbert Junkes, Dorte Mehlert, Elizabeth Mittelbach, Leslie Proudfit, Jeonghee Rho, Jennifer Savage, Nicholas Veronico and Darlene Weidemann


The 2014 NASA Honor Awards Ceremony for Ames ResearchCenter will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, at 2:00 p.m. in the Syvertson Main Auditorium (N-201).

Ames will be presenting NASA Honor Awards to 68 employees who have been selected for individual awards, and to 46 groups which have been selected for the NASAGroup Achievement Award. The names of the honorees are listed below.

Seating in the Main Auditorium will be on a first-come, first-served basis, with a small section in the front reserved for the honorees and their families, and for those accepting on behalf of the groups. I hope that many of our staff members will attend to show appreciation for the outstanding accomplishments of our honorees.

In the event the auditorium reaches capacity, viewing the ceremony will be available to the Ames community on VidNet Channel 20. For live Windows Media Player streaming of this event, please go to: .
You can now also view the event on the new Ames IPTV video distribution system on channel #100 – N201 AUDITORIUM

Research Thrust: 

About SETI Institute

Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies.  The Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF.