April 17, 2002

Astronomy Professor Honored for NEAR Project

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Joseph Veverka, professor and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell, has been recognized by the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology for his work in the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) project.

The magazine named Veverka a “laureate” and he was honored with a trophy on April 16 at the National Air and Space Museum.

“It was a great exploration adventure and we all feel wonderful about it, and it’s even nicer [when] someone notices and has a celebration to give you an award,” Veverka said.

NEAR’s landing on the asteroid 433 Eros in February 2000 was the first landing of a space craft onto an asteroid.

Veverka said that while he is honored to be named a “laureate,” he was “just one of the hundreds of people involved in the mission.”

Veverka is now also working on Comet Nucleus Tour, a Cornell led NASA mission to study at least two comets. Veverka is principal investigator of the project which is NASA’s $154 million attempt to explore the nucleus of a comet, and how they change as they near the sun.

The Contour team is made up of Cornell staff, faculty and students. Prof. Jim Bell, astronomy, who has worked with Veverka for the past seven years said that Veverka is “an incredibly well respected and very experience astronomer who’s written some of the most important work in our field [concerning] asteroids and comets. …He’s been a mentor to many people, including me.”

Some of Veverka’s courses at Cornell integrate his teaching with his outside research.

“For example, this fall, a graduate seminar [will be taught] on comets and the Contour mission,” Veverka said. He also noted that astronomy students often have the chance to get involved with projects such as Contour.

Archived article by Diana Lo