Advanced science.  Applied technology.


Alan Stern to receive National Award of Nuclear Science & History

February 19, 2018 — Dr. Alan Stern has been selected to receive the National Award of Nuclear Science & History from the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History. Stern, associate vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division at Southwest Research Institute, serves as principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, which made headlines worldwide when the spacecraft returned remarkable imagery of the Pluto system. He was selected the 2018 recipient for his work in “planetary and near-earth research with the NASA Hubble space telescope and other deep space observations and discoveries in astrophysics and planetary science.”

“I’m honored to be named among the leaders previously receiving this award. Nuclear science has enabled the exploration of the outer planets — something our country has led the world in,” said Stern. Past recipients of the award include Gen. Paul W. Tibbetts, pilot of the B-29 Enola Gay; Sen. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt, the last man to walk on the moon; Dr. Murray Gell-Mann, who received the Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the quark; and Lisa Randall, a leading expert on particle physics and cosmology.

Stern has been honored numerous times over the course of his career. In 2016 and 2007, TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the year. The American Astronautical Society awarded him its Carl Sagan Memorial Award in 2016, and he received the 2016 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the space agency’s highest civilian honor. The New Horizons mission, which he leads for NASA, was named among the top science news stories of 2015 by Discover Magazine and Science News, among other distinctions, and has itself been honored with numerous awards.

Stern has authored or coauthored more than 290 technical research papers and served as a principal investigator on 14 space missions. He is perhaps best known for the Pluto flyby, which culminated July 14, 2015, when New Horizons came to within 8,500 miles of the planet. Onboard instruments collected historic images and science measurements. The mission has since been extended through 2021 to fly through the Kuiper Belt, an area of icy objects at the far reaches of the solar system. The spacecraft is now journeying toward its next flyby target, Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, which it will reach January 1, 2019, setting a record for the most distant exploration of any world in history.

As chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation since 2016, Stern is also an active proponent of suborbital, orbital and planetary space commercialization. In 2007 and 2008, he led the NASA Science Mission Directorate, overseeing 93 flight missions and more than 3,000 grants. His expertise ranges from research studies of the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud, comets and planetary satellites to space instrument development, particularly in ultraviolet technologies.

The National Award of Nuclear Science & History is presented to a significant individual or group that has worked to advance learning in the nuclear fields covered within the broad mission of the museum. Stern will receive the award at The Einstein Society Gala in Albuquerque, N.M., March 31, at the 21st annual awards ceremony.

For more information on the award, visit

For more information, visit Space Research and Technology or contact Maria Stothoff, (210) 522-3305, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.