Advanced science.  Applied technology.


SwRI’s Dr. Alan Stern named AIAA Fellow

February 8, 2024 — Dr. Alan Stern, a planetary scientist and associate vice president of Southwest Research Institute’s Space Sector, has been named a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Fellows are recognized for their notable and valuable contributions to the arts, sciences or technology of aeronautics and astronautics. AIAA cited Stern “for outstanding contributions to the exploration of the solar system and the development of commercial spaceflight.”

“I am honored beyond words to be named an AIAA Fellow and thank my nominators very much, including SwRI Vice President Dr. Ben Thacker, who led the nomination,” Stern said. “This professional recognition from the leading professional society for aerospace sciences is a heartwarming honor, and very much valued by me."

Stern is the principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, which returned remarkable new data and imagery of Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth. He is a long-time advocate of suborbital, orbital and planetary space commercialization and has served as a member of the U.S. National Science Board since 2018. He has played a leading role on 15 NASA and ESA missions and served on the science teams of 15 other U.S. space missions.

In November 2023, Stern conducted suborbital research aboard the Virgin Galactic commercial spaceship Unity in preparation for a future flight where he will conduct two NASA experiments in space.

“It’s very rewarding to see both Dr. Stern’s advocacy for the development of commercial space exploration and his contributions to the greater understanding of our solar system, recognized with this honor,” said Dr. James L. Burch, senior vice president of SwRI’s Space Sector.

Stern has now twice served as board chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation (CSF) and in 2024 he received the CSF’s James Kuzma Space Community Advocacy Award in recognition of his contributions to commercial spaceflight. In 2007 and 2008, he led the NASA Science Mission Directorate, overseeing 93 flight missions and more than 3,000 grants.

“I’m delighted to see Dr. Stern honored for his dedication to space exploration and the mark he has left on the commercial spaceflight industry,” said Dr. Ben Thacker, vice president of SwRI’s Mechanical Engineering Division. “He is a remarkable scientist and engineer with a passion for taking on new challenges and complex questions.”

In 2016 and 2007, TIME Magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people of the year. He also received the 2016 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the space agency’s highest civilian honor. Stern has also written four books, most recently “Chasing New Horizons,” which was published in 2018.

Stern and the other fellows will be inducted at a ceremony on May 14 in Washington, and celebrated during the AIAA Awards Gala on May 15 at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

For more information, visit Space Research & Technology or contact Joanna Quintanilla+1 210 522 2073, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, 6220 Culebra Road, San Antonio, TX 78238-5166.