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CU-Boulder director and faculty member Daniel Baker wins AIAA Leadership in Space Research award

January 13, 2010
Dr. Daniel N. Baker

Dr. Daniel N. Baker

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has awarded University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Daniel N. Baker with the prestigious James A. Van Allen Space Environments Award for excellence and leadership in space research.

Baker, director of CU-Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), received the award of excellence with emphasis “in the study of the magnetosphere and its consequences for radiation effects on earth-orbiting satellites.” Baker also is a professor in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department and the department of physics at CU-Boulder.

The award was presented to Baker at the AIAA’s 48th Aerospace Sciences meeting in Orlando Jan. 5, 2010. Baker earned his doctorate at the University of Iowa working under Van Allen, an internationally renowned space scientist who was the lead researcher on 24 NASA space missions and who discovered the radiation belts encircling Earth that bear his name. Van Allen passed away in 2006.

“This is an especially gratifying award for me,” said Baker. “Our leading edge research at LASP helps to set the tone for the nation in terms of how academic researchers can do great basic research and also support the needs of government agencies like NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation and the military for understanding and forecasting the space environment. I am honored to receive an award named after Dr. Van Allen.”

Baker said an example of such research is the Center for Integrated Space Weather Modeling, or CISM, an NSF Science and Technology Center. LASP is the key CISM institute promoting the exchange of information, tools and techniques between space science research and the space weather forecasting operations community.

The goal of CISM is to create a physics-based, numerical simulation model that describes the space environment from the sun to the Earth. Another major goal of CISM is to provide better forecasting methods for space weather predictions, Baker said. “As the physics-based models develop and improve in predictive ability, they will become a major part of the tools for forecasting space weather.”

Baker’s team at LASP also is active in NASA’s Living with a Star Program, primarily a space weather and applications research effort. As part of the Living with a Star Program, he and his team at LASP are developing new, state-of-the-art high-energy particle detectors that will further explore the Earth’s Van Allen belts. Baker is the principle investigator on these sensors, which will fly on the NASA Radiation Belt Storm Probes satellites in 2012. LASP is also playing a leading role in the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory slated for launch in February 2010 that will be carrying $32 million CU-Boulder instrument known as the Extreme Ultraviolet Variability Experiment, or EVE, one of three solar instruments manifested for the flight. Designed and built at LASP, EVE will measure precise changes in the sun’s UV brightness, providing space weather forecasters with early warnings of potential communications and navigation outages.

Baker is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, the International Academy of Astronautics, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2006, Baker chaired a committee for the National Research Council that issued a report titled “Space Radiation Hazards and the Vision for Space Exploration,” which probed the physical risks and technology obstacles of extended human space journeys. He also chaired a 2008 study by the NRC that examined the Economic and Societal Impacts of Space Weather. (The NRC is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine.)