Ergun, also a professor in the CU Boulder Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department, was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for designing and building innovative electric field instruments for many NASA flight missions, including the MAVEN Mars mission and the Parker Solar Probe, currently making record-breaking close-in orbits of the Sun. The Distinguished Public Service Medal is NASA’s highest form of recognition awarded to a non-government individual whose service, ability, or vision has personally contributed to NASA’s advancement of the U.S.’s interests.
“I am greatly honored to be selected for this award,” Ergun said. “I share this honor with many who have contributed to our instruments for NASA missions,” he added.
Ergun’s research interests are heliospheric and astrophysical plasmas, or charged particles, with applications to Earth’s and Jupiter’s magnetosphere, Mars’ ionosphere, and the solar wind.
Past recipients of the award include Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Clyde Tombaugh, Alan Stern, and LASP’s own Bill McClintock (in 2018).
Eastes, who currently serves as the principal investigator for the LASP-built GOLD instrument, was recognized with the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal for his work on GOLD and a career devoted to better understanding the complex dynamics of the Earth’s near-space boundary. The Exceptional Public Service Medal is awarded to a non-government individual for sustained performance that embodies multiple contributions on NASA projects, programs, or initiatives.
“Opportunities to contribute to NASA’s science missions, as well as to benefit from them, have been wonderful experiences,” said Eastes. “I am indebted to the many others who made opportunities become reality. The honor of this award is a tribute to their exceptional contributions and my limited contributions to NASA’s missions.”
In addition to the individual accolades, LASP was also recognized by NASA with two group achievement awards: a Silver Achievement Medal for the GOLD instrument team and a Group Achievement Medal for the MMS operations team.
GOLD, the Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk instrument, is an ultraviolet spectrograph that measures densities and temperatures in Earth’s thermosphere and ionosphere, information critical to understanding how communications and navigation satellites can be affected by incoming radiation from the Sun. LASP also manages the science operations center for GOLD.
The MMS, or Magnetospheric Multiscale, mission, for which LASP hosts the payload operations center, is studying magnetic reconnection, a process that taps the energy stored in a magnetic field and converts it into heat and kinetic energy in the form of charged particle acceleration and large-scale flows of matter. LASP also contributed key components to the MMS electric and magnetic field instruments.
“The lifeblood of NASA research is the innovative instrumentation that flies in space,” said LASP Director Daniel Baker. “Bob Ergun and Richard Eastes personify the dedication and creativity that permits new, exciting observations of the Sun, the Earth, and the universe beyond. They are leaders in their respective fields and they enable LASP to be at the forefront of understanding our place in the cosmos. The awards bestowed upon Bob, Richard, as well as the GOLD and MMS teams, are testimony to the recognition of NASA and the entire community of LASP’s leadership in scientific exploration.”