At an event on Capitol Hill, The Planetary Society yesterday awarded the Thomas O. Paine Award for the Advancement of Human Exploration of Mars to Steve Squyres and the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) team. Squyres is the Principal Investigator for the two Mars Exploration Rovers, which have been exploring the surface of the Red Planet for nearly six years.
Under the guidance of Squyres and the MER team, the twin rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – have taken us on a vicarious journey across the plains and craters of Mars, their cameras capturing images of a magnificent alien world.
"Exploration is both adventure and discovery, and Steve Squyres and the MER team have provided an abundance of both," said Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society. "Steve has demonstrated great leadership and scientific insight, revealing a Mars that beckons to us to explore in person its distant horizons."
Friedman added, "We congratulate Steve and the whole MER team and note with pride that Society President Jim Bell has played a major role as leader of the Pancam team. We also recognize the fantastic work of the engineering teams at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and in the aerospace industry. They built and operate the rovers, and made this mission possible."
The Thomas O. Paine Award for the Advancement of Human Exploration of Mars is named for Tom Paine, who served on The Planetary Society’s Board of Directors for many years and was NASA Administrator at the time of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The Award recognizes the group or individual who has done the most to advance the eventual human exploration of Mars.
Each winner is presented with a copy of the Mars flag that Tom Paine designed in 1984. The particular flag presented to Squyres was flown on NASA’s Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station in July, 2006.
The presentation took place in the Senate Hart Building in Washington, D.C. at a Planetary Society event held entitled "Looking to the Future on the 75th Anniversary of the Birth of Carl Sagan." Attendees included Planetary Society board members Bill Nye the Science Guy and “Nova Science Now” host Neil deGrasse Tyson, Deputy NASA Administrator Lori Garver, Sagan's widow and collaborator Ann Druyan, and musician Jack White. Wesley T. Huntress, Jr., Director Emeritus of the Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, presented the award to Squyres.