NASA Kepler Mission Awarded John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration

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The NASA Kepler Mission has been selected as the 2012 recipient of the Space Foundation's John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration. The award will be presented April 16 during the opening ceremony of the 28th National Space Symposium at The Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The NASA Kepler Mission is being recognized for the discovery of 61 confirmed extrasolar planets and over 2,300 planet candidates in the first 16 months of observations from May 2009 to September 2010.

About the Kepler Mission
The Kepler Mission findings contain well over 200 Earth-size planet candidates and more than 900 that are smaller than twice Earth-size. Of the 46 planet candidates found in the habitable zone, the region in the planetary system where liquid water could exist, 10 of these candidates are near-Earth-size. The cumulative catalog includes: 246 Earth-size, 676 super Earth-size, 1,118 Neptune-size, 210 Jupiter-size and 71 candidates that are larger than twice the size of Jupiter.

The Mission's planet confirmations include these firsts:

  • First unquestionably rocky planet (Kepler-10b)
  • First six-planet system (Kepler-11)
  • First small planet in the habitable zone (Kepler-22b)
  • First Earth-size planet discoveries (Kepler-20e&f)
  • Smallest exoplanets ever detected (KOI-961.01, KOI-961.02, KOI-961.03)
  • Three worlds (Kepler-16b, Kepler-34b, Kepler-35b) that orbit around two stars, establishing a new class of planetary system

The Kepler Mission's objective is to survey a portion of the galaxy to determine what fraction of stars host Earth-size and smaller planets in the habitable zone. The progression toward smaller planets at longer orbital periods suggests that Earth-size planets in the habitable zone are forthcoming if, indeed, such planets are abundant.

"With the rapid pace of space-related scientific study, we sometimes fail to realize just how extraordinary missions like Kepler are," said Space Foundation Chief Executive Officer Elliot Pulham. "They are fundamentally changing what we know about our universe and reshaping our understanding of planetary structure and formation."

About the Award
The John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration honors astronaut Jack Swigert, a Colorado native who served with retired U.S. Navy Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., and Fred Haise on the legendary Apollo 13 lunar mission, which was aborted after the perilous rupture of an oxygen tank en route to the moon. People around the world watched as NASA overcame tremendous odds to return the crew safely to Earth. Before joining the Apollo program, Swigert was a combat pilot for the U.S. Air Force in Japan and Korea and an engineering test pilot for North American Aviation, Inc. and Pratt and Whitney. In 1982, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but died of cancer before taking the oath of office.

The Space Foundation, founded in 1983 in part to honor Swigert's memory, created the Swigert Award in 2004 in tribute to his lasting legacy of space exploration. Previous recipients include NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander Team, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), The California Institute of Technology, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA's Mars Exploration Team from JPL, President George W. Bush and the LCROSS mission.

For information about the 28th National Space Symposium, click here.

This article is part of Space Watch: April 2012 (Volume: 11, Issue: 4).