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Mon, Dec 11, 2006

Scientist's Nobel Prize Caps Off A Great Week For NASA

But How Many People Noticed?

After being hit with a series of setbacks over the past several years -- from the loss of three robotic spacecraft from 1999 to 2004, to the 2003 Columbia tragedy -- NASA has rebounded considerably in the past year. The past seven days, in particular, have seen several noteworthy achievements and stories that have kept the space agency in the news... and for all the right reasons.

On Sunday, agency physicist John Mather was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for physics. Mather works at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. He shares the prize with George Smoot of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, for uncovering evidence that helped nail down the big bang theory of the universe.

The Associated Press reports the two men based their finding on data from a NASA satellite.

Mather's win came one day after the spectacular nighttime launch of the shuttle Discovery (below), on a mission that so far appears to be going perfectly to plan.

On December 7, the White House announced the selection of microbiologist Joshua Lederberg for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lederberg has served as an advisor to the agency in its search for extraterrestrial life.

Last Wednesday, NASA revealed photos taken from the now-defunct Mars Global Surveyor that appear to support the agency's long-held belief that water still flows on Mars -- albeit in limited periods.

One week ago, NASA unveiled its plans for a establishing a lunar base by 2020. The agency has already seen interest from the Russian and European space agencies to help support that goal.

When asked whether NASA has ever enjoyed a week where it had as many accomplishments to tout, public affairs official David Mould replied "July 1969 comes to mind." That, of course, is the week NASA first landed on the moon.

The comparison doesn't match up completely, though. While Americans were glued to their televisions in 1969 to watch the moon landing, many of NASA's accomplishments for the past week have passed with little fanfare.

"It's a terrific week for NASA," said Syracuse University professor W. Henry Lambright. "I think the only reason it isn't better recognized is that everything in public policy is overshadowed by Iraq."



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