Tue, Jun 09, 2009 - Page 2 News List

NASA to honor local astronomer

SIRENS OF TITAN Macau-born Ip Wing-huen spent years on the Cassini-Huygens space mission, a project in collaboration with space agencies around the world

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

NASA will confer a medal on an astronomy professor at National Central University (NCU) today in recognition of his achievements on a Saturn exploration space project.

Ip Wing-huen (葉永烜), a professor at NCU’s Graduate Institute of Astronomy, is an astronomer and one of the initiators of the Cassini-Huygens space mission, an international collaboration project involving NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.

Ip, along with two others involved in the project, Daniel Gautier from the Observatoire Meudon and Toby Owen from the University of Hawaii, has been chosen to receive NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal, NCU said in a press release.

Ip’s daughter will accept the award on behalf of her father at a ceremony to be held at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, today, NCU said.

“Everyone has dreams, but realizing them is most important,” Ip said in the press release.

He said that it was because planetary science received scant attention in the early 1980s that a budding astronomer like himself was able to initiate the project.

Studying astronomy is a long path, he said, as he thanked his wife for her support during the time he was committed to the Cassini-Huygens project.

The US$3.26 billion Cassini-Huygens project was launched on Oct. 15, 1997, with the participation of 256 scientists from 18 countries. It is the second-biggest space mission next to the International Space Station program.

The mission comprises the NASA Cassini orbiter and the ESA Huygens probe, and is aimed at studying Saturn and its moons. The Huygens probe landed on Saturn’s moon Titan on Jan. 14, 2005, and began transmitting scientific data, which helped scientists in their study of the atmospheric structure of Titan and the origins of life on earth.

NASA announced on April 18 last year a two-year extension of the mission, known as the “Cassini Equinox mission,” because it seeks answers to new questions that arose from the first orbit of Saturn by the spacecraft Cassini.

Ip, who was born in Macau and was employed as the chief scientist at Taiwan’s National Space Organization in 1991, said investment in scientific research was crucial to sustainable development because it encourages scientific creativity.

“Back in the 1980s, there were only two Titan experts in Europe, but they were already planning to go to Titan. That was because Europe had hundreds of years of scientific development and historical heritage and could therefore invest in what seemed unachievable at the time,” he said.

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