NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
June 25, 2007
Retired NASA Scientist Wins First Al Seiff Memorial Award
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- A retired NASA scientist whose instruments probed the atmospheres of Jupiter and Saturn's largest moon, Titan, today received an award for his work.
Hasso Niemann, who recently retired from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., received the Al Seiff Memorial Award during a technical meeting in France. The award honors researchers for outstanding contributions to the understanding of atmospheres of planets or moons through the use of high-speed probes that enter those atmospheres.
"Niemann devoted his career to the development of mass spectrometer technology and harnessing its capabilities to measure the composition of unknown planetary atmospheres," said Jim Arnold, who retired from NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., as chief of the Space Technology Division. Mass spectrometry is a method that scientists use to reliably identify ionized molecules by measuring their mass. Arnold – now a scientist with the University of California, Santa Cruz -- nominated Niemann for the award.
"Atmosphere entry probes present a unique opportunity for performing qualitative analysis of extraterrestrial atmospheres in cases where remote sensing alone may not be sufficient and measurements with balloons or aircraft (are) not practical," Niemann and his co-authors wrote for a technical presentation.
Al Seiff, for whom the award is named, spent most of his career at NASA Ames and was a colleague of Niemann's. Niemann, the first recipient of the award, began collaborations with Seiff on the 1971 Planetary Atmospheric Experiments Test (PAET), which demonstrated a probe could return accurate data about Earth's atmosphere.
Years later, Seiff served as the principal investigator for the atmospheric structure investigation of the Jupiter Galileo entry probe that analyzed the structure of the huge planet's atmosphere. Niemann also was the principal investigator for the Galileo Probe's mass spectrometer. In December 1995, the probe entered Jupiter's atmosphere at 29.2 miles per second (47 kilometers per second) and parachuted downward. Niemann and his team designed, built, tested and calibrated the probe's mass spectrometer at NASA Goddard.
The spectrometer made the first direct measurements of the Jovian atmosphere. The instrument measured methane and traces of other organic molecules, ammonia, water vapor, hydrogen sulfide, phosphine and rare gases. Scientists also found that Jupiter's atmosphere was drier at the probe entry site than they thought it would be.
Later, Niemann was the principal investigator for the gas chromatograph mass spectrometer aboard the Huygens Probe that entered Titan's atmosphere Jan. 14, 2005. The Huygens probe, released from the Cassini spacecraft, made the first direct measurements of Titan's surface and lower atmosphere. Readings confirmed that the moon's atmosphere is mostly made of nitrogen and methane, and found the surface was likely rich in hydrocarbons.
Niemann received the award during the fifth International Planetary Probe Workshop, held June 23 - 29, 2007, in Bordeaux, France. Niemann also was scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the workshop.
For more information about the workshop, please visit: http://www.rssd.esa.int/SM/IPPW/
To read a feature story about Niemann, please visit: http://www.nasa.gov/vision/earth/everydaylife/niemann_award.html
For more information about the award, visit: http://www.rssd.esa.int/SM/IPPW/Page_doc/Alvin_Seiff.htm
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