PASADENA, Calif. The director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Charles Elachi, is receiving multiple awards and honors this year in the United States and overseas.
"I'm extremely pleased to receive all these honors, which reflect the groundbreaking research and projects I've had the opportunity to work on with my colleagues at Caltech, JPL and NASA through the years," Elachi said.
This week, Elachi accepted the 2011 General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award from the Space Foundation. The award was presented at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The award, named for the Space Foundation's former chairman, Gen. James E. Hill, USAF (retired), recognizes "outstanding individuals who have distinguished themselves through lifetime contributions to the welfare or betterment of humankind through exploration, development and use of space, or through use of space technology, information, themes or resources in academic, cultural, industrial or other pursuits of broad benefit to humanity."
On March 5, Elachi was presented with an honorary doctor of science degree by Occidental College in Los Angeles during its 40th annual President's Circle Dinner at JPL. Also in March, he received the American Astronautical Society's 2011 Carl Sagan Memorial Award at the organization's symposium in Greenbelt, Md. The award, presented in cooperation with the Planetary Society, is given to individuals who demonstrate leadership in research or policies advancing exploration of the cosmos.
In addition to the trio of awards he has accepted in the United States this year, Elachi is receiving two international honors.
He is being inducted into the French Legion, known as the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur. Although Elachi is a native of Lebanon, and the award is traditionally restricted to natives of France, the honor has been bestowed on foreign nationals "who have served France or the ideals it upholds." Being honored at age 16 as Lebanon's top science student enabled Elachi to attend the college of his choice, France's University of Grenoble, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1968. That same year, he received an engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute in Grenoble, where he graduated first in the class.
"I'm very honored to be recognized with such a prestigious award," said Elachi, who will formally accept the honor for his life's work at a ceremony in the near future. "The years I spent in France, at the University of Grenoble and the Polytechnic Institute in Grenoble, were an important part of my life and helped pave the way for my career."
After studying in France, Elachi moved to Pasadena, where he received a master's (1969) and Ph.D. (1971) in electrical sciences from the California Institute of Technology. He also earned a master's degree (1983) in geology from UCLA and an MBA (1979) from USC.
Elachi noted that throughout his career, his links to France have continued through his research.
He joined JPL in 1970 as a researcher on various Earth and planetary missions. Elachi has been serving as JPL director since May 2001, and the decade since then has included such successful NASA space missions as the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the Phoenix Mars Lander, Stardust, Spitzer, Kepler, and such Earth-orbiting satellites as Grace and Topex/Poseidon-Jason.
"Over the last three decades, JPL and the French Space Agency, working together, have revolutionized the field of oceanography by developing the capability to observe and monitor ocean currents on a global basis from space," Elachi said.
In addition to serving as JPL director, Elachi is vice president of Caltech, and an electrical engineering and planetary science professor. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
Elachi has recently been listed in the top 10 on the Arabian Business Magazine "Power 500" list of the world's most influential people of Arab descent. The award looks at the influence of people from the Middle East in every sector: from the business world, media, entertainment, sports, science, arts and academia. Elachi is described as "one person who has driven mankind's thirst for knowledge about the other planets in our solar system."