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Big-Bang Work Brings Big Prize
Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers?

Who are NASA's Space Science Explorers? The scientist studying black holes in space. The teacher talking about the secrets of the cosmos. And the student asking if there is life away from Earth. All of these people are Space Science Explorers. They are all curious about our solar system and space. This is a story about a NASA Space Science Explorer.

John Mather stands holding the Nobel Prize
John Mather has been doing science for a long time. He started one of his hardest projects in 1974. That's when he had the idea for a NASA satellite. He called it COBE, which stands for Cosmic Background Explorer. The name sounds like "co-bee."

John planned for his satellite to look out into space. COBE would look for clues about how the planets and universe were born. Most scientists think the universe was created from a big explosion. But they can't be sure. The explosion would have taken place billions of years ago. Scientists call this explosion the big bang.

Image to right: John Mather receives the Nobel Prize for Physics. Copyright: The Nobel Foundation 2006. Credit: Hans Mehlin

John and a whole team of people started building COBE in 1982. It took them several years to finish it.

COBE finally went into space in 1989. Soon, COBE found exactly what John was looking for. It told scientists a lot about how the universe began. The satellite found strong proof for the big bang.

John was surprised that COBE found just what he thought it would. Science doesn't always work that way. This time it did. COBE did such a great job that John won an award. He was given a Nobel Prize in 2006. The Nobel Prize is one of the best prizes that a scientist can win.

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John came up with his satellite idea in 1974. He won the Nobel Prize in 2006. That adds up to 32 years of hard work and waiting. John thinks it was worth the wait.

He said, "Being a scientist is one of the most exciting things that I could imagine doing."

Prachi Patel, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies
Adapted for grades K-4 by Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies