NASA Goddard Scientist Jack Trombka Wins NASA's Highest Honor
Dr. Trombka Dr. Jack Trombka, emeritus senior fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Jay Friedlander
GREENBELT, Md. -- Dr. Jack Trombka, an Emeritus Senior Fellow at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., has been awarded the agency’s highest award honor, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. The award is granted only to individuals whose distinguished accomplishments contributed substantially to the NASA mission.

"I am overwhelmed with winning this award," said Dr. Jack Trombka, Emeritus Senior Fellow at NASA Goddard. "It has been a team effort starting with Apollo. I have been very fortunate to work with many talented colleagues who have participated with me in this research over my many years at NASA. This award is for all of us."

Trombka began his career in space sciences in the early 60's working on the Ranger mission. Not long after that, he was assigned to NASA Headquarters to direct the physics program for the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo programs. He played a crucial role in ensuring the highest scientific output from Apollo. He was the Principal Investigator (PI) or Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI) on all of the orbital x-ray and gamma ray instruments flown on the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

Trombka and his team members were involved in producing the first successful orbital geochemical instruments on a planetary science mission. His work helped solve the fundamental problem of how to relate the overall surface or bulk composition of the moon to the information obtained from the individual moon rocks collected at the Apollo landing sites. He received the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1971 for this groundbreaking work.

Trombka has been an instrument PI or Co-I on many planetary science missions since Apollo, including Apollo-Soyuz, the Russian Mars '94 Mission, WIND, NEAR, Mars Surveyor, MESSENGER, LRO/LEND, a US/Russian Antarctic Gamma Ray Balloon Flight and the United States/Russian Program for the Development of Remote Sensing X-Ray and Gamma-Ray Sensing Techniques.

Trombka's work also includes a variety of projects outside of the space science field. He has been PI for the NASA/National Institutes of Justice Space Age Teleforensics Program. This program focused on the development of cutting edge technology, i.e. an x-ray fluorescence system that could be used in criminal forensics cases. In addition, he is Co-I for the NATO Project on Non-Destructive Testing of Historic Monuments and an advisor to the NATO Science for Peace working group.

"This medal is well deserved for all of Jack’s wonderful and significant contributions to NASA," said Dr. Anne Kinney, Director Solar System Exploration Division at NASA Goddard. "During Jack's rich and storied tenure at NASA, he has done a great deal to enrich our understanding of the universe. He has shown remarkable energy and creativity and his charismatic leadership inspires great creativity in his colleagues. His interdisciplinary interests and experience allows him to see connections between ideas and people, and between problems and technical solutions. He is a true pioneer."

Trombka has received many other awards for his research. An asteroid, 1981 ET26, has been renamed (4990) Trombka in honor of his work in developing remote x-ray and gamma-ray sensing spectroscopy for the geochemical exploration of planetary bodies. He is author or co- author of over 150 papers in his field. He has two patents for instruments developed at NASA Goddard.

Trombka's mentoring of students and his innumerable stories from his long career continue to inspire the next generation.

Trombka, a resident of North Bethesda, Md. is married to his wife, Elsie. They have been married for 58 years. They have three children, Barbara, David and Aron. He received his bachelor's and master's degree from Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan in physics. He obtained his doctorate degree in nuclear science from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Goddard Release No. 10-041

Nancy Neal Jones
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.