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Stephen Hawking Receives Medal Flown on Space Shuttle
Professor Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society, and NASA Administrator Michael Griffin Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking has been honored with the world's oldest award for scientific achievement, with a special high-altitude assist from NASA.

Image left: Professor Hawking, President of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, and NASA Administrator Micheal Griffin. Credit: Royal Society. Click to enlarge.

The British Royal Society awarded Professor Hawking its prestigious Copley Medal on Nov. 30 for his contributions to theoretical physics and theoretical cosmology. The silver gilt medal flew on space shuttle Discovery's July 2006 mission to the International Space Station, at the initiative of crew member Piers Sellers, a native of Britain. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin traveled to London to help make the medal presentation.

"Stephen Hawking has become a household name, known as a brilliant physicist by people who have no other knowledge of physics," Griffin said. "Through his contributions to the understanding of time and space, ranging from black holes to worm holes, he has earned a reputation as one of the most imaginatively perceptive scientists of all time. We at NASA are honored to have had a part in making Dr. Hawking’s receipt of the famed Copley Medal a truly special occasion, by presenting to him this medal, flown in space aboard Space Shuttle mission STS-121."

Piers Sellers with photo of Stephen Hawking on board the space shuttle during mission STS Image left: Astronaut Piers Sellers holds a photo of Dr. Stephen Hawking on board Discovery during the STS-121 mission in July 2006. Credit: NASA. Click to enlarge.

Administrator Griffin also spoke to the members of the Royal Society on Dec. 1 about NASA's exploration and science programs.

Griffin called for collaboration among nations in traveling to the moon, Mars and other destinations in the solar system and noted the important contributions of international cooperation in such technological developments as global communications and navigation systems.
+ Read Press Release | + Read Speech Transcript (40 Kb PDF)

The Copley Medal, which has never flown before in space, was first awarded 275 years ago. It is selected by Fellows of the Royal Society and alternates between the physical sciences and the biological sciences. Past recipients of the Copley Medal include such giants of science as Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein, and Francis Crick.

Copley medal. Courtesy Royal Society Image right: The Copley medal. Credit: Royal Society

During the Copley Medal's several million mile trip above Earth's atmosphere, it was stored in the shuttle middeck, while the STS-121 crew conducted its mission to help resume assembly of the International Space Station. Sellers, who also carried a photograph of Professor Hawking with him said: "Stephen Hawking is a definitive hero to all of us involved in exploring the cosmos. His contribution to science is unique and he serves as a continuous inspiration to every thinking person. It was an honor for the crew of the STS-121 mission to fly his medal into space. We think that this is particularly appropriate as Stephen has dedicated his life to thinking about the larger universe."

At the time of the mission, Hawking said he wanted to "express his gratitude" to Sellers and the rest of the Discovery crew for the gesture.