Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is being honored with the world’s oldest award for scientific achievement, with a special high-altitude assist from NASA.
The British Royal Society is awarding 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 will travel 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.”
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.
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.
The medal will be awarded to Professor Hawking on Nov. 30 at the Royal Society’s annual Anniversary Day, commemorating the foundation of the society in 1660. The following evening, Administrator Griffin will speak to the members of the Royal Society about NASA’s exploration and science programs.