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Riccardo Giacconi Awarded NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal

Release date: Apr 2, 1993 12:00 AM (EST)

Dr. Riccardo Giacconi, former Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his outstanding leadership in development of the STScI.

The medal is awarded annually to individuals whose distinguished accomplishments contributed significantly to the NASA mission. It is the highest honor that NASA confers on a non-government individual.

The Full Story
Release date: Apr 2, 1993
Riccardo Giacconi Awarded NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal

Dr. Riccardo Giacconi, former Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), has been awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal for his outstanding leadership in development of the STScI.

The medal is awarded annually to individuals whose distinguished accomplishments contributed significantly to the NASA mission. It is the highest honor that NASA confers on a non-government individual.

Dr. Giacconi was appointed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) as the first Director of the STScI in September 1981. Under his leadership, the STScI developed the expertise and capabilities to direct the science mission of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Located on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus, the STScI handles the international solicitation of science programs; the detailed planning of the satellite's science activities; and the receipt, calibration, and distribution of HST data. A staff of over 400 scientists, engineers, and support staff develop and operate the systems needed to manage the complex science program and keep up with the massive stream of returning science data.

Dr. Giacconi also stressed the importance of a first-rank scientific staff to lead many of the technical developments and respond to the challenges of running the HST observatory.

John Klineberg, Director of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said "his guidance has been outstanding in meeting the needs of the science community and the HST program. This is especially exemplified by the post launch role of the STScI and the enthusiastic leadership provided by Dr. Giacconi both in carrying out the HST science observation program, which continues to successfully demonstrate what HST can do scientifically, and by his leadership in the development of the design concept which will correct the axial instrument optics."

Shortly after his appointment at STScI, Giacconi reflected, "I'd like to see this place as a sieve, with people coming and going, with ideas flowing. Space Telescope is a terribly important resource. It goes beyond national boundaries. The limit is not observing time, but brains." The most eminent scientists in astronomy were attracted to the STScI by Giacconi and have enabled it to excel in service to the HST user community.

Born in Genoa, Giacconi earned his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Milan. Prior to his appointment as STScI Director, Giacconi had gained world recognition as a pioneer in X-ray astronomy. A co-recipient of the 1987 Wolf Prize in Physics, Giacconi was cited for ". . . brilliant insights, technical inventiveness, and bold leadership in stimulating the growth of X-ray astronomy."

Throughout the 1960s and 197Os, Giacconi led the group of scientists at the American Science and Engineering, Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts which was the first to make astronomical observations using the X-ray portion of the spectrum, thereby establishing X-ray astronomy as a significant field of astrophysical research. He obtained the first X-ray picture of the Sun in 1963.

In 1970, the UHURU satellite, conceived by Giacconi and developed under his direction, became the first orbiting X-ray observatory. UHURU provided the first X-ray map of the heavens and identified the diffuse X-ray background.

In 1973, Giacconi joined the faculty of Harvard University and became an Associate Director for the Center for Astrophysics, High Energy Astrophysics Division. He served as principal investigator during the concept, design, and fabrication of the Einstein Observatory. Giacconi established the scientific direction of the Observatory, prepared the software and hardware for data reduction and analysis, and implemented the Guest Observer Program. Einstein was used by more than 600 astronomers and reached a level of community involvement comparable to that at a major ground-based national center.

Giacconi has authored many technical books on X-ray astronomy and has written more than 150 articles on astrophysical topics.

Dr. Giacconi began a five-year appointment as Director General of the European Southern Observatory (ES0) in January 1993. Upon leaving STScI, Giacconi said "I am leaving with the satisfaction that the Institute is in good shape."