Dr. S. Alan Stern


Dr. Alan Stern is a planetary scientist, an author, and the Director of the Southwest Research Institute's Department of Space Studies in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Stern is a researcher whose work has taken him to numerous astronomical observatories, to the south pole, and to the upper atmosphere aboard high performance military aircraft.

From 1991 to 1994 he was the leader of SwRI's Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences group at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. From 1983 to 1991 he held positions at the University of Colorado in the Center for Space and Geoscience Policy, the office of the Vice President for Research, the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy (CASA). Before receiving his doctorate in 1989, Dr. Stern completed a master's degree in aerospace engineering and then spent seven years as an aerospace systems engineer, concentrating on spacecraft and payload systems at the NASA Johnson Space Center, Martin Marietta Aerospace, and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Stern has published over 150 technical papers and 50 popular articles. He has given over 100 hundred technical talks and dozens of popular lectures and speeches about astronomy and the space program. He has written two books, The U.S. Space Program After Challenger (Franklin-Watts, 1987), and Pluto and Charon: Ice Worlds on the Ragged Edge of the Solar System (John Wiley and Sons, 1997); additionally, he has served as editor on three technical volumes, and three collections of scientific essays, Our Worlds (Cambridge, 1998) and Our Universe (Cambridge, 2000) and Worlds Beyond (Cambridge, 2002).

Dr. Stern's research has focused on studies of our solar system's Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, Pluto and Triton, and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars. He has also worked on spacecraft rendezvous theory, terrestrial polar mesospheric clouds, galactic astrophysics, and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres.

Dr. Stern has over 15 years of experience in instrument development, with a strong concentration in ultraviolet technologies. Dr. Stern is a Principal Investigator (PI) in NASA's UV sounding rocket program, and was the project scientist on a Shuttle-deployable SPARTAN astronomical satellite. He was the PI of the advanced, miniaturized HIPPS Pluto breadboard camera/IR spectrometer/UV spectrometer payload for the NASA/Pluto-Kuiper Express mission, and he is the PI of the PERSI imager/spectrometer payload on NASA's New Horizon's Pluto mission. Dr. Stern is also the PI of the ALI CE UV Spectrometer for the ESA/NASA Rosetta comet orbiter. He was a member of the New Millennium Deep Space 1 (DS1) mission science team, and is a Co-investigator on both the ESA SPICAM Mars UV spectrometer scheduled for launch in 2003, and the Hubble Space Telescope Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) scheduled for flight in 2004. He is the PI of the SWUIS ultraviolet imager, which has flown two Shuttle missions, and the SWUIS-A airborne astronomical facility. In this capacity, Dr. Stern has flown numerous WB-57 and F-18 airborne research astronomy missions. In 1995 he was selected to be a Space Shuttle mission specialist finalist.

Dr. Stern has been a guest observer on numerous NASA satellite observatories, including the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), the International Infrared Observer (ISO), and the Extreme Ultraviolet Observer (EUVE). He is also a regular user of various groundbased optical and submillimeter radio telescopes.

Dr. Stern has served on various NASA committees, including the Lunar Exploration Science Working Group (LExSWG) and the Discovery Program Science Working Group (DPSWG), the Solar System Exploration Subcommittee (SSES), the New Millennium Science Working Group (NMSWG), and the Sounding Rocket Working Group (SRWG). He was Chair of NASA's Outer Planets Science Working Group (OPSWG) from 1991 to 1994. Recently, he served as a panel member for the National Research Council's decadal survey on planetary science. Dr. Stern is a member of the AAAS, the AAS, and the AGU.

Dr. Stern's interests include hiking, camping, gardening , and writing. He is an instrument-rated commercial pilot and flight instructor, with both powered and sailplane ratings. He and his wife Carole have two daughters and a son.

Dr. Stern answers some questions for us:

The Pluto Portal: What interests you about the exploration of Pluto?
Dr. Stern: I'm interested to see what Pluto looks like, what its atmosphere consists of, and what is has to tell us about the origin of the outer solar system. And equally importantly, I am interested in renewing the spirit of exploring new frontiers.

The Pluto Portal: What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in space science?
Dr. Stern: If you think you have the talents and interest to go into space science, do it. It is a rewarding field and we need more good people. Choose a good school but do not specialize as an undergraduate-- let that wait for graduate school. Instead, pick a field like physics or geology or meteorology or chemistry for your undergraduate major. A broad base in one of the fundamental sciences is essential. Supplement this base with a variety of in-term and summer jobs, both technical and non-technical, and excel at your class work. Choose a graduate school that is highly ranked in your area of interest (e.g., astrophysics or planetology), and a professor who is both talented and creative. Work hard, play hard, and to the extent you can, focus on being a scientist even when you are in grad school, as opposed to waiting until you graduate.

The Pluto Portal: Do you think Pluto is a planet, if so why or why not?
Dr. Stern: Of course Pluto is a planet, because its gravity has caused it to become round! This trait, roundness owing to self-gravity is the hallmark of planethood.

The Pluto Portal: Write your own Pluto or Kuiper Belt Question someone from the General Public May be interested in, and answer it!
Dr. Stern: When will New Horizons first glimpse Pluto?
Dr. Stern: Instruments aboard the spacecraft will first see Pluto about a year before we get there. Beginning about 10 to 12 weeks out, the images and spectra being obtained will surpass even the best product that the Hubble Space Telescope can produce, and they will continue to get better and better right up until the moment of closest approach when our images will have over 1000 times the resolution of the best Hubble Space Telescope images.


The Pluto Portal was envisioned by Dr. S. Alan Stern, Principal Investigator of the NASA New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission and Director of the Department Of Space Studies, in Boulder, CO. Website made possibly by funding from the New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission. Website created by Ted A. Nichols II. Banner and button artwork created by Daniel Durda of Southwest Research Insitute's Department of Space Studies in Boulder, CO. Imagery modified by Ted A. Nichols II, with permission. Site design help provided by Patricia Kurtz of Starfire Creations.

This site was last modified on February 1, 2003.

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