Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

2012 Fall Intern

Last week, prominent Arab American scientist Dr. Charles Elachi received the Crystal Helmet Award from the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) for his work on the Mars Curiosity Mission. This prestigious award is presented annually to an individual selected by the ASE, who has made a significant contribution to the understanding and advancement of the Association’s yearly theme. This year, Dr. Elachi, the director of Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology (CIT), and his team were responsible for the engineering, planning, and execution of the Mars mission, which launched a rover to explore the red planet as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.

At the 25th Planetary Congress, Prince Sultan bin Salman of Saudi Arabia presented Dr. Elachi with the award. Salman was the first Arab and Muslim astronaut who flew as a Payload Specialist aboard Discovery in June 1985. After his space flight, he helped found the Association for Space Explorers, an international organization comprised of astronauts and cosmonauts from 35 nations who have flown on space missions. According to their mission statement, ASE “supports the advancement of space exploration by providing opportunities for communication among space professionals at the international level.”

Prior to the Mars Curiosity Mission, Dr. Elachi made numerous contributions to the scientific community as an investigator for NASA research and development studies, and authored over 230 publications. He has also been recognized by US News and World Report and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 2006, who named him as one of America’s Best Leaders. Additionally, he is the past and current chair of several committees for NASA and the chair of the Board of Trustees of the Lebanese American University in New York and Beirut. In 1982, Dr. Elachi began his career at JPL was appointed to his current position as director of JPL in 2001 and is also the Vice President of CIT.

After receiving the award, Dr. Elachi acknowledges the contributions of all Arab Americans who have helped to advance their fields. Other Arab Americans who have made major contributions to science over the last few decades include Dr. Ahmed H. Zewail, Dr. Farouk Al-Baz, and Dr. Michael DeBakey. This international recognition of Arab American achievements is less common than it should be, but this positive publicity demonstrates that Arab Americans are influential in all professions and commends them for their professional achievements and societal contributions, instead of subjecting them to negative stereotypes. From winning the Noble Prize in Chemistry, to inventing the heart pump, to orchestrating a rover mission to Mars, Arab American scientists will continue to leave a lasting impression on the American and international communities.

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