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MIT scientist shares AAAS honor for cooperation

MIT's Paul J. Cefola is one of seven members of a Russian and American team awarded the 2005 International Scientific Cooperation Award by the world's largest general scientific society.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) made the announcement Feb. 15 at its annual meeting.

"Once adversaries, these dedicated scientists are honored for both their determination to transcend numerous limitations to collaboration and their pioneering work to advance state-of-the-art space surveillance in both countries for the benefit of the worldwide astrodynamics community and the safety of human activity in space," according to an AAAS press release on the award.

At the beginning of the Space Age, the United States and the former Soviet Union created separate systems for surveying space and classifying objects floating in space to ensure their own strategic and tactical advantages. The resulting databases were not shared between the two countries.

This information divide was an impediment to international knowledge of all satellites orbiting the Earth and the scope and safety of human activity in space, among other things.

Beginning in 1994, the awardees embarked on a series of workshops aimed at exchanging information on the mathematical methods and systems used for space surveillance in their two countries, and ultimately on comparing space object catalogs.

As a result of their efforts, it was possible to achieve near real-time determination of upper atmospheric density -- the nagging problem for estimating drag on satellites -- and, therefore, improving orbits of geostationary satellites.

In addition to Cefola, the team members are Kyle T. Alfriend, Felix R. Hoots and P. Kenneth Seidelmann from the United States, and Andrey I. Nazarenko, Vasiliy S. Yurasov and Stanislav S. Veniaminov from Russia.

Cefola, a lecturer in MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has more than 30 of years experience in the aerospace industry. His research interests include the application of optimization techniques to the design and maintenance of satellite constellations. He and his colleagues will each receive a commemorative plaque and a share of the $5,000 award.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 1, 2006 (download PDF).

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