WASHINGTON - The Department of Defense and NRL recognize prominent African Americans during Black History Month. Dr. George Carruthers joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory staff in 1964, where he later created the first moon-based space observatory. The Ultraviolet Camera Spectrograph accompanied the iconic Apollo 16 mission to the moon, where it helped researchers understand objects and elements in space naked to the human eye while imaging stars thousands of miles away.
Dr. George Carruthers received the 2012 National Medal of Technology and Innovation. This is the nation's highest honor for technology achievement, and it is bestowed by the president of the United States upon America's leading innovators. The award ceremony was held at the White House on February 1, 2013.
History of an Innovator
Dr. Carruthers grew up during the space race and was intrigued with space science. While still a boy, he began building telescopes and model rockets and was an enthusiastic reader at the local libraries. His love for space science extended through his youth and eventually led him to pursue degrees in Aeronautical, Nuclear, and Astronomical Engineering from the University of Illinois.
Following his graduate studies, he accepted a position at NRL in 1964, after receiving a fellowship in Rocket Astronomy from the National Science Foundation. Throughout his tenure in the NRL SSD, Dr. Carruthers focused his attention on far ultraviolet observations of the Earth's upper atmosphere and of astronomical phenomena. In 1969 he received a patent for his pioneering instrumentation, Image Converter for Detecting Electromagnetic Radiation Especially in Short Wave Lengths, which detected electromagnetic radiation in short wave lengths.
In 1972, Dr. Carruthers' Far Ultraviolet Camera Spectrograph, the first moon-based space observatory, was sent to the moon with the Apollo 16 mission. This 50-lb., gold-plated camera system allowed researchers to take readings of and understand objects and elements in space that are unrecognizable to the naked eye and gave them views of stars and the solar systems thousands of miles away. His NRL camera still sits on the surface of the moon. A second version of this camera was sent on the 1974 Skylab space flight to study comets and was used to observe Halley's Comet, among others.
He has been the principal investigator for numerous NASA and DoD sponsored space instruments including a 1986 rocket instrument that obtained ultraviolet images of Comet Halley. His experiment on the DoD Space Test Program Advanced Research and Global Observation Satellite (ARGOS) captured an image of a Leonid shower meteor entering the earth's atmosphere, the first time a meteor has been imaged in the far ultraviolet from a space-borne camera.
In announcing the National Medal recipients, President Barack Obama said, "I am proud to honor these inspiring American innovators. They represent the ingenuity and imagination that has long made this Nation great—and they remind us of the enormous impact a few good ideas can have when these creative qualities are unleashed in an entrepreneurial environment."
The National Medal of Science was created by statute in 1959 and is administered for the White House by the National Science Foundation. Awarded annually, the Medal recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science and engineering. A committee of Presidential appointees selects nominees on the basis of their extraordinary knowledge in and contributions to chemistry, engineering, computing, mathematics, or the biological, behavioral/social, and physical sciences.
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation was created by statute in 1980 and is administered for the White House by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office. The award recognizes those who have made lasting contributions to America's competitiveness and quality of life and helped strengthen the Nation's technological workforce.
National Medal of Technology and Innovation nominees are selected by a distinguished independent committee representing the private and public sectors.
Geospace research led by George Carruthers, which this award celebrates, is contributing outstandingly to improving our ability to understand and forecast space weather at Earth that can affect military and civilian space and communication systems.
To view the video of the White House ceremony, click here.
Edited from an NRL article by Donna McKinney, “NRL's Dr. George Carruthers Honored with National Medal of Technology and Innovation” published Feb. 4, 2013.