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NMSU astronomer receives top public service medal from NASA

New Mexico State University astronomer and retired professor Reta Beebe has received NASA's Exceptional Public Service medal in recognition of her many years of dedicated support archiving planetary science data so that it is accessible to the community at large.

Retired NMSU astronomy professor Reta Beebe, left, received the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal and a certificate for her years of work with astronomy. With her is NMSU's Executive Vice President and Provost Wendy K. Wilkins. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

Beebe's friends, family and colleagues were with her when NMSU Executive Vice President and Provost Wendy K. Wilkins recently presented her with a medal and certificate for her good works, which date back more than 30 years.

"There is independent evidence that this department is doing some very good work and from what I understand, you have been a big part of it over the years," the provost said during the ceremony.

Beebe's colleagues said she has worked tirelessly with NASA while still teaching and advising 30 master's and doctorate graduates and that her knowledge and legacy in the astronomy world goes back many years.

"This is a well-deserved recognition," said James Murphy, head of the Department of Astronomy. "Reta has been a great asset to NMSU. In terms of this being a service award, there is probably no one else more deserving."

Beebe is the principal investigator of NASA's Planetary Data System Atmospheres Node, which is housed at the NMSU Department of Astronomy and has the responsibility of archiving and making available to the world at large all of the atmosphere-focused data returned by spacecraft exploring planets and moons in the solar system.

She continues to work with the European Space Agency to archive data for their planetary instruments and she also serves on the committee of the International Planetary Data Alliance, which works to get all space-faring nations to use the standard data access and format protocols of the PDS. She has also been the chair of the Committee on Lunar and Planetary Exploration and a member of the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council.

She has worked on Voyager, Galileo and Cassini spacecraft mission data and used the Hubble Space Telescope for a Jupiter/Saturn observing program early in its mission.

Beebe is the recipient of the 2003 Harold Masursky Award by the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Association. The award recognizes and honors individuals who have rendered outstanding service to planetary science and exploration through engineering, managerial, programmatic or public service activities. She received NMSU's Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research, or Creative Activity in 1989. This award is a high honor bestowed on NMSU faculty. In 1998, Beebe received NMSU's Dennis W. Darnall Faculty Achievement Award, which recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated broad-based accomplishments in teaching, research and services to their profession.

"I'm pleased," Beebe said when asked about her thoughts on the award. "There are an awful lot of people in my business who give a lot of effort in what they do. I've always been deeply impressed with how willing they are to support me on any of the efforts I have made. There is a lot of good work that has to be done and they do it willingly."

Beebe was nominated for her award by James L. Green, director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA.