July 6, 2011

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Honors MESSENGER Team Leaders

The Mid-Atlantic Section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) has named MESSENGER team members Peter Bedini and Eric Finnegan as Engineering Manager of the Year and Engineer of the Year, respectively, for 2011. Bedini and Finnegan, both of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., will be honored at an awards dinner later this month.

Bedini is the MESSENGER Project Manager. In that role he oversees all aspects of the mission, including spacecraft engineering activities; coordination with the mission science leads, the Principal Investigator, and NASA management; delivery of data to the Planetary Data System; and operation of the spacecraft during its cruise to and orbit around Mercury.

The past year presented many special management challenges as the spacecraft entered its final year of cruise operations and as the MESSENGER team prepared for the orbital phase of the mission through a series of flight tests, operational rehearsals, and readiness reviews.

Bedini is credited with "skillfully and artfully" managing these activities, which culminated in a successful Mercury orbit insertion on March 18, 2011, making MESSENGER the first spacecraft ever to orbit the solar system's innermost planet.

Finnegan is the MESSENGER Mission Systems Engineer. According to AIAA, Finnegan "demonstrated outstanding multi-disciplinary technical ability, leadership, and the ability to remain calmly focused on the "Ëœbig picture' on one of the most complex planetary missions that APL has undertaken."

He is credited with establishing the overall operational requirements for mission execution during the cruise and on-orbit phases of the MESSENGER mission, and with leading the team of engineers and scientists through the design, review, and execution of all spacecraft mission events.

Finnegan supervised the MESSENGER team through the successful completion of four planetary flybys, four large-scale deep-space maneuvers, and the critical orbit insertion burn on March 18, 2011. In 2010, during the final year of the more than six-year cruise, he developed an overall plan for the verification of the on-orbit operations of the spacecraft and led his team through an extensive set of preparation, analysis, independent review, and testing activities. At the conclusion of these exercises, he and his team had demonstrated 10 simulated weeks of on-orbit operations and executed, via computer simulation, all 52 weeks of spacecraft and instrument commanding, providing high-fidelity verification of the tools and procedures that are currently being used by the MESSENGER spacecraft at Mercury.

"For more than four years, Peter and Eric have overseen, respectively, the MESSENGER project and its engineering team," says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "Throughout that time, each of them has demonstrated an extraordinarily high level of professional dedication, exceptional attention to all aspects of the mission, and outstanding skill at managing a large team. That there is now and for the first time a spacecraft operating successfully in orbit about Mercury is in no small part the result of the sustained efforts of these two superbly skilled leaders."


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