David Spergel Receives NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal

This artist’s illustration depicts the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope in space. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

On April 13, NASA has awarded Simons Foundation president David Spergel its Exceptional Public Service Medal, in a virtual ceremony telecast. The award cites Spergel’s “outstanding leadership of the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope’s science teams during its initial mission concept and formulation period.” This medal is awarded to recipients whose “record of achievements sets a benchmark for other nongovernment contributors to follow.”

Spergel led the team that defined the broad science capabilities of the project, originally dubbed the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST). The resulting 2012 study co-authored by Spergel eventually led to NASA’s decision to greenlight the telescope’s implementation, with Spergel as co-lead of the science team.

He went on to co-chair the project’s Formulation Science Working Group from 2015 until 2021. Throughout that time, Spergel was a steadfast advocate for the project. That support was crucial, as the project nearly ended up on the chopping block in President Donald Trump’s budget request several times.

“The outstanding scientific promise of the Roman Space telescope today is due in large part to the leadership of David Spergel,” the medal nomination states.

The award is Spergel’s second Exceptional Service Medal. In 2017, NASA awarded him the medal in recognition of his service as chair of the Space Studies Board and as a member of the NASA Advisory Council.

Before taking over as Simons Foundation president in 2021, Spergel directed the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute and was the emeritus Charles A. Young Professor of Astronomy on the Class of 1897 Foundation at Princeton University.

Spergel received the 2018 Breakthrough Prize in fundamental physics for his contributions to the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). Additional honors include the Shaw Prize in astronomy and a MacArthur fellowship.

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