January 17, 2008
For Immediate Release
(Washington, D.C.) The American Humanist Association announced today that planetary scientist Carolyn C. Porco, leader of the imaging science team for the Cassini space mission to Saturn and director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS), will be honored with the Isaac Asimov Science Award in Washington, D.C., in June. “It is important to show the world how a humanist philosophy, inspiring and nontheistic, can motivate significant achievements and major contributions to society,” declared American Humanist Association Executive Director Roy Speckhardt. “We feel proud that humanism has influenced and attracted people of Dr. Porco’s caliber.”
Upon announcement of the award, Porco said, “I think there is a deep need today to spread the word, that science is a positive transforming feature of human culture and has shown us, with great clarity, our place in the magnificent scheme of universal evolution. And that knowledge, along with a secular moral guiding philosophy emphasizing goodness over evil, can be empowering, spiritually fulfilling and form the foundation of a meaningful life spent on this planet. That, in my mind, is what humanism is all about, and I’m honored to be included, with this award, in the ranks of its celebrated citizens.”
Past recipients of the Isaac Asimov Science Award are Dr. Herbert A. Hauptman, mathematician and Nobel laureate in chemistry; Dr. Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education; and Dr. Joe Nickell, folklorist and investigator of paranormal claims.
Porco first rose to prominence during the 1980s as a planetary scientist on the Voyager Imaging Team. She was among the first to study Voyager’s results on the rings of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, and made germinal contributions to the understanding of the interactions between planetary rings and moons.
Her work as leader of the Cassini imaging team has led to many discoveries at Saturn, including new structures and phenomena within Saturn’s rings and atmosphere, new Saturnian moons, uncovering the surface of Saturn’s largest haze-enshrouded moon Titan and imaging the geysers of the small, icy, geologically active moon Enceladus.
Some of her imaging efforts have been directed at home. Along with Carl Sagan she was co-originator of the idea to take a “Portrait of the Planets” with the Voyager spacecraft and participated in the planning, design and execution of those images in 1991, including the famous Pale Blue Dot image of Earth. And in 2006 her team was responsible for the breathtaking image of a dot-like Earth seen from Saturn during a total solar eclipse, recently voted as the most spectacular Cassini image taken thus far. (Cassini, and Voyager, images can be found at the official Cassini imaging team website at http://ciclops.org.)
She is also an imaging scientist on the New Horizons mission on its way to Pluto.
Porco was interviewed in the current January/February 2008 issue of The Humanist magazine, published by the American Humanist Association, in an article entitled “Science and Spirituality.”
The Isaac Asimov Science Award comes in the wake of other recognition. In 1999 Porco was selected by the “London Sunday Times” as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century and by “Industrial Week” as one of “50 Stars to Watch.” Also, her pioneering contributions and leadership in the exploration of the outer solar system were recognized with the naming of Asteroid 7231 Porco.
The World Humanist Congress at which she will be honored has as its theme “E Pluribus Unum: Reclaiming Humanist Values” and will bring humanists together from nearly every continent. Conducted jointly by the American Humanist Association and the International Humanist and Ethical Union, the event will take place June 5-8, 2008, and will also feature “The Golden Compass” author Philip Pullman, Congressman Pete Stark, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal and Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin.
Other leading humanists are being lined up as speakers and will be announced on the American Humanist Association Web site at www.americanhumanist.org as they are confirmed. Porco will receive her award and speak Saturday evening, June 7.
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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., its work is extended through more than 100 local chapters and affiliates across America.
Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.