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Thomas McCord

Thomas McCord, director of the Bear Fight Institute outside of Winthrop, will be in rare company Thursday (July 18) when he receives NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal in a ceremony at the space agency’s Washington, D.C., headquarters.

“The medal is NASA’s highest form of recognition awarded to any non-government individual whose distinguished service, ability, or vision has personally contributed to NASA’s advancement of the United States’ interests,” the agency said in a press release. “Previous recipients include Carl Sagan, Charles, Draper, Frank Press, Gerald Wasserburg, Norman Augustine, Lyman Spitzer, Harrison Schmidt and Robert Heinlein.”

McCord, a renowned planetary physicist, was cited in the press release for more than 40 years of leadership in “conceiving, building and flying robotic satellite instruments to solar system bodies to provide observational data on the composition of these objects and in using these data to understand how the planets formed and evolved.”

McCord founded the Bear Fight Institute, a NASA-funded planetary science research center located at the far reaches of Rendezvous Road northwest of Winthrop.

He is receiving the medal “for exceptional and sustained scientific achievements in understanding the origin and evolution of planetary bodies including the Moon, Mars, Vesta, Ceres, Titan and Europa,” the NASA release said, and for “making outstanding contributions to the NASA mission.” McCord has played a central role in NASA’s deep space exploration and the science of planetary physics.

McCord is a former professor of planetary physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii. He is currently professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii, a distinguished visiting scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and affiliate professor at the University of Washington.

On its website, the Bear Fight Institute notes that its research focus “concerns the formation, evolution and present state of our Solar System, its place in the Universe, and the Earth’s place in it.”

For an interview with McCord, see next week’s issue of the Methow Valley News.