National Air and Space Museum Trophy Awarded to Joseph Sutter and the Mars Science Laboratory EDL Team

The 2013 Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Trophy will be awarded in the Lifetime Achievement category to Joseph Sutter and in the Current Achievement category to the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing Team. They will be presented their awards April 24 at a black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C.

Established in 1985, the award recognizes outstanding achievements in the fields of aerospace science and technology and their history. As in past years, Trophy winners receive a miniature version of “The Web of Space,” a sculpture by artist John Safer.

The 2013 Lifetime Achievement winner, Sutter, helped revolutionize air travel as chief project engineer for the Boeing 747, the world’s first wide-body “jumbo jet.” He managed a team of thousands, nicknamed “The Incredibles,” who met the enormous challenge of building an all-new airliner—then the largest—in record time. More than 40 years after the 747 entered service, the latest version of this timeless design, the 747-8 series, has taken flight. Sutter joined Boeing as a mechanic and, after World War II, became an aerodynamicist working on the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser and the classic jet airliners, the 707, 727 and 737. He eventually became executive vice president for engineering and new product development. In retirement he shares his expertise in the Boeing Senior Advisory Group. Sutter’s legacy of excellence and dedication as “Father of the 747” lives on.

The Current Achievement winner can be summarized in two words: sky crane. This phrase embodied the audacious plan that the Entry, Descent, and Landing team devised to deliver the heaviest man-made object yet sent to Mars: the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover. On August 5, 2012 (PDT), the extremely complex EDL sequence executed flawlessly, bringing Curiosity to a precision landing inside Gale crater. These activities took seven minutes to complete, but because Mars was then 14 light-minutes from Earth, Curiosity had to perform everything without further commands. The science that Curiosity will reveal during the coming years is possible only because the EDL team ensured that the new landing system worked—perfectly—entirely on its own. Thanks to this success, the “fun” part of the Curiosity mission is underway.

More information about the National Air and Space Museum Trophy and a complete list of past winners are available at

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