The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) team has been presented with the prestigious Laurels for Team Achievement Award of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA). 

The award recognizes both the outstanding achievements in designing, building and operating the mission, as well as the science it has performed. It is a tribute to a team that delivered an extraordinarily successful space mission. The award ceremony took place on 28 September 2003, the opening day of the 54th International Astronautical Congress, in Bremen, Germany.

The IAA presents the Laurels for Team Achievement Award in recognition of extraordinary performance and achievement by teams of scientists, engineers and managers in the field of astronautics. This honor has been awarded only twice before – to the Russian Mir Space Station Team and the US Space Shuttle Team. Now the SOHO team joins this select group. 

The citation of the award for the SOHO team reads: “To the team of scientists, engineers, and managers for the development and operation of a world-class mission leading to substantial advancements in understanding the Sun and the solar-terrestrial relationship.”

“I feel very honored to receive this award on behalf of the SOHO science teams, especially considering the prestigious teams that have won before,” said Dr. Joseph Gurman, NASA Project Scientist for SOHO at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “It is a boost for all of us involved in this mission to know that our work has been recognized in this way.”
More than 1,500 papers, representing the work of more than 1,500 scientists, have been published based on SOHO data, and SOHO has an impressive list of achievements. Some of the key results include:

  • * Revealing the first images ever of a star’s convection zone (its turbulent outer shell) and of the structure below sunspots.
  • * Providing the most detailed and precise measurements of the temperature structure, the interior rotation, and gas flows in the solar interior.
  • * Measuring the acceleration of the slow and fast solar wind.
  • * Identifying the source regions and acceleration mechanism of the fast solar wind in the magnetically “open” regions at the Sun’s poles.
  • * Discovering new dynamic solar phenomena such as coronal waves and solar tornadoes.
  • * Improving the ability to provide space weather alerts by giving up to three days notice of Earth-directed disturbances, and playing a lead role in the early warning system for space weather.
  • *  Monitoring the total solar irradiance (the ‘solar constant’) as well as variations in the extreme ultraviolet flux, both of which are important to understand the impact of solar variability on Earth’s climate.

However, during eight years of operation, the team has had to face several heart-stopping  moments. But with extraordinary team spirit, skill and competence, they turned these episodes into remarkable success stories. In June 1998, control of the spacecraft was lost and the team fought for three months before regaining contact with the spacecraft. Then all three on-board gyroscopes failed. Again, the team rose to the challenge by reprogramming the spacecraft to completely eliminate the reliance on gyroscopes. In doing so, they crossed another frontier in space – SOHO became the first three-axis stabilized spacecraft to be operated without gyroscopes.

In May 2003, the East-West pointing mechanism of SOHO’s high-gain antenna started showing signs of a possible breakdown. With this threat to the mission’s lifeline, many people feared once again that the mission was in danger. After a long and arduous diagnostic process and a careful analysis of all options, the team decided to park the antenna in an “ideal” position, where data losses are minimized by rotating the spacecraft 180º every three months. In addition, new procedures and larger ground antennas (when available) can be used to all but eliminate the impacts to normal science operations.

The IAA was founded in 1960, in Stockholm, Sweden, to foster the development of astronautics for peaceful purposes. The SOHO project is a collaboration between the European Space Agency and NASA. For more information about the IAA award, refer to: