Experimental physicist Everitt wins NASA service medal

Stanford experimental physicist Francis Everitt has been awarded a NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. NASA Deputy Director Fred Gregory presented the medal to Everitt on April 27 at an awards ceremony at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Everitt is principal investigator of the Gravity Probe B (GP-B) experiment, a collaboration between Stanford University, NASA and Lockheed Martin Corp. that is testing predictions of Albert Einstein's 1916 general theory of relativity (his theory of gravitation) by means of four ultra-precise gyroscopes that have been orbiting the Earth in a satellite for just over a year.

The NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal is awarded to an individual whose distinguished accomplishments contributed substantially to NASA's mission. Contributions must be so extraordinary that other forms of recognition by NASA would be inadequate. This is the highest honor that NASA confers to an individual who is not a government employee.

Everitt obtained his doctorate at the University of London (Imperial College) in 1959 for research under Nobel laureate P. M. S. Blackett. He then spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania working on liquid helium. In 1962, Everitt joined William Fairbank and Leonard Schiff in the Stanford Physics Department as the first full-time research worker on the GP-B experiment. His efforts advanced the state of the art in the areas of cryogenics, magnetics, quantum devices, telescope design, control systems, quartz fabrication techniques, metrology and, most of all, gyroscope technology. His leadership as the principal investigator for GP-B advanced the GP-B program from the concept and technology development stages to the experiment's launch on April 20, 2004, and its ensuing orbital operations.

"None of us at the beginning had any idea how long it would take for the GP-B spacecraft to fly and take the science data," Everitt said when asked about the long life of the project. "But speaking for myself, I have never been bored."

Gravity Probe B was developed on the Stanford campus in the W. W. Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory (HEPL). The current on-orbit GP-B mission operations center (MOC) is located in HEPL, where the science data is currently processed as well. From the MOC, the GP-B spacecraft is commanded with ground antennas in Alaska or Norway or through the NASA space net. HEPL supports a number of collaborative scientific research programs that cross traditional university departmental boundaries. The GP-B space mission itself was a successful interdepartmental collaboration of the Stanford Physics and Engineering departments.

"HEPL is one of the few places in the United States where an interdisciplinary experiment such as Gravity Probe B could be successfully carried out," said HEPL Director Robert Byer, a professor of applied physics.

Bob Kahn is the public affairs coordinator for Gravity Probe B at Stanford.