Montage of our solar system

An asteroid has been named in honor of Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Dr. Chen-Wan L.Yen, developer of the ingenious flight path through space for NASA's Stardust comet sample return mission.

Asteroid "9249 Yen," formerly known to astronomers as "4606 P-L," was named in honor of Yen's crucial work in the development and application of mathematical techniques to optimize the interplanetary trajectories flown by NASA's robotic exploration spacecraft. The five kilometer- (three mile-) diameter asteroid resides in the so-called "main belt" of asteroids that populate a region between Mars and Jupiter.

"Chen-wan is a remarkable natural resource for NASA -- someone truly gifted in her ability to develop optimal spacecraft trajectories to the various bodies of the solar system," said Dr. Donald K. Yeomans, comet and asteroid expert and manager of JPL's Near-Earth Object Program Office. Her work in optimizing interplanetary trajectories has enabled NASA to send scientific spacecraft to destinations that might have remained out of reach with current launch vehicle capabilities, Yeomans said.

Yen has also contributed to the success of interplanetary trajectories designed for the Cassini mission to Saturn, the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Magellan mission to Venus. She is a member of JPL's Mission and Systems Architecture Section.

Stardust was launched onto a perfect flight path on Feb. 6 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The spacecraft is headed for an encounter with Comet Wild 2 in 2004. Stardust's mission is to collect a sample of material flying off the comet nucleus, and to collect interstellar particles flowing through our solar system. Stardust will fly back toward Earth in 2006 to drop off the samples in a parachute-equipped return capsule.

Yen holds a Ph.D. in high-energy nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Since joining JPL 27 years ago, she has specialized in optimizing spacecraft trajectories to various destinations in the solar system. She has designed many advanced interplanetary missions entailing complex gravity-assist flybys of other planets. She has suggested using flybys of Mars to send spacecraft on to study many bodies in the asteroid belt.

A resident of Claremont, Calif., Yen is married and has two sons. Born in Taiwan, She enjoys playing the piano, hiking, and oil painting.

JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.

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