Montage of our solar system

An award for navigation that dates back to the 18th century has been given by the American Philosophical Society to an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

Dr. Frank Jordan, manager of JPL's Navigation Systems Section, received the society's Magellanic Premium award at recent meeting in Philadelphia. Jordan was cited for his leadership of the group that planned and carried through the successful navigation of NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft during their missions to Jupiter in 1979 and Saturn in 1980 and 1981.

The Magellanic Premium is given from time to time "to the author of the best discovery or most useful invention relating to navigation, astronomy or natural philosophy." The award was established in 1786 by gift from Benjamin Franklin's friend John Hyacinth de Magellan of London. Francis Hopkinson, jurist and signer of the Declaration of Independence, won the first award, for designing springblock device for sailing ships.

Jordan's is the third Magellanic Premium award for JPL. Then-Director William H. Pickering accepted the first in 1966 for his leadership of the spacecraft explorations of the moon and Venus. Engineers Paul M. Muller and William L. Sjogren shared the award in 1970 for their discovery of mass concentrations in the moon's ringed basins; the resulting gravitational effects were of significant concern in the safe navigation of Apollo astronauts to the moon's surface.

The latest winner, Jordan, has worked at JPL since 1966. He earned B.S. in physics from the University of Texas in 1961 and an M.S. in the same subject from Northwestern University in 1963. He wrote his doctoral dissertation, also at Texas, on the application of control theory to spaceflight guidance.

In addition to his work on Voyager, Jordan made significant contributions to Mariner 9, which arrived at Mars in November 1971 and became the first spacecraft to orbit another planet.

Jordan has been manager of the Navigation Systems Section since 1976. His current efforts are focused on upgrading JPL's navigational capabilities for the next generation of space missions. Upcoming missions -- such as Galileo, which will place an orbiter around Jupiter and send probe into the planet's atmosphere -- will require new levels of precision from flight planners and navigators.

Jordan lives in Altadena with his wife, Joan, who also works at the Laboratory. They have two sons.

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