Ask Dr. Alan Stern

by Ray Sanders on December 16, 2011

Dr. Alan Stern, Associate Vice President, Space Science and Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute. Photo Credit: Southwest Research Institute

We’re testing a new “Ask” article format here at Universe Today and we know you’ve got a question you’d like to ask Alan Stern!

Here’s how it works: Readers can submit questions they would like Universe Today to ask the guest responder. Simply post your question in the comments section of this article. We’ll take the top five (or so) questions, as ranked by “likes” on the discussion posts. If you see a question you think is good, click the “like” button to give it a vote.

Keep in mind that final question acceptance is based on the discretion of Universe Today and in some cases, the responder and/or their employer.

Our inaugural launch (pun intended) will feature Dr. Alan Stern, principal investigator for NASA’s “New Horizons” mission to Pluto.

Stern is a planetary scientist and an author who has published more than 175 technical papers and 40 popular articles. His research has focused on studies of our solar system’s Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, comets, satellites of the outer planets, Pluto and the search for evidence of solar systems around other stars. He has worked on spacecraft rendezvous theory, terrestrial polar mesospheric clouds, galactic astrophysics and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres, including the atmosphere of the Moon.

Stern has a long association with NASA, serving the agency’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate from 2007-2008; he was on the NASA Advisory Council and was the principal investigator on a number of planetary and lunar missions, including his current stint with the New Horizons Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission. He was the principal investigator of the Southwest Ultraviolet Imaging System, which flew on two space shuttle missions, STS-85 in 1997 and STS-93 in 1999.

He has been a guest observer on numerous NASA satellite observatories, including the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Infrared Observer and the Extreme Ultraviolet Observer.

Stern holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and planetary atmospheres from the University of Texas, Austin. In 1989, Stern earned a doctorate in astrophysics and planetary science from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Aside from being the Principal Investigator for NASA’s “New Horizons” mission to Pluto, Currently Stern is the Associate Vice President of R&D – Space Science and Engineering Division at the Southwest Research Institute and recently was appointed director of the Florida Space Institute at Kennedy Space Center.

For those of you who are fans of Pluto, Dr. Stern went on the record against the IAU’s decision in 2006, stating “It’s an awful definition; it’s sloppy science and it would never pass peer review..”

Before submitting your question, take a minute and read a bit more about Dr. Stern at:

We’ll take questions until 4:00PM (MST) Tuesday December 20th and provide a follow up article with Dr. Stern’s responses to your questions.


In addition to being a published astronomer specializing in variable stars, Ray Sanders has blogged for Universe Today, and The Planetary Society blog, among others. He runs his own blog, Dear Astronomer, teaches classes for CosmoQuest, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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