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Piers Sellers takes RAS medal on 8 million km trip

Last Updated on Sunday, 12 December 2010 18:38
Published on Friday, 10 December 2010 16:01

After taking it on a journey of almost 8 million km on board the Atlantis space shuttle, on the afternoon of Friday 10 December British-born astronaut Piers Sellers will return the Jackson-Gwilt medal to Professor Roger Davies, the President of the Royal Astronomical Society. After the presentation Dr Sellers will address astronomers and geophysicists at the Society's Ordinary Meeting, speaking about his experiences in space and the value of space exploration in general.


Piers Sellers engaged in a spacewalk during shuttle mission STS-121. Credit: NASA


Dr Sellers carried the Medal with him on his latest mission, STS-132, which saw the space shuttle Atlantis launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and travel to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS). Over the course of the mission, Atlantis completed 186 orbits around the Earth and travelled a total distance of 7.85 million km (4.88 million miles).

The RAS Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded for outstanding work in areas including achievement in astronomical instrumentation or techniques, so Professor Davies sees it as a fitting passenger on Atlantis.

"The RAS has always been proud to back exceptional individuals in astronomy and space science, often through awards and prizes. Our medals are highly regarded but as far as I know this is the only one that has travelled for millions of kilometres through space. And it's a real pleasure to have Piers Sellers returning the Jackson-Gwilt Medal and then addressing the RAS."

Dr Sellers is delighted to bring the Medal back. "It's a huge pleasure to be here to return the Jackson-Gwilt Medal and to address one of the world's largest astronomical societies. As a scientist and astronaut, I know how much space, astronomy and the wider universe have inspired me throughout my life."


A full resolution image of Piers Sellers engaged in a spacewalk on shuttle mission STS-121 is available from (Credit: NASA)


Accredited members of the media are cordially invited to attend this event, which will take place in the Lecture Theatre of the Geological Society in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. Please present your credentials at the reception desk for free admission.

For interview requests with Dr Sellers and Professor Davies please contact

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x 214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Dr Piers Sellers

Born in Crowborough, East Sussex, Piers Sellers became a NASA astronaut candidate in 1996 and completed his first flight on the space shuttle Atlantis in 2002. He flew on the shuttle Discovery in 2006 and then most recently on Atlantis (on its final scheduled flight) in May 2010. All three missions were part of the ongoing construction of the ISS. Over his total of 35 days spent in space, Dr Sellers has completed 6 spacewalks lasting more than 41 hours.

Professor Roger Davies

Roger Davies was elected President of the Royal Astronomical Society in May 2010, a post he will hold for 2 years. He is the Philip Wetton Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Oxford, an appointment that followed posts in Cambridge, Kitt Peak National Observatory in the US and Durham. Professor Davies carries out research in cosmology and instrument development and was a key figure in the establishment of the Gemini Observatories in Chile and Hawaii. In the 1980s he was a member of the 'Seven Samurai' collaboration which discovered the Great Attractor, at that time thought to be dragging our Galaxy in the direction of the constellations of Hydra and Centaurus.

The Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS:, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

The Jackson-Gwilt Medal

Named after Hannah Jackson (nee Gwilt), the Jackson-Gwilt Medal is awarded regularly by the RAS for the invention, improvement, or development of astronomical instrumentation or techniques; for achievement in observational astronomy; or for achievement in research into the history of astronomy.