AE Alum Farquhar Elected to National Academy


A 50-year veteran of deep space missions, AE Alumnus Robert W. Farquhar has been elected to the 2012 class of the National Academy of Engineering.

Now an executive for space exploration at KinetX Inc. in Tempe, Arizona, Farquhar has been recognized for deep space missions to asteroids and comets, and for leading the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) mission to Eros.

AE Alumnus Robert W. Farquhar
AE Alumnus Robert W. Farquhar

The NEAR Shoemaker craft, launched in 1996, was the first space probe to orbit and perform an in-depth investigation of an asteroid and then safely land on it. The Eros landing occurred February 12, 2001. Farquhar directed the NEAR mission, designed to answer many fundamental questions about the nature and origin of asteroids.

Also among Farquhar’s career highlights has been the ISEE-3/ICE (International Sun-Earth Explorer/International Cometary Explorer) mission. As the mission’s flight director, Farquhar led the crew that flew the spacecraft through the tail of the P/Giacobini-Zinner comet in September 1985. This was the first successful mission to a comet.

Farquhar’s knowledge of halo orbits, a term that he had coined in his 1969 dissertation at Stanford University, was critical in calculating the trajectory for the successful ISEE-3/ICE mission.

That mission was carried out as part of Farquhar’s assignments for the NASA/Goddard Space Fight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Also while working at NASA HQ, Farquhar was program manager for the Halley’s Comet Mission.

The NEAR mission was accomplished during Farquhar’s tenure from 1990 to 2007 with the Applied Physics Laboratory at John Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland. Also while there, he directed the CONTOUR (Comet Nucleus Tour) Mission; the MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) Mission to the planet, Mercury; and the New Horizons Mission to the planet, Pluto, and its moon, Charon.

Farquhar has achieved many previous honors and awards for his contributions, including:

  • Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of the National Air & Space Museum 2007
  • American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics Fellow 2004
  • National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement 2002
  • NASA Medal for Exceptional Engineering Achievement (NEAR) 2002
  • Tycho Brahe Award (The Institute of Navigation) 2001
  • Laureate Award for Space (Aviation Week & Space Technology) 2001
  • Space Pioneer Award (National Space Society) 2001
  • Baltimorean of the Year (Baltimore Magazine) 2000
  • The John V. Breakwell Memorial Lecturer, 1998
  • Member of International Academy of Astronautics 1996
  • Laurels for 1996 (Aviation Week & Space Technology)
  • Asteroid #5256 named Farquhar 1992
  • NASA Medal for Exceptional Engineering Achievement (ISEE-3/ICE) 1988
  • Distinguished Visiting Professor (Japan’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science) 1987
  • Fellow of the American Astronautical Society 1986
  • Letter of Commendation from President Ronald Reagan 1984
  • Dirk Brouwer Space Flight Mechanics Award (American Astronautical Society) 1984
  • Moe Schneebaum Memorial Award (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) 1984
  • Laurels for 1982 (Aviation Week & Space Technology)
  • Mechanics and Control of Flight Award (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) 1981
  • Distinguished Alumnus Award, AE Department, University of Illinois, 1980
  • NASA Exceptional Service Medal (ISEE-3/ICE) 1979
  • Member, Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration (National Academy of Sciences) 2003-2005.

Farquhar wrote the book, Fifty Years on the Space Frontier: Halo Orbits, Comets, Asteroids, and More (available on, and has written, co-written or contributed to over 200 other publications.

Farquhar earned his BS from AE in 1959. He earned an MS in 1961 from the University of California–Los Angeles, and PhD in Astronautical Sciences from Stanford in 1969.