NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
Alice Bowman holds the Society of Women Engineers’ 2022 Resnik Challenger Medal.
Credit: Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
Alice Bowman recalls seeking out a campus television to watch the first space shuttle launch in 1981 and, a few years later, making the few-hour trek from her Pasadena apartment to Edwards Air Force Base to see a shuttle landing. She also remembers the “horrible and unfathomable” experience of watching Challenger break apart minutes after launch in 1986.
Alice Bowman Honored with 2022 Resnick Challenger Medal
That fascination with space inspired an impressive career in space science, and recently, Bowman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), was honored by the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) with the 2022 Resnik Challenger Medal. Founded in memory of Judith Resnik, who died in the Challenger disaster, the medal is one of SWE’s most prestigious honors, awarded only as merited for visionary contributions to space programs.
Though Bowman said the honor is “surreal,” her career accomplishments outline exactly why she is a worthy recipient.
A world-renowned technical expert in spacecraft operations, with more than 35 years of space industry experience, Bowman is mission operations manager (“MOM”) of NASA’s New Horizons, as well as supervisor of the Mission Operations Group in APL’s Space Exploration Sector.
Among her many career contributions, Bowman personally spearheaded New Horizons’ innovative beacon-hibernation operations design, command planning process and anomaly resolution process. Those technical contributions enabled New Horizons to perform the first-ever reconnaissance of Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects with a limited budget, small mission operations team and limited spacecraft resources.
“Over the course of NASA’s New Horizons program, Bowman has exhibited in-depth technical knowledge, exceptional innovation, extraordinary organizational skills and uncommon judgement in managing crises,” said Sylvie DeLaHunt, a guidance and control engineer in APL’s Air and Missile Defense Sector and fellow SWE member. “She has changed the space industry’s approach to deep-space exploration through her innovative technical contributions and is an inspiration for future generations of women engineers.”
A University of Virginia graduate, Bowman has given more than 200 invited talks and interviews globally since the New Horizons flyby of Pluto in 2015. She is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and has served on the international committee known as SpaceOps since 2009.
“This award is special because it recognizes my contributions over the span of my career in space exploration. But on a personal level, it’s special because the space shuttle program was such an inspiration to me and was a huge contributing factor to why I chose this career path,” Bowman said. “Being awarded the Resnik Challenger Medal is a validation of all the hard work, never giving up despite setbacks, and a love and passion for the work. The Society of Women Engineers is dedicated to supporting and inspiring women in the field of engineering. I hope that by receiving this award, I can be a small part of that inspiration and support.”