July 7, 2020

Professor Emeritus Byron Tapley was selected to receive the 2020 John Leland Atwood award presented jointly by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) Aerospace Division and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). Established in 1985, the award is given annually to honor an outstanding educator in the field of aerospace engineering. Recipients receive a monitory honorarium along with a certificate and an engraved medal.

Tapley has a rich history of teaching and research activities in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (ASE/EM) at UT Austin spanning the past 60 years, where he developed a world-renowned space academic program. He has interacted with thousands of students and supervised hundreds more since joining the faculty in 1960. From 1966 – 1977, Tapley served as the ASE/EM Department chair, and in collaboration with NASA in 1981, he established UT Austin’s Center for Space Research (CSR) to conduct research in orbit determination and navigation, space geodesy, exploration of the solar system and the scientific applications of space systems data to studying the Earth System Interactions. Tapley served as the director of CSR for 46 years.

Tapley’s former students have gone on to work in several high ranking positions, including Vice President for Research at Ford Motor Co., director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Chair of the Aerospace Engineering Department at Auburn, founder of the University of Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research (CCAR), Vice President of Lockheed-Martin Fort Worth, Vice President of Southwest Research Institute and faculty members at major academic institutions. 

He has contributed to the success of many historic NASA missions, including TOPEX/Poseidon and the Gravity Research and Climate Experiment (GRACE), of which he was the lead principal investigator. His advancement of the discipline of geodesy from space is used in many of today’s studies of the Earth in the areas of geodynamics, geophysics, oceanography and climate change, all of which have benefited from the revolutionary advances in the field of satellite geodesy.

Tapley is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the American Geophysical Union Charles A. Whitten Medal, the AIAA Mechanics and Control of Flight Award, the American Astronomical Society Dirk Brower Award, the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the William T. Pecora Award to the GRACE science team for scientists’ achieving excellence in Earth observation. He is also a member of the ASE/EM Academy of Distinguished Alumni.

The ASEE recognized Tapley with the Atwood award at the 2020 ASEE Virtual Conference held June 22-26, 2020.