Lunar and Planetary Institute
Lunar and Planetary Institute



LPI Celebrates 40 Years

January 30, 2008

LPI 40th anniversary graphicThe Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) is pleased to celebrate its 40th year serving NASA and the lunar and planetary science community.

The formation of the Lunar Science Institute was announced in March 1968 by President Lyndon B. Johnson during a speech at NASA’s Manned Space Center, which was renamed the Johnson Space Center in 1973 as a testament to his contribution to space exploration.  The Lunar Science Institute, later renamed the Lunar and Planetary Institute, was charged with serving as a research center for scientists and their students from all over the world who were interested in space science. Its role was to strengthen the cooperation between NASA and universities and provide new research opportunities for the international community interested in the science of space exploration.

Over the last 40 years the Institute has evolved into a world-class scientific research organization at which a community of scientists study planetary science, meteoritics, astrobiology, geosciences, and space physics.  In the tradition of Johnson’s original charge, the Institute recruits a steady flow of national and international visiting scientists, postdoctoral fellows, students, and interns who bring unique scientific expertise and intellectual energy to create a dynamic environment that is the hallmark of the LPI.  

“Before the space age we knew almost nothing about our solar system. LPI has played a remarkable role in the explosion of knowledge in lunar and planetary physics that we have experienced since its founding and that now places us on the verge of even greater discoveries,” said Jim Green, Director of the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The Institute also houses a vast collection of planetary science books, journals, imagery, cartography, and documents.  Much of this material is available electronically to the community through the LPI website, which receives more than 27,000 pageviews daily.

The Institute serves the lunar and planetary science community through its organization and sponsorship of seminars, workshops, and conferences such as the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), now in its 39th year. In fact, the LPI is involved in some way in many major meetings organized for and by the lunar and planetary science community.  The LPI also manages a world-renowned summer intern program, which is celebrating its 32nd anniversary. Since 1977, the Institute has hosted 390 interns, many of whom are now known throughout the lunar and planetary science community as leaders in their fields.

“USRA is delighted to congratulate the LPI on its impressive heritage. It is a strong, vibrant Institute with an outstanding commitment to science and a bright and exciting future,” said Fred Tarantino, President of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), a consortium of universities created in 1969 to manage the LPI.

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, the Institute has planned a suite of activities that will highlight the Institute’s rich heritage while looking forward to the exciting scientific discoveries made possible by NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration and the host of science missions being flown by the world’s space organizations.

One of the planned activities will be a 40th Anniversary Seminar Series.  Starting in January and running through the end of December, the series will feature special guest speakers who have played important roles in the advancement of the Institute, and will honor the world-class scientists who have graced its halls over the past 40 years. Some of the guest speakers include former astronaut and U.S. senator Dr. Harrison (Jack) Schmitt; former directors Dr. Robert Pepin, Dr. James Head, and Dr. Roger Phillips; former staff scientists Dr. Paul Spudis, Dr. Renu Malhotra, Dr. Peter Schultz, and Dr. James Zimbelman; former visiting scientists Dr. G. Jeffrey Taylor and Dr. Christian Koeberl; and former intern Dr. Jonathan Lunine.

The LPI is also hosting a 40th Anniversary Banquet in March that will commemorate President Lyndon B. Johnson’s announcement of the establishment of the Institute. Participants at this year’s LPSC will also have a chance to join in the celebration, as the community will have an opportunity to raise a glass to the Institute during the birthday-party-themed welcome reception.

Other events will include the release of a special issue of the Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin (LPIB) that will focus on the Institute over the past four decades. Articles will include the history of the LPI and memories shared by those whose professional and personal lives have been impacted by the Institute. The LPI is also planning to unveil a new section of its website in the coming months. The new site will feature a timeline highlighting many of the events that have taken place over the past four decades involving the Institute, NASA, and space exploration.

Institute Director Dr. Stephen Mackwell said, “We are happy to celebrate this remarkable milestone with the planetary science community.  The LPI has been such a focus of community activity over the years since Apollo that we are more like a family with reunions every March at the LPSC.”

The LPI is managed by USRA, a nonprofit consortium of universities chartered in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences at the request of NASA. USRA operates programs and institutes focused on research and education in most of the disciplines engaged in space-related science and engineering. Institutional membership in USRA now stands at 101 leading research universities. More information about USRA can be found at

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Last updated January 30, 2008