Theisinger has worked on spacecraft missions to six planets since joining NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, in 1967. He is now a special assistant to the laboratory's director. Previous leadership roles included managing JPL's Engineering and Science Directorate and JPL's Spacecraft Systems Engineering Section.
Theisinger was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2013, paired with JPL colleague Richard Cook. At different times, Theisinger and Cook each managed the Mars Exploration Rover Project, which built Spirit and Opportunity, and the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which built Curiosity. The former project still operates the golf-cart-size Opportunity, which landed with air-bag-cushioned bounces in 2004. The latter project operates the car-size Curiosity, which landed with a sky-crane maneuver in 2012.
Theisinger will receive the lifetime achievement honor Wednesday evening, March 29, at a ceremony at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum ceremony in Washington.
The museum presents this trophy annually to recognize past and present accomplishments in the management or execution of a scientific or technological project, a distinguished career of service in air and space technology, or a significant contribution in chronicling the history of air and space technology. Previous recipients include astronauts James Lovell, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn; scientists James Van Allen, Harold Masursky and Stamatios Krimigis; and engineer-managers Norm Augustine, John Casani, Burt Rutan and Simon Ramo.
Theisinger was born in Fresno, California, in 1945 and now lives in La Crescenta, California. He graduated from Caltech in Pasadena, California, with a degree in physics. His career at JPL began with the Mariner 5 mission to Venus and has included contributions to the Voyager mission to the outer planets (launched in 1977 and still going) and the Galileo mission to Jupiter (launched in 1989 and concluded in 2003). His Mars experience dates back to the 1971 Mariner 9 orbiter mission to Mars.
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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National Air and Space Museum, Washington