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NASA Honor Award (Individual) Details

Award Title:
Distinguished Public Service Medal
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For superior individual dedication to community and scientific engagement as NASA's most prolific Solar System Ambassador.
Patrick Wiggins joined the Solar System Ambassadors program in January 2002. In those twelve years he has conducted 1,051
to date, averaging about 88 events per year well over the 4 events per year that we ask of our volunteers. In Utah, Patrick's
name is synonymous with SSA. He conducts star parties, visits schools all over the state, gives seasonal talks to visitors at Bryce
Canyon National Park and regularly provides updates on NASA's space exploration efforts to local newspapers, radio and TV
stations. To say Patrick is involved in his community is an understatement. Around the time he retired from his job at the Hansen
Planetarium in 2001, Patrick Wiggins heard about the relatively new Solar System Ambassadors program and decided to join.
With a background in astronomy, a solid reputation for public engagement and a catchy new title, Wiggins was quickly in demand
throughout the state. It was not uncommon for him to drive 5 hours one-way to visit schools around St. George in the southern
part of the state. To occupy his mind during those long drives, Patrick would play recordings of the Solar System Ambassador
telecon training sessions. With his reputation firmly established as an amateur astronomer and now as a NASA volunteer,
Wiggins was often sought out to comment on the agency's space exploration missions by local newspapers, radio and TV
stations. He always insisted they credit him as a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador to keep the agency and the program in
the minds of the audience. In 2008, Wiggins was contacted by Tracy Hickman, a friend of space tourist Richard Garriott. Before
he went to the International Space Station, Mr. Garriott and Hickman had agreed to "look at one another" as the ISS passed over
Utah. Once Mr. Garriott was aboard, the clock was ticking for Hickman. He had to find someone who could tell him where to go
(in Utah) and where to look in order to keep his part of the agreement with Mr. Garriott. Because of his connection to NASA as a
Solar System Ambassador, Hickman contacted Patrick Wiggins. Wiggins found out when the overpass was going to occur and
suggested an appropriate place to observe from. The next day, Hickman wrote about the experience he and his wife had in the
following in a note of thanks to Wiggins, "Exactly where you told us to look, the International Space Station was climbing into the
star-studded sky. No dim flicker this; it was a brilliant, blazing star rising swiftly and steadily above the horizon. It was one of the
most glorious things I have ever seen. Your advice of yesterday proved absolutely invaluable to us. You put us in the right spot
for the event with everything we needed to know. Thank you; you helped change our lives." As if he weren't being kept busy
enough with his SSA efforts, Patrick is also an active amateur astronomer. This past January, he made the discovery of a lifetime
a supernova, the 7th to be discovered in 2014. The story was featured on this website: More than once, Wiggins has been
heard commenting that being a Solar System Ambassador has given purpose to his retirement. We often speak of SSAs as
"serving their local communities." Patrick's story certainly is a wonderful example of a volunteer who does just that. It also speaks
to the positive reputation these volunteers have built for themselves, the program and for NASA as well.
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