In Remembrance Mike Drake (1946-2011)

Professor Michael J. Drake

Mike Drake
(Photo credit: LPL)


Mike Drake studied the Moon, meteorites, Mars, Earth and for the last seven years was committed to making the OSIRIS-REx mission a reality. With Dante Lauretta, he established an international team, led by the University of Arizona along with Goddard Space Flight Center and Lockheed Martin, to propose an asteroid sample return mission to NASA. And he was there leading the celebrations when NASA awarded the mission in May 2011.

The concept of an asteroid sample return mission took off in 2004 when Lockheed Martin approached Mike about leading a NASA Asteroid Sample Return Discovery mission proposal. Mike and Dante set about defining the mission objectives to address fundamental questions of planetary science research. These objectives led to the name of the mission, OSIRIS: Origins (what is the origin of organic material necessary for the origin of life?), Spectral Interpretation (how do the optical properties of asteroids inform us about their composition?), Resource Investigation (what asteroid resources can enable human exploration of space?), Security (how can we better predict the likelihood of an asteroid impact?). OSIRIS was assessed to require more resources for success than were available in the Discovery Program.

The OSIRIS team immediately focused on the next opportunity, redefining the mission, now dubbed the OSIRIS REgolith Explorer (REx), to meet the requirements of NASA’s New Frontiers Program. The team submitted the OSIRIS-REx proposal in 2009. Selected as one of three competing misions, the OSIRIS-REx team spent the next year preparing a concept study report, developing the mission that will return a sample from the near-Earth object, 1999 RQ36.

Mike mentored, coached and led all team members to excellence. In May 2011, NASA selected the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission as its next New Frontiers mission. This mission is the culmination of a career seeking out answers to fundamental questions asked by humanity, of asking probing questions and figuring out the best way to find the answers. OSIRIS-REx is a crowning legacy for such an extensive and productive career. Although we mourn Mike Drake’s passing, he made certain that the mission team was strong and composed of multiple generations to carry on the exciting discoveries far into the future. He will continue to inspire us throughout the mission and beyond.

Find out about the fitting tribute to Mike Drake, the main belt asteroid 9022 Drake (1988 PC1), discovered in 1988 by Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker. Click here and search '9022'.

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