DART asteroid-smashing team and record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson honored for impact on space science

two silver arches intersect perpandicularly, with rods shooting out from each's underside, connecting to a silver sphere suspended in the middle
Recipients of the Michael Collins Trophy receive a miniature version of "The Web of Space" sculpture by artist John Safer. (Image credit: Smithsonian Institution/Eric Long)

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) team have been awarded this year's Michael Collins Trophy in honor of their achievements in space. 

Since 1985, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has awarded its Michael Collins Trophy annually for both current and lifetime achievements. The trophy recognizes outstanding accomplishments in the fields of aerospace science and technology. 

As the first woman commander of the International Space Station, Whitson has earned the 2024 Lifetime Achievement Award for her record-breaking spaceflights and distinguished career. The DART mission, which ​​launched in November 2021, joins Whitson, earning the 2024 Current Achievement Award for its successful impact with the asteroid moonlet Dimorphos on Sept. 26, 2022. 

Related: In photos: Record-breaking NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson 

"The 2024 Michael Collins Trophy recipients have made extraordinary impacts on the past, present and future of space exploration," Chris Browne, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the museum, said in a statement. "With 10 spacewalks, 289 consecutive days on one space mission, accumulating 675 days in space, Peggy Whitson is one of the country's most accomplished scientist astronauts."

Whitson has spent more time in space than any other American and any other woman. She also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female, the award announcement highlights, and served as the first female commander of the space station during her second mission, Expedition 16, which ran between 2007 and 2008. She also served as commander for Expedition 51 in 2017, the announcement continues, during her third mission in space, becoming the first woman to command the space station twice. In between those missions, Whitson was named the first female and nonmilitary head of NASA's astronaut office in 2009. 

After three missions to space, Whitson retired from NASA on June 15, 2018. However, she became the first woman to command a private space mission this year, with the launch of Axiom Space's Ax-2 mission on May 21, 2023. 

DART — NASA’s first-ever planetary defense test mission — successfully impacted the asteroid Dimorphos and altered its orbit around the larger asteroid, Didymos, on Sept. 26, 2022. The DART team is receiving the 2024 Michael Collins Trophy for Current Achievement, the announcement says, in recognition of the scientists' work developing and managing the mission. 

As part of the mission, the DART team had to guide the spacecraft to its target, located 7 million miles away. The scientists' goal was to change the time it took Dimorphos to orbit its larger companion, Didymos, by at least 73 seconds. Using a "kinetic impactor" technique, the team indeed altered Dimorphos' orbit by 33 minutes, demonstrating a possible method for deflecting dangerous asteroids from colliding with Earth someday, should such an event arise. 

"Just as Dr. Whitson's achievements have pushed the boundaries of our scientific knowledge, the DART team's achievements and successful engineering capabilities have advanced humankind and will shape our approach to planetary defense for years to come," Browne said in the statement. 

Recipients of the Michael Collins Trophy receive a miniature version of "The Web of Space" sculpture by artist John Safer. The trophy, formally known as the National Air and Space Museum Trophy, was renamed in 2020 in honor of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins for his contributions to aerospace and his tenure as director of the museum. This year’s awards ceremony will be held on March 21, 2024, at the museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. 

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Samantha Mathewson
Contributing Writer

Samantha Mathewson joined Space.com as an intern in the summer of 2016. She received a B.A. in Journalism and Environmental Science at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. Previously, her work has been published in Nature World News. When not writing or reading about science, Samantha enjoys traveling to new places and taking photos! You can follow her on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13.