NASA's Kepler mission has been named the winner of the 2012 Aviation Week Laureate Award in the Space category, announced last night at the 55th annual black-tie awards dinner in Washington.

Accepting the award on behalf of the Kepler mission team were Roger Hunter, Kepler project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; and James Fanson, who was the Kepler project manager during mission development at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Fanson is currently the assistant director for optical systems in JPL's Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology Directorate.

"With nearly 1,000 scientists throughout the world actively engaged in investigating the bounty of Kepler data, the team is honored to marshal in a new age of planetary discovery," said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at Ames. "We are delighted by the results and of the promise of Kepler's most profound discoveries that await."

Aviation Week's annual Laureate Awards recognize individuals and teams for their extraordinary accomplishments. Their achievements embody the spirit of exploration, innovation, vision or any combination of these attributes that inspire others to strive for significant, broad-reaching progress in aviation and aerospace.

Previous winners in the Space category include the Radar Imaging Commercialization Team; the International Space Station program managers; Elon Musk, co-founder of SpaceX; and Yoshisada Takizawa, Selene project manager, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler spacecraft has detected more than 2,300 planet candidates and confirmed 61 as planets. The early findings contain more than 200 Earth-size planet candidates and more than 900 that are smaller than two times the size of Earth. Of the 46 planet candidates found in the habitable zone, the region in the planetary system where liquid water could exist, 10 of these candidates are smaller than twice the size of Earth.

Kepler is a space observatory trailing Earth around the sun, currently at a distance of more than 30 million miles (48 million kilometers). Kepler's task is to measure the change in brightness of more than 150,000 stars looking for the telltale signature of a planet passing, or transiting, in front of its host star. Three transits are required to verify a signal as a planet.

Kepler also recently won the Space Foundation's John L. "Jack" Swigert, Jr., Award for Space Exploration (see

Ames Research Center manages Kepler's ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. JPL managed the Kepler mission's development.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA's 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington.