CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — NASA renamed a mission after Dr. George R. Carruthers, an astrophysicist and prominent Illinois alumnus.

The Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign hosted the renaming ceremony on Dec. 2. NASA renamed its Global Lyman-alpha Imager of the Dynamic Exosphere, or GLIDE mission to the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory, to honor Dr. Carruthers, known as one of the first African Americans to earn a doctorate in astrophysics.

David DeVorkin, a senior curator at the National Air and Space Museum, said that despite the deep challenges Dr. Carruthers faced as a Black man in the 1970s engineering fields, his love for science and discovery powered him to be “one of the most important scientists of our time.”

“The Carruthers Geocorona Observatory reflects his accomplishments since the mission involves imaging Earth’s exosphere and documenting those changes in space – which is what Dr. Carruthers decided his career to,” DeVorkin said.

The camera Dr. Carruthers invented took the first images of space and significantly improves people’s understanding of space and earth science. He later engineered a whole new class of optical instruments that led to significant scientific discoveries. In 2012, President Barrack Obama awarded Dr. Carruthers with the National Medal for Technology and Innovation in recognition of his many groundbreaking achievements.

Rashid Bashir, the dean of the Grainger College of Engineering at Illinois, expressed thanks to NASA for honoring Dr. Carruthers, who Bashir called an illustrious alumnus.

“He exemplified everything it means to be a Grainger engineer – tenacious and innovative,” Bashir said. “The Carruthers Geocorona Observatory will build off his discoveries and deepen our ever-changing knowledge of space.”

Dr. Carruthers passed away in 2020, leaving a tremendous loss to the physics community. However, Grainger officials said he will continue to be remembered as an amazing scientist who impacted millions of people.

Today, the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory, led by Illinois, will survey the geocorona, the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, and provide key information about how this layer interacts with the complex space system at large.

This is the first mission dedicated to tracking changes there. It’s expected to launch in 2025.