UA alumnus Dante Lauretta led the design, build and launch of a spacecraft to Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, to collect a sample and return that sample to Earth. (Photo: Symeon Platts/UA)
UA alumnus Dante Lauretta led the design, build and launch of a spacecraft to Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, to collect a sample and return that sample to Earth. (Photo: Symeon Platts/UA)

Dante Lauretta to Receive Alumni Achievement Award

The UA alumnus, who went on a years-long mission to design, build and launch a spacecraft in the University's biggest space mission, will be recognized at Commencement.
May 9, 2017
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To learn more about Dante Lauretta and the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:

The UA's 153rd Commencement ceremony will be held May 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Arizona Stadium.

Event details are available online for:

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Dante Lauretta with NASA chief Charles F. Bolden Jr. in November 2013 at the launch of the MAVEN mission in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Bolden will be the featured speaker on Friday for the UA's Commencement. (Photo courtesy of Dante Lauretta)
Dante Lauretta with NASA chief Charles F. Bolden Jr. in November 2013 at the launch of the MAVEN mission in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Bolden will be the featured speaker on Friday for the UA's Commencement. (Photo courtesy of Dante Lauretta)
Dante Lauretta speaks at NASA headquarters in Washington during an August 2016 briefing on the OSIRIS-REx mission shortly before its launch. (Photo: Joel Kowsky/NASA)
Dante Lauretta speaks at NASA headquarters in Washington during an August 2016 briefing on the OSIRIS-REx mission shortly before its launch. (Photo: Joel Kowsky/NASA)

Dante Lauretta, leader of the University of Arizona's biggest space mission, will receive the institution's Alumni Achievement Award.

Lauretta, a UA professor of planetary science and cosmochemistry and principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission, has reached the pinnacle of his field, and through his work the UA will remain at the forefront of space exploration for years to come.

Lauretta will receive the award during the University's Commencement ceremony on May 12. He also will be honored as the College of Humanities Alumnus of the Year during an event to be held Oct. 27.

The Alumni Achievement Award is the highest honor the UA Alumni Association can bestow on graduates of the University. It is given to an alumnus or alumna who has attained prominence in his or her field of endeavor and demonstrated outstanding service to the UA.

"I am honored to receive the UA Alumni Achievement Award," Lauretta said. "The University of Arizona has been an essential part of my career from my undergraduate days through my faculty appointment. I am proud to have studied here and to now be contributing to the UA's important education mission."

Lauretta is an expert in the analysis of extraterrestrial materials such as lunar samples, meteorites and comet particles. His work contributes to our understanding of the chemistry of the early solar system and the origin of complex molecules that may have led to life on Earth.

Lauretta is credited with more than 70 peer-reviewed publications and led or participated in more than 20 NASA grants and missions — all while teaching undergraduate and graduate students, giving scholarly presentations, participating in conferences, and serving on departmental, University and extramural committees.

The list of awards and honors Lauretta has received is long and varied. He has an asteroid named in his honor; he was named a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 and Innovator of the Year by the Arizona governor in 2011; and Good Housekeeping magazine named his Xtronaut game the Best Family Board Game of 2016.

On Sept. 8, 2016, Lauretta earned a spot in history for himself and the UA when the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft successfully launched on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with the asteroid Bennu and return a sample of its material.

As important as the OSIRIS-REx mission is to furthering our understanding of the early solar system, under Lauretta's leadership it also aims to further public engagement in science. The mission's website, asteroidmission.org, features entertaining and engaging videos about planetary science, and mission staff appear as guest speakers at local conventions and in classrooms.

Lauretta also has hosted a regular OSIRIS-REx Science Club at the Tucson Boys and Girls Club.

In 1993, Lauretta earned a Bachelor of Arts from the UA College of Humanities Department of East Asian Studies with an emphasis in Japanese, and also a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and physics from the UA College of Science. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in earth and planetary sciences from Washington University in St. Louis in 1997. He returned to the UA in 2001 to join the faculty of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory.