Joseph H. King

2004 Edward A. Flinn III Award Winner

Joseph H. King received the Flinn Award at the AGU Joint Assembly Honors Ceremony, which was held on 19 May 2004 in Montreal, Canada. The award honors “individuals who personify the Union’s motto ‘unselfish cooperation in research’ through their facilitating, coordinating, and implementing activities.”


“The acquisition, dissemination, and archiving of data are among the most important underpinnings of all of modern geophysics. The American Geophysical Union and its members have been leaders on an international basis for the unselfish sharing of global geophysics data. The World Data Center system set up as a result of the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958 was a key step in assuring that spacecraft data would be available for active scientific analysis, and would be accessible for future generations of geophysicists. I cite here one of the most central individuals in the challenging arena of acquisition, distribution, and archiving of space data: Dr. Joseph H. King.

“For the past 11 years, Dr. King was the head of the National Space Science Data Center (NSSDC). Dr. King created, facilitated, and oversaw many of the services that NSSDC has provided for the space science community. These services include data and information management and dissemination; data acquisition services for various projects; standards development and information distribution; value-added services for data sets; data format development; and other interdisciplinary services. He was instrumental in reviving the NSSDC with new and important collections of data as well as the essential new technology approaches to data and information systems.

“NSSDC data dissemination is leading to the publication of significant new science. In the last 5 years, more than 400 science papers have acknowledged NSSDC data or services. To make such facilitation happen requires the ability of the NSSDC director to manage a staff of nearly seventy people; interact constantly with projects providing data; assure the data-seeking community is satisfied with products and services; and report progress to NASA management to assure the continued flow of funding. The director must also continue to improve the service for the community through constant upgrades of technology and technique. Dr. King has carried out these diverse duties with energy, enthusiasm, and strong commitment to the communities served.

“Dr. King also headed the World Data Center for Satellite Information (WDC-SI). This has the task of tracking rocket and satellite launches and making the information known to the general community. Dr. King used the collocation of the NSSDC and the WDC to aid the efficiency of distribution of NSSDC data to the world community. Dr. King has long been a respected WDC member and has influenced data policy worldwide through the data center system.

“Dr. King is perhaps most known for his heliospheric data curation efforts. Almost single-handedly, Dr. King created, maintained, updated, and put online the AOMNI@ data set. OMNI data are a 38-year compilation of hourly solar wind data from many spacecraft. This data set alone receives an average of over 1300 requests per year. Dr. King started the development of the OMNI database in the 1970s and has led this development ever since. The OMNI data contain over 30 measured and derived parameters of the solar wind at one-hour resolution. It is without doubt that these data have become the most-used database ever constructed for understanding solar wind influences on the Earth (and other planetary) magnetospheres.

“Finally, Dr. King long served as the IMP-8 Project Scientist. He continued to advocate the importance of this spacecraft to the science community and to NASA. IMP-8 was launched in 1973 and is still providing quality data today.

“In conclusion, I believe that Joe King’s dedicated science service, scientific publications, and unselfishness in support of the space science community make him an outstanding recipient of the Edward A. Flinn Award. Dr. King’s efforts in support of facilitating space science research have been truly remarkable. I congratulate AGU for recognizing him in this way.”

—DANIEL BAKER, University of Colorado, Boulder


“I’m very honored to accept the 2004 Edward Flinn Award, and I thank the American Geophysical Union for recognizing my efforts in this way.

“I first joined NASA’s National Space Science Data Center only about 12 years after the 1957-1958 International Geophysical Year. The IGY stimulated quantum leaps forward in the international geophysical data environment. Since then, we’ve continued making steady progress in data management such that today, a large fraction of space science and geophysical data is electronically findable and retrievable. Now, as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the IGY, we are preparing for various anniversary celebrations, I*Y initiatives, and an electronic geophysical year initiative. An important goal of science data management is to ensure the long-term, correct, and independent usability of all or most of the science potential of the data produced by expensive spaceflight and other instruments. This means that a graduate student can take one or more data sets and appropriate supporting material and analyze the data correctly without having to go back to that data set’s original creators or experts. For their part, data set creators and experts need to create this accompanying documentation and other supporting material because their personal availability to help new users of their data is likely to end before the science potential of the data ends.

“There have been a great many players involved in bringing the National Space Science Data Center to its current state of community respect, as symbolized by this award to me. Let me thank NSSDC’s data providers, many at this meeting and some no longer with us. Let me thank those users of NSSDC data and services who, through their feedback, have enabled us to continually improve our offerings. Let me encourage all of you, in using the data or services from any organization like NSSDC, to be free with your constructive feedback so that those organizations may serve you and your colleagues even better.

“Let me thank the staff of the National Space Science Data Center, government and contractor, scientists, IT professionals, and data operations personnel, for their dedication and effectiveness in pursuing good data management practices and in helping NSSDC to meet its customers’ needs and expectations.

“Over the past several years, while I’ve been mostly busy managing the core NSSDC activities, I’ve been very fortunate in being able to pursue the definition and development of several value-added space physics data products and interfaces like the OMNI data set and its OMNIWeb interface. This has been my fun. There have been a small number of NSSDC staffers who have helped me on these. The key person over the past 12 years, and the only person for the past 6, has been my colleague and friend Dr. Natalia Papitashvili. Natasha has shared the product definition activities and has done all the development work.

“Another largely fun activity was being Project Scientist for IMP-8 over most of its 30+ years of operational life. I thank the IMP-8 Principal Investigators for their support, for making IMP-8 very successful scientifically, and for sharing their data individually and through NSSDC over the years. IMP-8 magnetic field and plasma data were by far the most widely used space science data at least through very recent times.

“Let me close with an acknowledgment to my wife, Eleanor, whose love, support, and endurance over the years have contributed immeasurably to my life and allowed me to pursue my support of the space science and geophysical research enterprise.”

—JOSEPH H. KING, Beltsville, Md.