The Joseph Loftus Space Sustainability Award is assigned to an individual, or to a team, which has made outstanding contributions in the field of space sustainability. The award consists of a bronze plaque reproducing in bas-relief a pocket watch with hands on the 11th hour. It symbolize the fast approaching deadline to prevent the Kessler Syndrome, a scenario in which the density of space debris in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade – each collision generating space debris which increases the likelihood of further collisions, such that . The distribution of debris in orbit could then render space missions the use of satellites unfeasible for many generations.
The IAASS Space Sustainability Award is named after Joseph (Joe) P. Loftus (1930-2005) who was the early proponent of orbital debris research, gained an international reputation in that field and was known as the godfather of the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office.
Joe Loftus was among the first to alert NASA officials to the danger to spacecraft and satellites posed by increasing amounts of spent rocket bodies, fragments from spacecraft and other debris from space operations. His efforts led, in 1979, to the first official funding for orbital debris research at NASA. The space agency established the Orbital Debris Program Office, which also deals with potential contamination of the orbital environment.
Loftus was NASA’s envoy to the national and international aerospace communities, working with the United Nations and many other organizations. He was part of a team that prepared a technical report on space debris, the first such study by the United Nations.
Loftus spent 47 years in US government service in aviation and space activities. In the Air Force, he trained as a pilot and for two years flew with the military transport service at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He also worked extensively on zero-visibility landing systems and on the early Air Force manned space plane Dynasoar.
US Congressional Record-Extensions of Remarks, November 9, 2005.