Distinquished researcher recognized for his life’s work

Gordon Shepherd, director of York’s Centre for Research in Earth & Space Science (CRESS) has received a special tribute from the Canadian Aeronautics & Space Institute (CASI). On April 26, at a special ceremony at the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa, CASI president Tony Burgess presented Shepherd with the prestigious Alouette Award. 

           Right: Gordon Shepherd

The Alouette Award was bestowed in recognition of Shepherd’s exceptional, lifelong contributions to Canadian space technology. As a distinguished research professor emeritus with a long career in space and atmospheric research, Shepherd pioneered several significant research ventures carried aboard Canadian satellites.

“I am delighted to receive this award,” said Shepherd. “It comes from a community of scientists and engineers for whom I have great respect. The Alouette Award is primarily for the Wind Imaging Interferometer (WINDII) launched on NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite in 1991. However I do have a connection with Alouette because I was also principal investigator for the Red Line Photometer carried on ISIS-II, which followed the Alouette satellites and ISIS-I. This instrument used a red photometer to map the mysterious red aurora in the upper atmosphere.”

Alouette-1 was Canada’s first satellite, launched in 1962 to study the region of the ionosphere above its peak, using a sophisticated radio transmitter and receiver called the topside sounder.

           Right: Alouette-1

The satellite was so successful that it became the first of a series of satellites called the International Satellites for Ionospheric Studies or ISIS. Alouette-1 was followed by Alouette-2 in 1966, by ISIS-I in 1969 and ISIS-II in 1971.

With successive satellites more experiments were included, and ISIS-II carried the first instruments for Canadian university principal investigators, one from York University, led by Shepherd. The experiment was called the Red Line Photometer (RLP) and it mapped the distribution of red atomic oxygen emission from the upper atmosphere. It discovered that the aurora borealis was spectacularly red in colour on the dayside of the Earth, the side nearest the sun, compared with the familiar nightside aurora which is green in colour. This was shown to result from the direct entry of electrons from the solar wind, penetrating the magnetosphere and striking the ionosphere.

Shepherd then led an expedition to Cape Parry on the Arctic coastline to launch rockets into this red auroral feature. The WINDII instrument, launched 20 years later, measured winds in the Earth’s upper atmosphere, between the altitudes of 80 and 300 km, using a technique, conceived by Shepherd, called Doppler Michelson Imaging. These were the first wind measurements in this altitude region, and provided an understanding of the dynamics of this region that revolutionized the views of scientists about the processes of the upper atmosphere. It has also enhanced our understanding of the red emission viewed by the RLP.

Shepherd will be a visiting professor at the University of Kyoto in Japan for the next three months, lecturing on space and the upper atmosphere. Last October, he received the John H. Chapman Award, named for a Canadian space pioneer who later paved the way to Canada’s first communication satellites. His tragic, early death is remembered with the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence of the Canadian Space Agency.

More about the Alouette Award

In 1995 CASI introduced the Alouette Award to recognize an outstanding contribution to advancement in Canadian space technology, application, science or engineering. It may be awarded to an individual, a group, an organization or group of organizations, as appropriate to the nature of the contribution.

The award is given annually for outstanding achievement in the field of astronautics: either a single outstanding contribution or, in the case of an individual nominee, a sustained high level of performance resulting in several advances in space.

The contribution on which the award is based must be recognized as a Canadian-led space endeavour or as a significant Canadian contribution to an international program. Preference is given to contributions that lead to new benefits for mankind.

About Gordon Shepherd

Gordon Shepherd has spent much of his career developing methods of observing the atmosphere remotely from space. He is principal investigator for Canada’s WIND Imaging Interferometer on NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite and is author of Spectral Imaging of the Atmosphere, which describes these methods.

A native of Senate, Saskatchewan, Shepherd obtained his BSc and MSc degrees from the University of Saskatchewan and his PhD from the University of Toronto.

Left: Shepherd, left, with Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau after receiving the John H. Chapman Award, Oct. 2003

In 1981, Shepherd was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Named distinguished research professor emeritus of earth and space science at the apogee of his brilliant career, he now looks with pride at the accomplishments of the generation of students he has trained.

Shepherd has worked for the Canadian space community for the past 40 years and has played key roles in the atmospheric sciences, championing the ISIS program, WINDII: the Wind Imaging Interferometer, and SWIFT: the Stratospheric Wind Interferometer For Transport. 

He is a mentor, a renowned international speaker and has published over 200 scientific papers. As well, Shepherd has pioneered developments of new techniques for instruments and data analysis, contributing to maintain Canada’s pre-eminence in thermospheric physics and positioning the Canadian Space Program abroad.