31 October 2019

Stephen P. Maran

Dr. Stephen P. Maran, a senior advisor with the American Astronomical Society, is an astronomer and author with long experience in the Space Program. The author or editor of twelve books and of over 100 popular articles on astronomy and space exploration, and many more scientific publications, he retired from NASA on October 1, 2004 after more than 35 years with the agency.  On August 31, 2009, he retired after 25 years (most of them overlapping with NASA service) as Press Officer of the Society.

The Dallas Morning News wrote that "Dr. Maran takes up where Carl Sagan left off, telling the story of space to anybody who’s interested. Except that Dr. Maran is funnier."*

The Washington Post describes him as "a rumpled astronomer with Einstein hair and a tie blazing with bright suns," and adds that Maran "is a phenomenon about as rare as cold steam, a scientist who gets a big kick out of talking to the rest of us." The Post also noted, in April 2000, "You might have seen him on NBC’s “Today” show last August, giving Katie Couric the play-by-play on an in-progress eclipse of the sun. Or (if you’re well off) you might have run into him aboard some cruise ship, explaining the mechanics of a solar eclipse to passengers on the way to landfall at a Malaysian snake temple or bound for the sheep show in Rotorua, New Zealand."**

Maran has been recognized with the NASA Medal for Exceptional Achievement and by the International Astronomical Union, which named Minor Planet 9768 (an asteroid), Stephenmaran in his honor. He also received the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Klumpke-Roberts Award (1999) for outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy and was appointed the A. Dixon Johnson Lecturer in Scientific Communication for 1990 by Pennsylvania State University. In 2008, the American Astronomical Society awarded him the George Van Biesbroeck Prize, which "honors a living individual for long-term extraordinary or unselfish service to astronomy, often beyond the requirements of his or her paid position."

The American Institute of Physics named Maran the 2011 recipient of the Andrew W. Gemant Award for significant contributions to the cultural, artistic, or humanistic dimension of physics. 

Maran has taught Astronomy at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Maryland, College Park. Prior to joining NASA, he worked at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, Tucson, Arizona, where he led the project that developed the world’s first robotic and remotely controlled astronomical telescope.

At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Dr. Maran was Assistant Director of Space Sciences for Information and Outreach from 1995-2004. His prior Goddard service, starting in 1969, included such responsibilities as Project Scientist for Orbiting Solar Observatories; Head, Advanced Systems and Ground Observations Branch; Manager, Operation Kohoutek; Senior Staff Scientist in the Laboratory for Astronomy and Solar Physics; and Co-Investigator on two instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope: the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph in the original Hubble payload and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph, which was added to the orbiting observatory in February 1997. Besides leading Hubble research projects on flare stars, active galactic nuclei, and the expanding debris from Supernova 1987A, he was Principal Investigator for investigations of planetary nebulae in the Magellanic Clouds with the International Ultraviolet Explorer, an earlier NASA telescopic satellite. He was the original host of a series of NASA televised press conferences in talk-show format, “Space Astronomy Update,” which served primarily to announce major discoveries from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Representing NASA, Maran addressed subcommittees of the U.S. House of Representatives and the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He has also been an invited speaker or lecturer to the National Academy of Engineering and to national meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Astronomical Society, American Astronautical Society, American Physical Society, and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

He received the MA and PhD in Astronomy from the University of Michigan in 1961 and 1964, respectively, and the BS in Physics from Brooklyn College in 1959, after graduating from Stuyvesant High School in New York City (1955).

Maran’s articles about science for the public have appeared in Smithsonian, Natural History, Popular Science, Scientific American, Sky & Telescope, and Astronomy magazines, in ten encyclopedias and encyclopedia year books, and in invited contributions to The Washington Post.

His two most recent  books, both written jointly with Laurence A. Marschall and published in 2009, are Galileo's New Universe: The Revolution in Our Understanding of the Cosmos and Pluto Confidential: An Insider Account of the Ongoing Battles over the Status of Pluto.

His other books include Astronomy for Dummies®, published in English, Chinese, French, German, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish and Dutch; The Astronomy and Astrophysics Encyclopedia (with Foreword by Carl Sagan); a college text, New Horizons in Astronomy by John C. Brandt and Dr. Maran, which was also published in Arabic; and Gems of Hubble, written with Jacqueline Mitton.

Maran is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and of the Royal Astronomical Society and is a former Chair of AAAS’s Section on Astronomy. He also lectures on ocean cruises and astronomical tours, and has spoken on each of the first two round-the-world cruises of the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2.

CONTACT:  [email protected]     1-202-328-2010 x102


*From “Stars’ spokesman no dummy when it comes to astronomy,” by Tom Siegfried, The Dallas Morning News, February 14, 2000.

**From “Bringing the Cosmos Down to Earth: Astronomer Stephen Maran, Making Explanation an Art,” by Kathy Sawyer, The Washington Post, April 20, 2000.