KNOXVILLE (WATE) - For more than 36 years, Harry "Hap" McSween has walked the halls of the University of Tennessee. McSween, known as a "teacher's teacher," is now getting national attention as one of the world's foremost experts on the composition of Mars.
His bulletin board is a mixture of pictures, posters and patches devoted to outer space.
"I am [a pack rat], especially when it comes to space stuff," explained McSween.
The UT Professor of Planetary Science is on a two-year run of accolades. He has received Southeastern Conference Professor of the Year, the National Academy of Science J. Lawrence Smith medal, and most recently the Whipple Award, which honors scientists who have made major contributions in the field of planetary science.
"I don't know. It's been a good couple of years for me, and it's wonderful to be appreciated by people who understand it and people who are making these awards understand it. I don't know why they're all coming at once, but I'm not complaining," said McSween.
The heavens weren't always McSween's focus.
"I started out life as a geologist working on rocks underfoot and have slowly progressed into working on rocks from other worlds and that just consumes me now."
During McSween's entire time at UT, he has been consumed with Mars. He was one of the first geologists onboard for NASA's Pathfinder missions, which put a robot on the red planet.
His most recent work involves the Dawn Spacecraft mission, which is studying the solar system's asteroid belt.
McSween's hope is that the United States continues to fund planetary exploration, and has a clear reason why.
"The real reason taxpayers should be willing to make this investment is not for the science or technology, but because of the inspiration that it provides for the next generation. The next generation has to provide us the scientists and engineers that our country depends on," explained McSween.
Space exploration inspired a young "Hap" McSween, and now he hopes his work in outer space inspires the next generation.
Space, the final frontier, is also very much in the Spirit of East Tennessee.
If you know someone who exemplifies the Spirit of East Tennessee, contact Gene Patterson at email@example.com.