Nasa scientist wows at Prior Park
19th May 2015

Dr Paul Abell is the Lead Scientist for Planetary Small Bodies assigned to the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Division at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.  Dr Abell graciously accepted an invitation to speak with Year 9 and 10 students, as well as Year 12 physicists at Prior Park College on Friday afternoon, to explain the science behind what asteroids are made of, what threat they are to the earth, and what he and his team of scientists do to meet that threat.

Dr Abell's main areas of interest are physical characterization of near-Earth objects (NEOs) via ground-based and spacecraft observations, examination of NEOs for future robotic and human exploration, and identification of potential resources within the NEO population for future resource utilization.  Dr Abell has been studying potentially hazardous asteroids and near-Earth objects for over 15 years.  He was a telemetry officer for the Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous spacecraft Near-Infrared Spectrometer team and was a science team member on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Hayabusa near-Earth asteroid sample-return mission.   Dr Abell was also a member of the Hayabusa contingency recovery team and participated in the successful recovery of the spacecraft‘s sample return capsule, which returned to Woomera, Australia in June 2010.  In the near future, Paul will be supporting the ongoing activities of the Hayabusa 2 mission and aiding the cooperation between Hayabusa 2 and NASA’s OSIRIS REx as they investigate and sample their respective near-Earth asteroids in 2018.

Since 2006 Dr Abell has been a member of an internal NASA team that is examining the possibility of sending astronauts to NEOs for human missions circa 2025 and is currently the lead committee member of the Small Bodies Assessment Group chartered with identifying Human Exploration Opportunities for NEOs.   In 2009 he became a science team member of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) Solar System Collaboration tasked with identifying NEOs for future robotic and human space missions, and is also the Science Lead for NEO analogue activities and operations of the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) and Research and Technology Studies (RATS) projects.  Asteroid 8139 (1980 UM1) is named Paulabell in recognition of Dr Abell's contributions to NEO research and exploration studies.


  • Prior Park College is one of the largest independent Catholic co-educational boarding and day schools in the UK, with 600 students.
  • The College is situated within a picturesque 57-acre site overlooking the world heritage city of Bath.
  • The College received ‘outstanding’ in its latest ISI Inspection Report.
  • Prior Park College is part of Prior Park Schools which comprises a group of four schools; Prior Park College, Bath, Prior Park Prep School, Cricklade, Wiltshire; The Paragon Junior School, Bath; Prior Park School, Gibraltar.
  •  Further information can be found on our website