The Hubbard Medal is the National Geographic Society’s highest honor for excellence in exploration, discovery and research. © National Geographic

The Hubbard Medal – National Geographic’s Highest Honor

by Courtney Mattison

On June 13th, the National Geographic Society (NGS) awarded its highest honor – the Hubbard Medal – to Mission Blue founder Dr. Sylvia Earle, film director and explorer James Cameron and legendary scientist and Harvard professor Dr. E. O. Wilson. As recipients of the Society’s oldest and most prestigious award, these three honorees go down in history among a truly outstanding group of scientists and explorers.

Hubbard Medal video profile on Dr. Sylvia Earle. A brief video on the accomplishments of each honoree accompanied the 2013 Hubbard Medal presentation ceremony. © National Geographic

The Hubbard Medal was named after Gardiner Greene Hubbard – the National Geographic Society’s first president and principal founder. The NGS Board of Trustees authorized the award in 1906 to “honor outstanding explorations or discoveries.” One wonders if they had any sense of the magnitude of incredible accomplishments in exploration, discovery and research the award would celebrate throughout the next 107 years.

U.S. president Calvin Coolidge presented the National Geographic Society's Hubbard Medal to Aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1928. (copyright expired)

U.S. president Calvin Coolidge presented the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal to Aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1928. (copyright expired)

Robert E. Peary received the first Hubbard Medal for his expedition to the farthest north position ever reached as of 1906 (latitude 87°, 6 minutes). Charles Lindbergh won the Hubbard in 1927 for the first non-stop transatlantic flight. In 1954, the British Mt. Everest Expedition was awarded the first group medal for summiting Mt. Everest for the first time. John Glenn won the Hubbard in 1962 for being America’s first man in orbit, and in 1970 Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins won the award for their Apollo 11 moon landing expedition. Dr. Jane Goodall won in 1995 for her 35-year study of wild chimpanzees and conservation work. And in 1996, Mission Blue friend Robert Ballard won the Hubbard Medal for “extraordinary accomplishments in coaxing secrets from the world’s oceans.”

This year’s award ceremony took place at the National Geographic Society’s sold-out 125th Anniversary Gala Awards at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. John Fahey – NGS CEO and Chairman – presented the Hubbard Medal to Earle, Cameron and Wilson and stated:

“Exploration for our founders in 1888 was driven by a desire for knowledge and adventure. Today we have the same goals, but our explorers—and those who support them—are driven by a deeper purpose. In this new age of exploration, they want to help navigate the increasingly complex relationship between humanity’s needs and the natural world that sustains us.”

Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard (past Hubbard Medal honorees) in Trieste after the Challenger Deep dive. Photo by Thomas J. Abercrombie

Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard (past Hubbard Medal honorees) emerge from Trieste after the Challenger Deep dive. Photo by Thomas J. Abercrombie

Sylvia Earle and James Cameron were honored this year for their outstanding achievements in marine exploration and conservation, while Dr. Edward O. Wilson was recognized for his commitment to biodiversity through a lifetime of research and writing. When receiving her award, Dr. Earle expressed her passion for ocean conservation and highlighted our responsibility to save the planet. She said, “This is a time we can refer to as sweet. We are empowered with knowledge. If we delay another 50 years it will be too late. We are in the moment of getting it right.”

The National Geographic Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala Awards were held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. on June 13th, 2013. © Rebecca Hale / National Geographic

The National Geographic Society’s 125th Anniversary Gala Awards ceremony was held at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. on June 13th, 2013. © Rebecca Hale / National Geographic

Featured image (top): The Hubbard Medal is the National Geographic Society’s highest honor for excellence in exploration, discovery and research. © National Geographic (Photo by Taylor Griffith)

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