Friday, August 30, 2013

Bruce Murray 1931 - 2013

   There’s only one left now, and here’s what he had to say about the passing of his fellow Planetary Society co-founder, Bruce Churchill Murray, who died yesterday at his home in Oceanside, California, at the age of 81.

   “Dear Richard [he likes to call me Richard],
   It is with great sadness that I write to tell you that Society co-founder, Dr. Bruce Murray, has passed away. Bruce died from the progressive effects of Alzheimer's Disease on August 29, 2013. We are saddened to be sure -- but we're also hopeful (even joyous) as we look back on Bruce's life and leadership -- his influence on planetary exploration, his students at Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and The Planetary Society will live on to inspire a better future.
   Bruce was my mentor, boss, colleague, and friend for more than half my life.  It was a great privilege and terrific experience to work with him.
   You can read more about Bruce on our website in the obituary by Charlene Anderson and me.  Charlene was the Society's first employee, Editor of The Planetary Report and Associate Director of the Society.
   Like you, every one of us at The Planetary Society shares in this loss.  On our website we’ve provided a way for you to share your own stories about Bruce or to offer a written tribute.    Together, we will celebrate a great man.

Louis Friedman
Executive Director Emeritus

   “The Planetary Society is a non-government, nonprofit organization supported by more than forty thousand members; anyone can join. It is involved in research and engineering projects related to astronomy, planetary science, exploration, public outreach, and political advocacy. It was founded in 1980 by Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman, and has members from more than one hundred countries around the world.
   The Society is dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System, the search for Near Earth Objects, and the search for extraterrestrial life.” -Wikipedia

   The Planet Society was founded in 1980. I became a member about 10 or 11 years later while working in Pasadena just after Salvation Diary days. Through the Society I’ve had the opportunity to indirectly be involved with, and help sponsor, projects like the Society’s  Lightsail project, which consists of three ultralight spacecraft which utilize sunlight as a propulsion system, and the LIFE (Living Interplanetary Life Experiment) experiments, a two-part program designed to test the ability of microorganisms to survive in space, which involved sending little tiny bugs into space aboard the shuttle, when it was still operational, and to Mars.
   I would have been hard pressed to carry out these projects on my own as they were very expensive, and I have to admit I lacked the expertise to successfully organize them.
   Through the Society we also bitch at Congress to keep up the funding for NASA and it’s space exploration projects. This is becoming difficult due to the sequestration cuts and the Republicans non-sensical mania to cut Federal spending (perhaps they should donate their own salaries for the cause).
   We do other things as well, like advocate for the study of objects like asteroids and comets that may come close to our planet, and searching for extraterrestrial life.
   Bill Nye (the science guy) is the current executive director.
   Although not connected to The Planetary Society, you too can help in the direct search for extraterrestrial radio signals through the Seti@Home project (hosted by the Space Sciences Laboratory, at the University of California, Berkeley), if your computer isn’t doing anything when you’re not using it.
   Because of The Planetary Society my name, Richard Ruprecht Joyce, is etched on to two different microdots, which have landed in two different locations on the planet Mars (Ares Vallis, or "the valley of Ares" where the Mars Pathfinder Mission set down in 1997, and in Gale Crater, where the Mars Science Laboratory landed in 2011).
   Dr. Bruce Murray helped make that happen. He along with Dr Louis Friedman, and the late Dr Carl Sagan, made that happen.
   I had the honor of meeting Dr Murray on at least two occasions at Society events, one of them when he introduced Dr Stephen Hawking when he was promoting his book and film, “A Brief History of Time,” in Pasadena.
   Below Dr Friedman and Charlene Anderson, who knew Dr Murray much better than I did, share their memories:

   “One of the most remarkable minds of 20th century exploration was stilled this morning, August 29, 2013, when Bruce C. Murray died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 81. The Planetary Society owes its existence to Bruce, who with Carl Sagan, decided in 1979 that the world needed an organization that would harness the public’s fascination for planetary exploration and demonstrate to politicians that voters would support those who supported planetary exploration. Bruce and Carl directed the organization together for sixteen years, until Carl’s death, and Bruce took over as president for another 5 years.
   The world knew Bruce Murray as Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, from the triumphant Viking landings on Mars, through Voyager’s encounters at Jupiter and Saturn, to the start of Galileo to Jupiter and Magellan to Venus. Discover magazine dubbed him “the Admiral of the Solar System,” a title for which he took a lot of teasing from those who knew and loved him. Bruce’s great hero was Captain James Cook, the great explorer of the seas, and he may have been secretly pleased to have been given a title – even if entirely unofficial -- that recalled great explorers of the past.
   As a young man, Bruce did not set out to become a planetary explorer. He went through MIT through the ROTC program, and after getting his PhD in geology, he served two years with the US Air Force. He then spent several years prospecting for petroleum for Standard Oil. He found his way to Caltech where, in the early 1960s, geologists were beginning to look at Earth’s neighboring ball of rock, sometimes called the Moon, as an object worthy of study.
   Bruce became a pioneer in planetary imaging and earned an appointment as a professor of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology. He began his Caltech career by using big telescopes, such as the 200-inch Hale telescope on Palomar Mountain, to observe the Moon and Mars through the infrared to try to figure out what substances lay on their surfaces. As the Space Age progressed and people started launching spacecraft to get close to the planets under study, Bruce was appointed to the Imaging Team for the first Mariner missions to Mars. His skills in imaging, wrangling fellow scientists, and communicating with the public led to his appointment as Imaging Team Leader for the Mariner 10 mission to Mercury. Not long after that success, he was appointed Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
   Bruce profoundly influenced the course of planetary exploration from the very beginnings of the space age. On a personal note, he profoundly influenced us as our leader at The Planetary Society, as a family friend, and for one of us (LDF) as a mentor and boss at JPL before The Planetary Society. (I was assigned to go meet Bruce Murray on my first day of employment at JPL, to work on the Mariner-Venus-Mercury (Mariner 10) mission where Bruce was the lead imaging scientist --- LDF).
   It is through its spectacular images of other worlds that the space program has captured the hearts and imaginations of members of the public. Few know that, without Bruce, there might not be so many wondrous images to entrance us. In the early days of planetary exploration, the idea of taking along a camera to snap pictures of the planets was controversial. The space science community was dominated by physicists who thought taking pictures was a public relations stunt that would eat up data, spacecraft power and mass resources that should be reserved for other instruments that they found more scientifically valuable. Working with his colleagues at Caltech, notably Robert Leighton and Robert Sharp (for whom Mt. Sharp is named on Mars), Bruce changed that. He literally helped change our picture of the solar system.
   The planet Earth, especially the dry desert areas that entrance many a geologist, was also a target for Bruce’s scientific ponderings, even while he led the charge to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and beyond. Through his work on so many worlds, Bruce helped invent the field of comparative planetology. Those scientists who today study planetary processes such as seismic events, climate change, the history of water, cratering, and so on by comparing them among different worlds are following in Bruce’s footsteps.
   A key to Bruce’s success was his willingness to reach out to others who might have something to teach. When he and Carl saw the need for an organization that would promote and defend planetary exploration, they did not have a clear idea of how such an organization should work. Bruce enlisted the aid of John Gardner, who had served as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964, before going on to found Common Cause and become an expert at building of public constituencies. Gardner became Bruce’s mentor and taught him the steps to building an organization like The Planetary Society.
   For example, Bruce initially thought that a simple mimeographed newsletter would be sufficient means to communicate with Planetary Society members. But those who, like John Gardner, Bruce enlisted to help form the organization (as well as Carl, of course) emphasized that the gorgeous color pictures of the planets were our best and most inspiring means of communicating the value and inspiration of space science. Thus, was born The Planetary Report.
   While Bruce had a reputation for suffering fools badly – a trait his mother frequently lectured him about – he was remarkably willing to change his mind and admit when he was wrong. He acknowledged the expertise of others and attracted brilliant people to his projects. At The Planetary Society we saw this when he was willing to dismiss his reservations about the use of direct mail to build our large membership base. In his scientific work, he was willing to overcome his skepticism about the accessibility of water on Mars. His rigorous insistence on intellectual honesty often made him controversial, especially when dealing with the often contentious politics of the space program. But those same qualities made him widely admired and sought after for advice on the direction the space program should take into the future.
   Bruce was honored by the Society twice with formal dinners, once in 1990 on the occasion of the Society's 10th anniversary, and again in 2002 when he formally retired from Caltech and stepped down as President of The Planetary Society.
   Bruce also gave direction to Planetary Society programs. He initiated our deep involvement in the development of a Mars balloon, first with students in a summer program at Caltech, next with research and development funded by members of The Planetary Society, and then in close collaboration with French and Russian scientists. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Soviet Union meant that a Mars balloon never flew — or one has not flown yet. The concept lives on.
   Together with Carl, Bruce also pushed the Society into the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) when U.S. government support for it at NASA was curtailed. This led to our multiple SETI projects that began with Suitcase SETI in 1982 and continue today. Bruce and Carl also encouraged the Society to support the search for exoplanets at a time when it was relegated to borrowed time on a few small telescopes at minor observatories. SETI has yet to make a discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence, but scientists following Bruce and Carl’s lead have certainly vindicated their prescience by finding exoplanets nearly everywhere they look.
   With his wife Suzanne, Bruce traveled extensively, not just as tourists but in connection with in-depth involvement in science programs. He was a visiting Professor at the University of Paris, a Visiting Associate at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and a Visiting Professor in Japan at the Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences. Bruce served as an interdisciplinary scientist on several Russian Mars missions and participated on the Soviet-French Venus-Halley mission. He served as Director of Kerr-McGee Corporation, as a member of the NASA Advisory Council, Chair of the COMSAT Technical Advisory Council, a member of the ARCO Scientific Advisory Council and of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
   Bruce’s most visible legacy may lie with the institutions with which he was principally associated: Caltech, JPL, and The Planetary Society, but his biggest legacy is the outstanding group of planetary scientists who were once his students. So many of the great discoveries of the last few decades of planetary science have been made by those who were trained in their work by this demanding, gruff, brilliant, and deeply caring man. Every human and every robot now exploring the planets owes a debt to Bruce Murray. We were enriched by having known the man; the world of science and exploration is so much poorer for his loss.”

   And here is one of those students,  Bruce Betts, now Dr Bruce Betts, a planetary scientist who earned a B.S. in physics and math and an M.S. in Applied Physics from Stanford and a Ph.D. in Planetary Science with a minor in Geology from Caltech, and now Director of Projects for The Planetary Society.

   “I am saddened by the loss of my professor and mentor, Bruce Murray.  I celebrate him here by sharing some personal memories and reflections. There is much to respect, and also much to amuse as we reflect on the life of this great man.
   My first connection to Bruce Murray was his signature on the membership card of The Planetary    Society.  Yes, I carried my card in my wallet.  I had joined while in high school when The Planetary Society was established.  Whenever I looked at the membership card, I always focused on the signatures: Carl Sagan, and this guy named Bruce C. Murray.  (Random Bruce Murray fact: his middle name--Churchill).  Then, I went about my life, and eventually was accepted to Caltech Planetary Science for graduate school.  That first summer, I was assigned to carry out summer research with Bruce.  Before having met him, I just thought: cool, this is the guy whose signature I have carried in my wallet for years!
   One of the first things I learned about Bruce after arriving at Caltech was that he had completed his Ph.D. in two years – a terrifying thing to learn about a potential graduate advisor.  I tried to sooth myself that he had done that at a little-known, lesser institution – MIT.  Later he told me that he had been very focused on finishing his Ph.D. quickly because he thought he might get called to active duty in the U.S. Air Force at any time for the Korean War or its aftermath.  Still.  2 years.  Yikes.
    As I got to know Professor Murray, he was… different when compared to other faculty.  Bruce had returned to teaching shortly after his stint as director of JPL and co-founding The Planetary Society.  Bruce had a broader perspective on the whole space exploration process.  That meant, as a student, one may have gotten less of his time focused purely on science, but, in return, one got an introduction to the broader world of planetary exploration.  Mind you, he and all the other professors held the students accountable for excellent science, but Bruce also got his students involved with other strange endeavors that had impacts on space exploration more broadly--like The Planetary Society.
    Bruce had different sides to him.  In meetings or seminars, he filled the obligatory role of Caltech faculty (and former Caltech students J) as cranky, dubious, skeptical questioners of all things presented to them.  He also was focused on trying to bore into the core issue of a matter, sometimes at the expense of pesky details.  I can’t tell you how many times he asked people, including me, to sum up what they were talking about in 25 words or less – I did so in my Ph.D. defense as a joking response.
    Being a Bruce Murray graduate student was also an interesting process when I interacted with others in the field.  People in space exploration tended to either really like or really dislike Bruce Murray, likely as a result of his big personality, strongly expressed opinions, and positions of power he held.  That actually tended to work out well for me as a graduate student.  Others in the field would either help me because they liked Bruce, or pity me because they didn’t.
    Bruce involved his students as free labor supporting The Planetary Society – a hidden benefit many members weren’t even aware of.  It was through Bruce, and those I had met at the Society, that I was called back into the fold at The Planetary Society as Director of Projects, after stints doing planetary science research and working at NASA Headquarters.
    Of course, there are memories involving Bruce that I don’t like to think about, like Ph.D. oral qualifying exams, or Soviet saunas.  But there are many I like to focus on, like his kindness to and concern about my family, his insights into the scientific process, his great big belly laughs, his slamming his hand on the table and shouting “Damn it, Lou [Friedman]!”, his unabashed sporting of side burns long after the 1970s, and his unveiling of the amazing world of Martian geology to me.
    Bruce Murray affected me more than just about anyone else other than my family.  I will miss him.  The worlds will miss him.”

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