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Death of Burt Edelson Highlights his NASA Legacy

Press Release From: NASA HQ
Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2002

More than 15 years after he left NASA, the late Dr. Burt Edelson's legacy can still be seen in NASA's Space Science and Earth Science programs.

Dr. Edelson passed away January 6 in New York City, where he was visiting family and friends. He was 75.

Between 1982 and 1986, he was NASA's Associate Administrator for Space Science and Applications. Soon after arriving, he approved the program that would provide for the development of new instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope.

"He had the vision and foresight to know that Hubble had to be maintained and upgraded," said Dr. Edward Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science, who was the Hubble program scientist in the 1980s. "He allowed us to start development of the second Wide-Field/Planetary Camera, which was installed during the first Hubble servicing mission and became the telescope's workhorse scientific instrument."

Coincidentally, on January 8, only two days after Dr. Edelson's death, a NASA Space Science Update unveiled the latest findings from the camera: evidence that a substantial portion of the stars in the universe formed relatively quickly after the big bang.

Dr. Edelson's influence can also be seen in NASA's Earth Science Enterprise, which grew out of Mission to Planet Earth, a program originally proposed in 1986 and formalized in the late 1980s.

"Burt Edelson sponsored the concepts that became Mission to Planet Earth, though it didn't become a program until after he had left NASA," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Science.

Dr. Edelson was a long-time advocate of the Landsat program and other applications of remote sensing research, said Dr. Asrar, and spent much of his professional life working for improvements in telecommunications satellite technology. He sponsored the development of NASA's Advanced Communications Technology Satellite, which was launched in 1993.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1947, he went on to receive his M.S. and Ph. D. degrees from Yale University in Metallurgy as part of his military service.

He was assigned to the Naval Research Laboratory in the mid- 1950s, where he started a series of distinguished space applications projects in navigation and positioning and in 1959 started the U.S. Navy program in satellite communications. Commander Edelson was assigned from 1962-65 to the new White House National Space Council. Upon his retirement from the Navy in 1967, he joined Comsat Corp. as the Deputy Director of the fledgling Comsat Laboratories. He became its Director in 1972.

Dr. Edelson provided the vision and leadership for a large number of new satellite communications components, systems and applications, including the development of small ground and ship terminals, space teleports, and geostationary platforms. Dr. Edelson retired from Comsat as a Senior Vice President in 1982. He retired from NASA in 1986 and became a Fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced and International Studies, in Washington.

His desire to have a satellite communications R&D center with engineering capability resulted in his 1991 founding of the Institute for Applied Space Research at the School of Engineering and Applied Science of the George Washington University in Washington. He remained active directing R&D projects, primarily in high data-rate satellite communications, until his death.

Dr. Edelson co-authored a number of books on satellite communications and had over 75 technical publications. He chaired national and international committees on science and engineering and served on the Boards of a number of emerging companies. He always emphasized the global nature of space and co-founded a number of international space programs including the Japan-U.S. Science Technology and Space Applications Program. He was a Member of the International Academy of Astronautics, a Life Fellow of the IEEE, and a Fellow of the AIAA, the AAAS and the British Interplanetary Society. He was a Member of the Cosmos and Army-Navy Club. He received numerous awards including the U.S. Navy Legion of Merit, the Yale University Wilbur Cross Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the SSPI Hall of Fame Award.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 49 years, Betty Good Edelson; his sons Stephen, John and Daniel and their wives Margaret, Catherine and Vivian; and his grandchildren Rachel, Kate, David, Rose and William.

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