William J. O'Neil, who served as project manager of NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA from 1990 to 1998, has been named manager of the agency's first two Mars sample return missions, scheduled for launches in 2003 and 2005.
O'Neil, who was appointed in mid-November, had served as the chief technologist for the Mars exploration program in the interim, overseeing all aspects of technology development and implementation for NASA's long-range program of robotic exploration of Mars. This summer he led a comprehensive effort at JPL to redesign the architecture of the Mars sample return missions to determine the best approach for these first-ever missions.
Prior to his appointment as Galileo project manager, he served as the Galileo science and mission design manager during the spacecraft's development phase. The Galileo spacecraft is continuing its extended science mission to study Jupiter's major moons, atmosphere and magnetosphere. Galileo became the first spacecraft to orbit an outer planet and penetrate its atmosphere. On its circuitous route to Jupiter, the spacecraft also became the first to perform close-up asteroid studies when it flew past the asteroids Gaspra and Ida.
O'Neil's past assignments have included work, in the mid- 1960s, as a trajectory design and navigation engineer for the Lunar Surveyor project, which became the first robotic spacecraft to soft-land on the surface of the moon. He also served as navigation chief on the 1971 Mariner mission to Mars, the first U.S. spacecraft to orbit another planet, and navigation chief for the Viking mission to perform the first soft-landings on the surface of Mars.
Before joining JPL in 1963, O'Neil was as an aerospace engineer working in 1960 at the Boeing Airplane Company in Renton, Washington. From 1961 to 1963, he was an employee of Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, CA.
O'Neil earned his bachelor of science degree with distinction in aeronautical engineering in 1961 from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and his master of science degree in aerospace engineering in 1967 from the University of Southern California.
O'Neil is the recipient of NASA's highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal, and Purdue University's Distinguished Alumni Award. He also holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Padova, Italy, home of the Galileo spacecraft's namesake, 16th century astronomer Galileo Galilei.
O'Neil resides with his wife in Sierra Madre, CA, and has three adult children.
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