Faces of Leadership: The Directors of JPL
Dr. Theodore von Kármán (1881-1963)
JPL Director, 1938-1944
Hungarian-born Theodore von Kármán received a Ph.D. in engineering at Germany's University of Göttingen. He came to Caltech in the 1920s to advise the designers of a wind tunnel, and stayed to eventually become director of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory of Caltech (GALCIT). In 1936, he provided guidance to a group of Caltech graduate students and others who developed rocket motors and tested them in a dry river bed near Pasadena. This group, led by von Kármán, eventually received an Army contract to develop rockets for military use and the organization became known as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Von Kármán was Director until December 1944, when he went to Washington, DC to organize the Air Force's Scientific Advisory Board.
Dr. Frank J. Malina (1912-1981)
JPL Acting Director, 1944-1946
In 1936, Frank Malina was a graduate student at Caltech who worked with a small group of men, under the guidance of professor Theodore von Kármán, to develop and test rocket motors. In December 1938, Malina was asked to present a paper on the application of rocket propulsion to aircraft, to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Committee on Air Corps Research, which responded with a $1,000 grant to GALCIT and an additional $10,000 six months later. From 1941 to 1944, Malina was the chief engineer of the project, which developed and successfully tested solid-fuel Jet-Assisted Take Off engines (JATOs) in 1941 and went on to develop and test other propellants and liquid-fuel JATOs.
In 1944, after reports that German scientists were developing rockets for military use, US Army Ordnance established a contract with Caltech to produce guided missiles. While von Kármán was in Washington, DC, Malina administered JPL, and from 1944 to 1946 he served as Acting Director. In 1946, he left JPL. The following year he moved to Paris and began working for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), eventually becoming head of the Division of Scientific Research. In 1953, he resigned that post to begin a successful career as a kinetic artist.
Dr. Louis G. Dunn (1908-1979)
JPL Director, 1946-1954
Louis G. Dunn was born in South Africa and came to the United States in 1930. By 1940, he had earned a Bachelor of Science, two Masters degrees in mechanical engineering and a Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering from Caltech, where he joined the Caltech faculty before moving to JPL as Assistant Director in 1945. Dunn was part of a team sent to Europe during the last days of World War II for the US Army Ordnance Department and saw static firings of V-2 rockets.
After serving as Acting Director for several months in 1946, Dunn became Director of JPL in 1947 and presided over the rocketry program leading up to the development of the Corporal and Sergeant missiles. He resigned in 1954 to take over the Atlas missile project for the recently formed Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. After his retirement there, he became a cattle rancher in the Sierra Foothills south of Sacramento, California.
Dr. William H. Pickering (1910-2004)
JPL Director, 1954-1976
William H. Pickering was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and moved to the United States to attend Caltech. By 1936, he had earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D. in Physics. He then joined the Caltech faculty and by 1946 was a professor of Electrical Engineering.
During World War II, he conducted research on the absorption properties of cosmic rays with Dr. Robert A. Millikan and investigated Japanese balloon warfare techniques for the Army Air Corps.
Pickering was invited to JPL in 1944 on the basis of his experience designing telemetering devices and later headed the Corporal and Sergeant missile programs. In 1954, he succeeded Louis Dunn as Director.
During his 22 years as director, JPL also developed the first U.S. satellite (Explorer I); the first successful U.S. circumlunar space probe (Pioneer IV); sent Mariner spacecraft to Venus, Mars, and Mercury and Ranger photographic missions to the moon; landed Surveyor on the Moon and Viking on Mars; and began designing and building the Voyager spacecraft for a Grand Tour of the solar system.
Dr. Bruce C. Murray (1931-2013)
JPL Director, 1976-1982
Bruce C. Murray earned his Ph.D. in Geology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1955, was a geologist for Standard Oil from 1955-1958, served in the US Air Force, and then joined the Caltech faculty in 1960. During his time at Caltech, Murray was a member of the Mars Television Teams on Mariner 4, Mariners 6 and 7, and Mariner 9. He was the Television Team leader for the Mariner 10 flyby of Venus and Mercury.
He succeeded Dr. Pickering in April 1976 as JPL Director. During his tenure as JPL Director, Viking landed on Mars and the Voyager spacecraft encountered Jupiter, Saturn and nearby moons. Seasat orbited Earth to study the seas. Murray resigned from JPL in 1982.
In 1979, Murray, the late Carl Sagan and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society (TPS). He served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of TPS and was Professor Emeritus of Planetary Science and Geology at Caltech, where he taught courses in planetary surfaces and supervises graduate student research.
Gen. Charles H. Terhune (1916-2006)
JPL Acting Director, 1982
Charles H. Terhune earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University in 1938, before joining the Army Air Corps. By 1940, he obtained his pilot wings and an Engineering degree from Caltech. Terhune participated in combat missions during World War II as a Fighter Group Executive Officer and was later promoted to Commander. From 1947-1952, he worked in various positions in Washington, DC involving military guided missile development.
From 1952-1960, Terhune was involved in Air Force installation of nuclear weapons in aircraft and guided missiles, and was instrumental in bringing intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles to operational status.
In 1969, Terhune retired from military service with the rank of Lieutenant General, and became Manager of Administration at National Cash Register's Data Processing Division in San Diego, California. He became Deputy Director of JPL in July 1971, and served as Acting Director of JPL from July to October 1982. After he retired in 1983, the next Director of JPL, retired Air Force General Lew Allen, Jr., requested that he continue to serve JPL as a consultant. He chose to work in Advanced Technology and was instrumental in creating the Arroyo Center for the Army, which is now run by the RAND Corporation.
Dr. Lew Allen, Jr. (1925-2010)
JPL Director, 1982-1990
Lew Allen attended West Point and earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois. During his military career, from 1945-1982, he attained the rank of General and a position as Air Force Chief of Staff, served as director of the National Security Agency (NSA), and was a leading expert in the military space program. Most of the work he did during these years was heavily classified. He came to JPL as Director in 1982 and retired in 1990. Dr. Allen passed away on January 4, 2010.
During his time as Director, JPL launched several versions of Shuttle Imaging Radar and the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, sent Magellan to Venus, Galileo to Jupiter, and put Ulysses into a solar orbit.
Dr. Edward Stone (1936- )
JPL Director, 1991-2001
Edward Stone joined Caltech as a research fellow in physics after receiving his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago. Over the years, he held a variety of positions, from assistant professor to Vice President for Astronomical Facilities. In 1972 he became project scientist for the Voyager mission, a position he currently still holds. He was the Director of JPL from January 1991 to April 2001, when he went back to teaching at Caltech.
While Stone was Director, JPL's Mars Pathfinder and its Sojourner rover sent back images that were seen by millions of people on television and the Web. Among other successes were the Mars Global Surveyor, Deep Space 1, TOPEX/Poseidon, NASA Scatterometer, and the launch of Cassini, Stardust, and 2001 Mars Odyssey.
Dr. Charles Elachi (1947- )
JPL Director, 2001-2016
Charles Elachi was born in Lebanon and received a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Grenoble, France, and a diploma in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble (both in 1968). He received a master's degree (1969) and doctorate (1971) in electrical sciences from Caltech. He also earned a master's in business administration (1978) from USC and a master's in geology (1983) from UCLA.
Dr. Elachi taught at Caltech, served in a variety of research and management positions at JPL beginning in 1971, specializing in remote sensing, and became the Director of JPL in May 2001. During his tenure as Director, JPL was involved in more than 20 missions including Cloudsat, Jason 1 and 2, Aquarius, OCO-2, GRACE, SMAP, GRAIL, Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Phoenix, Cassini, Deep Impact, Stardust, Dawn, and Juno. Three rovers —Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity— reached Mars and provided detailed information about the planet.
After retiring from JPL in June 2016 he became professor emeritus at Caltech, allowing him to pursue research interests while continuing to participate as a science investigator on a number of missions. He continues to advocate and be a spokesman for a strong space and Earth science program.
Dr. Michael Watkins (1962- )
JPL Director, 2016-2021
Michael M. Watkins became Director of JPL on July 1, 2016. In this role he also served as a vice president of the California Institute of Technology, which staffs and manages JPL for NASA.
Watkins, an engineer and scientist, previously was on the staff of JPL for 22 years. In 2015-16 he spent a year at the University of Texas at Austin, where he held the Clare Cockrell Williams Chair in Engineering and was director of the university's Center for Space Research.