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BY PHILIP L. VARGHESE AND BYRON D. TAPLEY
Professor HANS MICHAEL MARK passed away in Austin, Texas, on December 18, 2021, at the age of 92. He was born June 17, 1929, in Mannheim, Germany. His career evolved in a unique and remarkable ...
Professor HANS MICHAEL MARK passed away in Austin, Texas, on December 18, 2021, at the age of 92. He was born June 17, 1929, in Mannheim, Germany. His career evolved in a unique and remarkable path through academic and federal government institutions, and he made significant contributions to both. His major accomplishments include contributions to the precise determination of the wavelengths of nuclear gamma rays, to the development of X-ray astronomy, to various fields of nuclear instrumentation, and to the development of more accurate atomic wave functions.
With his family, young Hans escaped Nazi Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria and finally arrived in the United States in 1940, becoming a US citizen in 1945. He received a BA in 1951 from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954, both in physics.
He remained at MIT as a research associate and acting head of the Neutron Physics Group, Laboratory for Nuclear Science. He returned to the University of California in 1955 as a research physicist at the Berkeley campus, then at the university’s Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, where he served until 1958. After a brief period as an assistant professor of physics at MIT, he returned to the Livermore Radiation Lab’s Experimental Physics Division, where he remained until 1964, when he was designated chair of the UC Department of Nuclear Engineering and administrator of the Berkeley Research Reactor. Throughout this period he was also active in teaching and taught courses at UC, MIT, Boston University, and Stanford University.
In 1969 Dr. Mark was appointed director of NASA Ames Research Center, where he was a major force behind the success of the incredible Pioneer space probes. He also tirelessly championed the Ames center at NASA headquarters, and forged valuable alliances with surrounding universities and private industries, transforming the center into an institution with broadened influence and importance both within NASA and in the aerospace community.
In addition, he initiated his own research in aeronautics, focusing on the use of advanced computational techniques to study aircraft and spacecraft flow fields—he championed the use of computational fluid dynamics to reduce the cost and time associated with aerodynamic wind tunnel testing.
He left Ames to serve as under secretary (1977–79) and secretary (1979–81) of the Air Force and, concurrently, director of the National Reconnaissance Office (1977–79). In 1981 President Ronald Reagan appointed him deputy administrator of NASA, a position he held for three years.
During his service with the Air Force and the NRO, Dr. Mark made important classified contributions related to the problem of nuclear deterrence. With NASA, he played an influential role in developing the space shuttle and in establishing the international space station. The challenges related to these events are described in his monograph, The Space Station: A Personal Journey (Duke University Press, 1987).
In 1984 he was hired as chancellor of the University of Texas system and in 1992 he became the John J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering at UT Austin, in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. As chancellor, he continued his support for high-performance computing by overseeing the development of a systemwide high-performance computing capability, which came to fruition in the early 1990s and provided a significant stimulus to academic research. He also improved programs of the UT system minority universities, and brought UT Brownsville and UT Pan American into the system.
By supporting the technical development of the state of Texas, he helped to bring the semiconductor research consortium Sematech to Austin in 1988, and its operation over the next decade helped catalyze the transformation of Austin to the technology hub it is today.
He returned to Washington in 1999–2000 when President Bill Clinton appointed him director of Defense Research and Engineering at the Pentagon.
In 2001 he rejoined the University of Texas, where, as a professor of aerospace engineering, he devoted extensive effort to his teaching. He taught the introductory freshman course for many years, inspiring students with his first-person accounts of significant events of the space age. His students, many of whom rose to leadership positions in academia, industry, and federal laboratories, remember him for his insight, accessibility, and humor.
His numerous honors reflect the achievements of a lifetime of service. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering (1976) and an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (2001). He received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal (1972); UT Austin’s Joe J. King Engineering Achievement Award (1999); the George E. Haddaway Medal for Achievement in Aviation (1999) from the Frontiers of Flight Museum; the American Astronautical Society’s Military Astronautics Award (2006); the Space Foundation’s highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award (2008); and the Air Force Space Command’s Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award (2012).
Professor Mark was a voracious reader, focusing on histories and biographies. He had a passion for sailing, and weekends were often spent on the family’s CAL 31 sailboat in San Francisco Bay. His family remembers adventure-filled vacations crewing chartered boats sailing the Pacific around Fiji, the Baltic near Sweden, and the Adriatic near present-day Croatia. He maintained his love for the Austria of his youth and frequently visited Vienna.
Professor Mark is survived by his wife of 70 years, Marion “Bun” Thorpe Mark; two children, James Randall “Rufus” Mark and Jane Mark Jopson; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.