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elected in 1979
“For contributions to the development of rocketry, c
elected in 1979
“For contributions to the development of rocketry, combustion research, and
the international literature in aeronautics and astronautics.”
By yVoNNe c. Brill aNd leoNard H. caVeNy
MarTiN sUMMerfield, pioneer in rocket propulsion and
combustion research who transformed the american rocket
society into a leading professional organization and precursor
of the american institute of aeronautics and astronautics,
died in Hightstown, New Jersey, on July 18, 1996.
Martin Summerfield was born in Brooklyn on October
20, 1916. He graduated from Brooklyn college with a B.s.
in physics at the age of 20. in 1936, the middle of the great
depression, with no prospects for employment in science or
technology, he immersed himself in the Nyc neutral-accent
speech-training program in hopes of qualifying as a teacher.
an assistantship to the california institute of Technology
(caltech) involving optical physics laboratory work enabled
him to extend both his studies and associations. even then he
had no illusions about gaining employment as a scientist after
graduation. His associations with Professor Theodore von
Kármán and the technological buildup accompanying World
War ii changed everything and immersed him into a lifelong
whirlwind of activity.
He received an M.s. in 1937 and a Ph.d. in 1941, both in
physics from the caltech. He was Professor John donavan
Strong’s first Ph.D. student. Martin began his pioneering
career in rocket research while he was a graduate student. in
the 1940s he worked closely with Professor von Kármán on
390 MeMorial TriBUTes
the air corps Jet Propulsion Project, serving as assistant chief
engineer. He made early discoveries enabling modern high-
thrust liquid rocket engines. He guided the development of
liquid propellant rocket engines leading to the first practical
U.s. jet-assisted takeoff (JaTo) of aircraft.
By 1942 development of the JaTo units was so successful
that the army air corps asked the caltech researchers to
go into production, by producing 2,000 units by the end of
1943. That entailed von Kármán, Edward S. Forman, Andrew
g. Haley, frank J. Malina, John W. Parsons, and Martin
Summerfield forming the start-up company that they named
the aerojet engineering company. in 1944, aerojet, located 15
miles east of Pasadena in azusa, was bought out by general Tire
& Rubber of Akron, Ohio, which could provide the expansion
of the products desired by the U.s. department of defense.
The company was accordingly renamed aerojet general.
during the hectic JaTo development, Martin worked with the
colorful John W. Parson, credited with the key invention of case
bonding solid propellants. from 1945 to 1949, he continued his
research at the Jet Propulsion laboratory of caltech, as chief
of the rocket research division. Martin rarely commented on
his caltech and early rocketry experiences. His focus was on
in 1949 he accepted an invitation to move to Princeton
University to become general editor of the new Princeton
series on High speed aerodynamics and Jet Propulsion,
whose purpose was to provide the literature for these rapidly
developing fields. In 1952 he turned over the editorship to
Joseph V. charyk and continued full time as a professor.
Martin Summerfield and Eileen Budin were married on
august 31, 1945; their daughter Jacqueline is a musician
in california. His two grandchildren are pursuing careers
in materials science and astronomy. The Summerfields
maintained ties to california and always found time
to spend a month or so at their beachfront second home at
from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, Professor
Summerfield established a world-class combustion and solid
MarTiN sUMMerfield 391
propulsion laboratory at Princeton University for student
research. The propellant processing, motor fabrication, motor
testing, combustion, and diagnostic capabilities were full
featured and among its distinguishing physical features. He
recruited and trained professional staff and technicians to
work with forefront high-energy solid propellants and high-
pressure systems. The 30 years of operation with no injuries
or accidents is a testimony to his exacting leadership. Martin’s
activities were part of the Princeton University Mechanical
and aerospace engineering Propulsion sciences center in the
guggenheim laboratories, which included luigi crocco and
david T. Harrje (liquid propulsion), irvin glassman (ramjets
and monopropellants), robert g. Jahn (electric propulsion),
and Jerry grey (nuclear propulsion).
His collegial ties to the basic research leaders in the U.s.
department of defense, National aeronautics and space
administration (Nasa), and U.s. department of energy helped
shape national technology policy. He enjoyed continuous
funding from those agencies. of the 47 dissertations and theses
he supervised, all dealt with some aspect of combustion.
He maintained a dynamic stability in his staff and
continuity in his students. from this base he ventured into
new challenges, including the 1970s focus on airliner fire
safety, understanding tobacco combustion in the pursuit of a
safer cigarette, coal gasification, and jet engine noise reduction.
His laboratories, on the sprawling forrestal campus, occupied
about a third of the New guggenheim laboratory Building,
a 1964 three-story office and high-bay laboratory complex
partially funded by a Nasa construction grant. His unique
propellant processing and high-pressure test stands were in
adjacent specially constructed buildings.
Martin was tireless. His staff members were certain his
stamina and drive would outlast them all. He looked forward
to the holidays and breaks between classes, the time all the
graduate students could spend full time in his laboratories.
Premier laboratories often have a leader who sets high
standards and pursues excellence at the expense of immediate
popularity and personal time. Martin was such a leader.
392 MeMorial TriBUTes
He set difficult and deliberate agendas for his graduate
students. He stressed thinking beyond the immediate problem
so their Ph.d. research would not be the intellectual high point
of their careers. He led his students by a dynamic process of
adjusting their research goals to topics that made a difference.
His list of publications reflect how quickly he moved on to the
next challenge rather than engage his students in projects that
might have been variations on a theme. Where plausible, he
insisted his students get the full research experience ranging
from designing an apparatus, checking it out, and taking the
data, while being enmeshed in the development of a theory to
interpret the results. This process was always uncertain and
often caused his talented students to reach for another level
of resilience. enthusiastically, he added topics to a graduate
student’s thesis requirements. Many of his students entered
the propulsion community, on graduation, fully up to speed
and well connected, in part the result of multitopic dissertation
His strong sense of international involvement was reflected
in his selection of graduate students. Most of his international
students were a direct result of one of their professors
or mentors visiting his laboratories and subsequent
recommendations. The students who returned to their
home countries maintained strong ties to him and their U.s.
He relished the broad international nature of the aerospace
research. The parties he and his wife eileen had at their home on
lake carnegie in Princeton were memorable for the broad cross
section of staff, students, colleagues, and friends. They were
truly international affairs, often prompted by visiting foreign
scientists. He recognized the benefits of international scientific
exchanges as a precursor to better world relationships. for
example, the ties he helped maintain with the russians in the
1960s and 1970s are the basis for the present-day interactions by
his students and staff. He relished assigning offices to visiting
scientists. for example, arie Peretz of israel’s rafael systems,
Ltd., and his new officemate Vadim B. Librovich of Moscow’s
institute of Problems in Mechanics soon became good friends,
MarTiN sUMMerfield 393
just as the professor planned. He expertly kept in touch with
his international counterparts through such activities as being
vice president of the international astronautical federation
from 1963 to 1965 and editor-in-chief of its journal, Acta
Astronautica, from 1966 to 1973.
He loved the Joint army, U.s. Navy, Nasa, and air force
interagency Propulsion committee’s combustion meetings.
They were his forum for works in progress prior to submission
to peer review. He would wait out the obviously weak
presentations and save his comments for his peers. The sight
of Professor Summerfield entering a conference room (often
to the right of the speaker, to benefit his better ear) and taking
a seat near the front brought anticipation to the audience that
a good presentation would be followed by pointed questions
and observations. They were seldom disappointed. after
carefully listening to the speakers’ interpretation of their data
set, he would offer his unique insights. during a session break,
he was the first to approach the speakers for more discussion.
He was content to let his staff and students make national
presentations. They too could anticipate new observations
from their coauthor following the presentation.
He was committed to the embryonic american rocket
society (ars) and its successor, the american institute
of aeronautics and astronautics (aiaa). as editor of the
ARS Journal, he was the major force transforming ars into
a technical society to be taken seriously and ready for its
leadership position in time for the late 1950s space race.
ARS Journal readers were never far from the practical, since
the journal included hardware and employment ads, patent
summaries, book reviews, and so forth. in 1962, during the
critical merger forming aiaa, he served as ars president.
in 1960, Martin was the founding editor-in-chief of its
book series ars and later AIAA Progress in Astronautics and
Aeronautics. These types of contributions earned him the
Pendray award for literature in 1954. He served as volume
editor of and contributor to Solid Propellant Rocket Research,
Volume 1 of the Progress series, published in 1960. later, he
coedited with former students several additional volumes for
394 MeMorial TriBUTes
the series. In 1963–1964, Martin served as the AIAA’s first vice
president for publications. He continued to be very active on
the Publications committee as an honored emeritus member.
He always gave high priority to ars and aiaa. any author
in his Progress Series will testify to the difficult standards
he set. He found the first disclosure in the form of an AIAA
preprint satisfying and would often engage the next challenge
without offering his preprints for journal publications. since
the aerospace profession will never have a more effective
champion of its refereed publications, this is a contradiction.
Readers of his papers never have to hunt for the significance of
his results, figures, and tables; he taught two generations how
to highlight results.
Professor Summerfield, the rather formal leader ofa
laboratory, became the congenial guest when he visited a staff
member’s home. He could be expected to bring something to
amuse his guest’s children—for example, a trick way to fold a
Martin relished taking combustion and propulsion research
into new and topical areas. He thrived on the intellectual
challenge of convincing others how spinoffs of his research
facilitated addressing other problems. examples of this
include jet engine noise, coal gasification, oil fires, smoldering
of construction, and upholstery foams. His involvement with
the National academy of engineering, government panels,
and industry consulting were constant sources of new relevant
research. in 1977 the aiaa Wyld award commended his
wide-ranging contributions to rocket propulsion.
The Princeton community debate over the Vietnam War
referred to the defense department’s funding of some of
Martin’s research. Threats to march on his laboratory to
confiscate files were met with cordial invitations to tour
all aspects of the laboratory. Martin loved to talk about his
research, particularly the physics of the phenomena. The
groups there to question his activities left with the knowledge
that the research was being done in a “fish bowl” for all to
Martin satisfied his entrepreneurial zeal by forming
MarTiN sUMMerfield 395
Princeton combustion laboratory, inc., in 1975, with two
young associates. He and Neale a. Messina evolved the
company into Princeton combustion research laboratories
(Pcrl), well respected in the community and noted for its
combined experimental and analytical treatment of complex
high-pressure combustion systems. around 1994 the company
was acquired initially by lockheed Martin. shortly thereafter,
Martin began to reduce his activities due to failing health and
relinquished his role in Pcrl. He remained active as an advisor
and a vigorous campaigner for technical approaches in the
national interest. in 1996 he was elevated to honorary fellow
by the aiaa, our aerospace community’s highest honor.
Martin Summerfield was a genius. Anyone who worked
with him will testify to that. He surrounded himself with the
most capable people, recruited the brightest students, and
attracted colleagues who would challenge him technically.
In the final analysis, Martin’s insights were often the defining
interpretation of difficult physical problems . . . and he loved
it. He had the ability to see through the first interpretation to a
more satisfying one.