National Academy of Engineering Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10
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Memorial Tributes: National Academy of Engineering, Volume 10

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             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                         277
                           CHARLES A.ZRAKET
                CHARLES A.ZRAKET, retired chief executive officer of the MITRE
            Corporation, died in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 3, 1997. Charles
            A.Zraket, known to his many friends as Charlie or CAZ, was born on January 9,
            1924, in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Charlie received all his education and did
            most of his work in Massachusetts. He received a B.S. degree (magna cum laude)
            in electrical engineering from Northeastern University in 1951 and the M.S.
            degree in electrical engineering (cum laude) from the Massachusetts Institute of
                Charles A.Zraket is one of the pioneers in the field of information systems
            engineering who continued to expand his interests and contributions as the field
            developed and grew. Charlie was one of a small number of engineers working on
            the new digital computers in the early 1950s. In 1951, while still a student at
            MIT, Charlie joined the pioneering MIT Digital Computer Laboratory, beginning
            a career that spanned the revolutionary developments in digital computing
            hardware and software. As a member of the MIT group that built the Whirlwind
            computer (now in the Smithsonian Institution), he designed the hardware and
            software system that permitted the machine to accept real-time inputs, a truly
            groundbreaking effort at that time. When the MIT Lincoln Laboratory was
            formed, he served as a group leader in the Digital Computer Division until 1958.
            Without the operating systems common today, Charlie and his co
             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                         278
             workers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory designed and tested the weapons direction
             and intercept guidance system for the prototype air defense system called the
             Cape Cod System. He led the group responsible for design of the planned
             operational air defense system (SAGE) and the formulation of the operational and
             mathematical specifications for the SAGE system. This experience contributed to
             the development of tools for software development and provided an important
             forerunner for the large software industry today.
                In 1958 the development work at MIT Lincoln Laboratory had demonstrated
             the feasibility of an air defense system using the new technologies of digital
             computing, digital communications, and advanced radar in an integrated system,
             and the first centers of the SAGE system were declared operational. Charlie
             became one of the founding members of a new nonprofit company, named
             MITRE, spun off by MIT to carry on further developments in air defense and
             other computer-based military systems. At MITRE, Charlie’s work on SAGE led
             to his involvement in numerous other military systems employing
             communications, command, control, and intelligence (C3I). Always looking for
            new challenges, Charlie founded the Civil Systems Division of MITRE, which
            provided information systems engineering to civilian agencies such as the
            Federal Aviation Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space
            Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency. He became president
            and chief executive officer of MITRE in 1986 and retired from MITRE in 1990.
                Following his retirement, Charlie continued as a trustee of MITRE and
            became a scholar-in-residence at the Center for Science and International Affairs
            of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, served on the boards
            of several not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, and was an active volunteer
            with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Research Council.
                Charlie transferred his experiences and wisdom through numerous advisory
            activities, including service with the Defense Science Board; the Science,
            Technology, and Public Policy Program, Harvard University; the Center for
            Arms Control and In
             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                         279
             ternational Security, Stanford University; the Center for Naval Analysis; and the
             Hudson Institute.
                Charlie Zraket was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in
             1991. His citation reads, “For significant engineering contributions related to
            information systems and national defense.” Charlie was a fellow of the American
            Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement
            of Science, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and the
            Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Charlie was also a member of
            engineering honor societies Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, and Sigma Xi.
                For the National Academy of Engineering, he served on the 1997
            Nominating Committee, the Committee on Membership (1995 to 1997), and the
            Special Fields and Interdisciplinary Engineering Peer Committee (1993 to 1996).
            His service for the National Research Council preceded his election to the NAE
            and continued afterward. He was a member of the Commission on Physical
            Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications and served on many committees. One
            of special importance was the Panel to Review Earth Observation System
            Distribution (EOSDIS) Plans (1992 to 1993), which he chaired, combining his
            systems engineering talent and his interest in the environment.
                Charlie was awarded an honorary doctorate of engineering by his alma
            mater, Northeastern University, in 1988. He received the MIT Distinguished
            Corporate Leadership Award in 1985 and was awarded the Department of
            Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service. He has also been awarded the
            American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Reed Aeronautics Award for
            1993 and the Air Traffic Control Association Medallion Award for outstanding
            contributions to the science of air traffic control.
                Charlie was a hard worker with many interests and gave his time and energy
            to many people and organizations. Charlie was a “doer,” one of his greatest
             characteristics. He was smart, street wise, energetic, and well organized. When he
             took responsibility for a job, and he took on many, the work was done well and
             promptly. As a result he was in great demand and had admirers around the world.
             He spoke and wrote often on both technical and policy matters and served on
             numerous boards, including
             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                         280
             BankBoston, Emerson Hospital, the Computer Museum, and the Volvo advisory
             board. His many interests ranged from defense research and development through
             arms control to energy and environmental policy.
                Despite his many public commitments, Charlie always had time for his wife
             and his four children as well as his extended family, which included his younger
             brothers and their families. Charlie was head of the clan and was never too busy
             to provide help and counsel. He enjoyed people and had many friends, ranging
             from Herman Kahn, the futurist, to Bob Berks, the sculptor. Kahn chose him for
             the board of his Hudson Institute while Berks presented him with a bronze
             likeness. Charlie enjoyed a lively debate with friends and coworkers, often over a
                One of his great pleasures was golf, which he enjoyed wherever he happened
             to be. Charlie was a money player in golf as in life. He played best when the
             chips were down.
                Only a few of his close friends knew all of his interests and
             accomplishments, but all of us will miss him and continue to regret that we did
             not know him better.
             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                                 281
             CHARLES A.ZRAKET                                                 282
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