NASA mission renamed to honor AE alumnus George Carruthers

12/23/2022

George R. Carruthers
George R. Carruthers

NASA renamed their Global Lyman-alpha Imager of the Dynamic Exosphere, or GLIDE mission to the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory on December 2 at a ceremony hosted by The Grainger College of Engineering. The renaming honors George R. Carruthers, a prominent, three-time Illinois alumnus. He earned a B.S. in '61 in aerospace engineering, an  M.S. in '62 in Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering, and a Ph.D. in '64 aerospace engineering. 

As one of the first African American men to earn a doctorate in astrophysics,  George R. Carruthers is known as a trailblazer. He invented the camera that took the first images of space, significantly improving our understanding of space and earth science. 

Mrs. Debra Carruthers, wife of the late Dr. George R. Carruthers, accepts a plaque on his behalf on Dec. 2 at the GLIDE renaming ceremony hosted by The Grainger College of Engineering. Photo Credit: University of Illinois   Left to Right: Dr. Susan Martinis, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Nicola Fox, Heliophysics Division Director, NASA, Mrs. Debra Carruthers, wife of the late George R. Carruthers, Robert J. Jones, Chancellor, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Lara Waldrop, Carruthers Observatory PI, Y.T. Lo Fellow in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rashid Bashir, Dean, The Grainger College of Engineering.
Left to Right:  Susan Martinis, Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation, Nicola Fox, Heliophysics Division Director, NASA, Mrs. Debra Carruthers, wife of the late George R. Carruthers, Robert J. Jones, UIUC Chancellor,  Lara Waldrop, Carruthers Observatory PI, Y.T. Lo Fellow in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Rashid Bashir, Dean, Grainger College of Engineering. 

“Dr. George R. Carruthers faced deep challenges in the 1970s as a Black man in the astrophysics and engineering fields. But his love for science and discovery powered him through, leading him to become one of the most important scientists of our time. The Carruthers Geocorona Observatory reflects his accomplishments since the mission involves imaging Earth’s exosphere and documenting those changes in space – which is what Dr. Carruthers decided his career to,” said David DeVorkin, Senior Curator, History of Astronomy and the Space Sciences, National Air and Space Museum.

President Barack Obama will present College of Engineering alumnus George R. Carruthers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House.
 President Barack Obama presenting Carruthers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House.

The astrophysicist had an insatiable drive for science, which led him to engineer a whole new class of optical instruments that led to significant scientific discoveries. In 2012, President Barrack Obama awarded Carruthers with the National Medal for Technology and Innovation in recognition of his many groundbreaking achievements.

“We are so thankful that NASA decided to rename the GLIDE mission after Dr. George R. Carruthers, an illustrious alumnus from the Aerospace Engineering Department at The Grainger College of Engineering. He exemplified everything it means to be a Grainger engineer – tenacious and innovative. The Carruthers Geocorona Observatory will build off his discoveries and deepen our ever-changing knowledge of space,” said Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering at Illinois.  

Carruthers’ passing in 2020 was a tremendous loss to the physics community, but he will continue to be remembered as an amazing scientist who impacted millions of people. Led by Illinois, the Carruthers Geocorona Observatory will survey the geocorona, the outermost layer of Earth’s atmosphere, and provide key information about how this layer interacts with the complex space system at large. This is the first mission dedicated to tracking changes there. Its target launch date is 2025.