This obituary is written by Dr. Ambrose Jearld, Jr., past president of the National Technical Association, America’s oldest minority technical professional organization.
It was announced in the Dec. 31 Obituary Section of the Washington Post newspaper that Dr. George Carruthers passed away on December 26, 2020, at the age of 81.
The National Technical Association (NTA) mourns his loss and extends its condolences and words of encouragement to his wife, Debra Irene Thomas Carruthers, an NTA member, and to the entire Carruthers family during this time of bereavement.
The world-renowned scientist, aeronautical and aerospace engineer; astrophysicist; inventor, and science educator, left a remarkable scientific legacy and led a life that should be emulated. He dedicated much of his life to public service. During his more than four-decade career, he significantly improved the world’s understanding of space and earth science. His pioneering instrumentation, the far ultraviolet camera, and the images it took were among the most significant achievements of the early US Space Program. For the first time, the world could see the Earth’s upper atmosphere with far-ultraviolet light, and the halo of hydrogen around our planet.
He was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in 2003 and received the 2011 National Medal for Technology and Innovation from
President Barack Obama in 2013. Equally important as his scientific accomplishments, is his life’s work as illustrated in science education outreach and community activities. His life helps us to understand what it means to be human, care about others, and use our talents among those around us.
Dr. Carruthers was a quiet gentle spirit. His quiet and unassuming demeanor made him one of those people that you meet in life and everyone has nothing but good things to say about him. He was a scientific genius, no doubt, but more than that he was the type of person most good people strive to be. He was often seen going here and there, peddling along on his bicycle while crisscrossing the streets of the District of Columbia. He was always willing to cooperate/collaborate and do more than his share of the work with the same accuracy and care that he gave to an important scientific experiment. His style was to rarely complain, but rather focus on solving the problem. He was
admired by peers and colleagues who sort to emulate him. He was not as impressed as others were by his achievements, because he always maintained the child-like joy of doing the things that he most enjoyed – science and sharing it.
He was never self-promoting because he was too busy working to bring out the best in others. He sincerely believed that preparing the next generation of scientists and engineers, especially African Americans, and other underrepresented minorities, was just as important as advancing the frontiers of science. This is evidenced by the long hours he spent working within the local community and being a part of it. Science education and community outreach were a manifestation of his life’s purpose. The importance and value of community and
family engagement was the message that he left behind. We should always remember his message to remind ourselves of why he was so highly revered by the scientific community, family, and friends.
We have lost an icon, but in his passing retained the real essence of the man.
Dr. Carruthers was born October 1, 1939, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, the eldest of George and Sophia Carruthers’ four children. He developed an interest in science while in elementary school. His focus was astronomy and space travel. He earned an undergraduate degree (B.S.) in Aeronautical Engineering in 1961; graduate degrees (M.S.) in Nuclear Engineering in 1962, and (Ph.D.) in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering in 1964, all from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. For over 40 years, he worked at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and collaborated with NASA on many space missions. In 1972, when the far ultraviolet camera that he invented went to the moon on Apollo 16, it became the first lunar observatory. For that feat, he received worldwide recognition.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) honored him for his pioneering work. He is a recipient of the Arthur S. Flemming Award which is given to outstanding federal employees by the Washington Jaycees; 1972 NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal; and the 1973 Warner Prize for a significant contribution to observational or theoretical astronomy during the five years preceding the award. In 2003, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the 2011 National Medal of Technology and Innovation awarded by President Barack Obama in 2013.
He was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Development Fund for Black Students in Science and Technology, the National Technical Association, and the National Society of Black Physicists.
George’s accomplishments and his major role in helping professional and community organizations to develop science education outreach programs at the secondary and post-secondary levels did not go unnoticed by the African American community. For example, the National Technical Association (NTA), the country’s oldest minority technical professional organization, submitted George’s nomination for induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for a period of years until he finally was inducted. Likewise, NTA submitted his nomination for the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
In recognition of the impact of his science education outreach contributions on behalf of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities, NTA awarded him its Samuel R. Cheevers Award for distinguished service. He was also awarded the NTA A.T. Weathers Award for Technical Achievement. George was a lifetime member of NTA, joining in 1974 serving as Editor of the Journal of the National Technical Association and NTA Newsletter for over two decades.
Dr. Carruthers was also a founding member of the organization, Science, Mathematics, Aerospace, Research and Technology (S.M.A.R.T), Inc. that started in 1986 and served as Vice President for about 30 years. When S.M.A.R.T became a member of the DC Space Grant Consortium, he represented S.M.A.R.T. at its meetings; developed Earth & Space Science courses that he taught at Howard University for students and teachers that were funded as part of its workforce development effort.
He refurbished Howard’s unused and unknown observatory with resources that the Consortium granted. After the telescope was refurbished, S.M.A.R.T and the Howard University Department of Physics & Astronomy held public viewings when something astronomical was going on in the universe. Dr. Carruthers, along with NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center space scientists gave related presentations at the preceding S.M.A.R.T. Family Night Programs. Guests for these activities ranged from toddlers to senior citizens.
Dr. Carruthers may you rest in peace among the stars. You will never be forgotten for your scientific contributions or your service to mankind.