Mars scientist and astrobiology architect, Dr. Gerald Soffen,
NASA scientist Dr. Gerald Soffen,
who led the Viking science team that performed the first
experiments on Mars, died Nov. 22 at George Washington University
Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 74.
Soffen served as project
scientist of the Viking Mars Project while at NASA's Langley
Research Center in Hampton, Va. The two Viking landers reached the
Martian surface two months apart in 1976.
More recently, as a close advisor
to NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, Soffen helped shape NASA's
astrobiology program -- the study of life in the universe. Soffen
also was instrumental in the establishment of the NASA Astrobiology
Institute dedicated to studying the origin, evolution, distribution
and destiny of life in the universe.
Dr. Soffen brought a vision
and passion to space exploration that was remarkable, said
Goldin. His pioneering work on the Viking missions paved the
way for the creation of our astrobiology effort. Gerry's lasting
legacy to us is he helped usher in a new era of discovery that will
bring a new understanding of fundamental life processes on Earth
and throughout our universe.
Twin robot landers, launched in
1975, touched down on the Red Planet a year later -- the first
missions to perform unmanned experiments on the surface of the
planet. Soffen was responsible for all of the scientific
investigations, directing the activities of more than 70 scientists
through the United States.
Later at Langley, Soffen served as
the chief environmental scientist, developing theoretical models,
laboratory experiments, ground-based measurements and remote
sensing by satellite.
Space has lost one of its
true adherents, Dr. Jeremiah F. Creedon, director of NASA
Langley, said of Soffens death.
Soffen had been planning the 25th
anniversary celebration of the Viking landings, said A. Gary Price,
a former NASA Langley senior manager who worked with Soffen on the
Mars mission and stayed in touch over the years.
But even then his emphasis
was not on the past but on doing something to inspire and excite
the youth and the next generation of young leaders and scientists
to carry on his dream, Price said. He cared immensely
about others and never tired of pursuing his passion, the search
for extraterrestrial life and the understanding of our
In 1978 he was named director of
Life Sciences at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he
directed programs to ensure the medical and biological well being
of space shuttle astronauts and oversaw biomedical, space biology
and exobiology programs.
Soffen joined NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in 1983 where he helped to
establish the Mission to Planet Earth program and served as the
project scientist for the Earth Observing System at its beginning.
Soffen formed the University Programs Office at Goddard in 1990. In
1993, Soffen created the NASA Academy, a summer institute of higher
learning to help guide future leaders of the space program.
Science and students were
his loves, said Goddards director, Al V. Diaz. He
was one of the finest scientists I had had the pleasure to work
with. He was a brilliant researcher, but what made Gerry really
special was his lifelong passion for sharing his extraordinary
knowledge with young people. The agency and the nation will
continue to benefit enormously from the talented young people he
has brought into the scientific community.
Soffen began his NASA career more
than 30 years ago at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he
managed biological instrument development at the Pasadena,
Soffen was born in Cleveland, Ohio
on Feb. 7, 1926. He received his Ph.D. in biology in 1961 from
Princeton University. He earned his master's of science degree from
the University of Southern California and bachelor's degree from
the University of California, Los Angeles.
He is survived by his wife,
Kazuko, and a sister, Nancy Guy, who lives in California. Soffen
will be buried in Hampton, Va. A graveside ceremony will be held
Sunday, Nov. 26 at 1 p.m. at the Park Lawn Memorial Park in
Hampton. Immediately afterward, a reception will be held at the
Virginia Air and Space Center on Settler's Landing Road in
- end -
Responsible NASA Official:
C. W. Cleghorn
R. D. Allen