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For release: 07/30/03
Release #: 03-132

Alexander City, Ala. native Dr. Jonathan W. Campbell — full-time NASA astrophysicist/part-time Methodist pastor

Photo description: Campbell

As a NASA astrophysicist and research scientist at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC), Dr. Jonathan Campbell explores the feasibility of using powerful lasers to deflect asteroids, meteoroids and other space debris that potentially could be harmful to Earth. He also ministers part-time at two Methodist churches in Jackson County, Ala. The NSSTC is a partnership with the Marshall Center, Alabama universities and industry.

Photo: Campbell (NASA/MSFC)

Once while discussing the experience of flying jets as opposed to smaller aircraft, Dr. Jonathan Campbell's grandfather said "It seems to me that it is not how you get up there among the clouds that really matters, it's just being 'there'." Dr. Campbell has been 'there' since, active in many endeavors from helping to defend the Earth to helping rural congregations grow spiritually.

As a NASA astrophysicist and research scientist at the National Space Science and Technology Center (NSSTC) in Huntsville, Ala., Campbell supports key NASA programs by researching advanced projects, technologies and concepts for future NASA missions. The NSSTC is a partnership between Alabama universities, industry, research institutes, federal agencies and NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Campbell is currently exploring the feasibility of using powerful lasers to deflect asteroids, meteoroids, comets and other space debris that potentially could be harmful to Earth, as well as to space missions. He also works with industry on high-resolution imaging technology for homeland defense and medicine — systems that could lead to less intrusive and more convenient mammograms.

"I enjoy creating meaningful new ideas that will make a difference in the future as our civilization reaches outwards into space towards the stars," Campbell said. "While I have contributed to many different NASA projects, I feel that none have a higher long-term priority than Earth defense - a multi-layered space infrastructure protecting people, as well as all that our civilization has and will accomplish."

While he's known as "Dr. Campbell" at NASA, he's known as " Rev. Campbell" at two small Methodist churches in rural Jackson County, Ala. Campbell said he's "proud" to follow in the footsteps of his late father, Rev. Harry Campbell, a former World War II Marine and an ordained Methodist minister who also ministered over many years in several North Alabama churches.

Campbell strongly believes in what his father taught him — that all human endeavors must be "led by the spirit" to be meaningful. "Our faith teaches us that this personal commitment enables individuals to transcend themselves to become increasingly better human beings," Campbell said. "Meeting the challenge of space flight is one way our civilization may transcend itself to become increasingly better for our children in the future."

He also learned from his mother, Sarah Ruth, to never waver from his faith when times get tough. She was rock solid in her faith even though, after battling it for years, she fell victim to cancer in her 40s.

Growing up in Alexander City, Ala., Campbell recalls as a young Eagle Scout in the early 1960s, touring Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal, home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. This was a defining moment for him, as it triggered his interest in the space program. He dreamed of traveling to the stars, and wanted to learn more about interstellar space flight — the idea of extending human civilization to explore other stars, and perhaps colonizing other worlds in other solar systems.

As a student at Alexander City's Benjamin Russell High School, Campbell, a Beta Club and National Honor Society member was selected to compete in the National Academic Olympics. He excelled not only in academics but also in football, baseball, and martial arts. "In those days, the one thing we were really passionate about was football," Campbell recalled.

Following high school, Campbell decided to follow his dream of spaceflight and entered Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., where he pursued a degree in Aerospace Engineering. While there, he also served in the Army's ROTC program as a hand-to-hand combat and rappelling instructor.

Before graduating from Auburn in 1972 as a Distinguished Military Graduate, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Gamma Tau, and Scabbard and Blade member, Campbell worked as a cooperative education student at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft in West Palm Beach, Fla., in the Space Shuttle engine development program.

Commissioned a Regular Army 2nd Lieutenant, he stayed at Auburn to earn a master's degree in experimental plasma physics and then went on active duty to command an Air Defense Missile platoon in Germany and later was assigned to Army and then Air Force intelligence positions.

In 1981, he joined NASA's Marshall Center, working in areas ranging from the Space Shuttle's main engine to Electric Propulsion to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Campbell is also a noted authority on astrophysics and space science, receiving numerous awards, three patents, and writing more than 75 publications. And when he's not writing, he's constantly reading. "I love to read, as it challenges the imagination to a greater extent than TV or movies," Campbell said.

Campbell was recently selected for the NASA Administrator's Fellowship Program and will spend a year in outreach to Alabama A&M University to support their educational efforts to advance technical career opportunities to underrepresented minorities and women.

While going on to receive a second master's degree in engineering management and a third in theoretical physics, as well as a doctorate in astrophysics and space science, Campbell also found time to serve 30 years in the Air Force Reserve. Before his recent retirement, Col. Campbell was awarded the Legion of Merit, recognizing members of the U.S. Armed Forces for outstanding conduct in serving their country.

When he's not behind the pulpit or trying to figure out ways to protect the Earth, you'll likely find Campbell fulfilling a life-long dream taking to the skies. An active flight instructor, he has racked up more than 2,000 hours in the air, teaching folks to fly. And, you can also add coach to his many titles, since he has spent many "free" hours mentoring youngsters in soccer and baseball.

His "greatest" titles and adventures, though, come at home, where he is a "husband, father and grandfather." Campbell and his wife Charlotte, a retired teacher, have five sons, two golden retrievers, five horses and two granddaughters with another on the way who keep them "pretty busy." "Growing older, I realize that what is fundamentally important is not personal glory, climbing the career ladder, or other material considerations; rather that we can look back on our lives and see that we have done our best to use with compassion God's blessings to make a positive difference."

However, if he could work in another field, Campbell said he has a long list of things he'd like to do, ranging from building a high tech company to becoming an airline pilot. "Life is just too short," he said.

For more information:
News release
Space Station Science Ops News

Steve Roy
Public Affairs Office
(256) 544-0034


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