In Memoriam: September 2015

IEEE mourns the loss of the following members

22 September 2015

Marjorie Townsend

First woman to manage a NASA spacecraft launch

Life Fellow, 85; died 4 April

Townsend was one of the first female engineers to join NASA, in 1959. Less than a decade later, she became the first female spacecraft project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Md.

Townsend enrolled in college at 15 and in 1951 became the first woman to receive an engineering degree from George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. She remained in Washington after graduating and joined the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) as a physical science assistant. She left to work on sonar signal-processing mechanisms for antisubmarine warfare at the Naval Research Laboratory, also in Washington.

After Townsend joined NASA in 1959, she helped develop some of the first successful weather satellites, including TIROS-1 and the Nimbus satellite series. From the mid-1960s to 1975 she managed the agency’s small astronomy satellite program and was responsible for the design, construction, testing, and orbital operations of NASA’s first astronomical spacecraft.

Townsend oversaw the development and launch of Uhuru, the world’s first X-ray astronomy satellite. It was sent up in 1970 to detect, survey, and map celestial X-ray sources and gamma-ray emissions in space. Uhuru was the first U.S. spacecraft to be launched by another country (Italy) and in a foreign location (Kenya). Findings from the Uhuru mission quadrupled the number of known X-ray sources in space at the time.

From 1975 to 1980, Townsend served as program manager for NASA’s Applications Explorer missions. For her contributions, Townsend received the agency’s Exceptional Service Medal and its Outstanding Leadership Medal. After retiring from NASA in 1980, she continued to work with government contractors in Washington. She was director of space systems at BDM International, a defense contractor, and then served as vice president of space systems development at Space America.

In 1972, she was named a Knight of the Italian Republic Order for her work on Uhuru. She served as president of the Washington Academy of Sciences and as chairman of a local chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, both in Washington. She was named an IEEE Fellow in 1980 for “management and technical contributions in the space exploration program.”


Boaz Porat

Professor of electrical engineering

Fellow, 69; died 8 May

Porat was a professor of electrical engineering at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.

From 1967 to 1972, he served as a lieutenant in the Israeli Navy. In 1972, Porat joined Rafael, an R&D company also in Haifa as a systems engineer. He was promoted to chief scientist in 1982.

The following year, Porat joined the Technion as a professor of electrical engineering, where his research focused on digital signal processing. He wrote two textbooks, Digital Signal Processing of Random Signals (Prentice Hall, 1994) and A Course in Digital Signal Processing (Wiley, 1996), which are still widely used. In 1997, he cofounded Savan, a company that developed the first very-high-bit-rate DSL (VDSL) modem. VDSL’s large bandwidth provided speeds of up to about 52 megabits per second. The following year, Savan was acquired by Infineon, a semiconductor manufacturer, headquartered in Neubiberg, Germany.

Porat was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 1993 for “contributions to the performance analysis of autoregressive moving-average parameter estimation algorithms and parametric spectral estimation techniques.” He also received the IEEE Signal Processing Society’s 1997 Technical Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to statistical signal processing. Porat received the Best Lecturer award at the Technion three times, as well as its 1994 Jacknau Award for Excellence in Teaching.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the Technion in 1967 and 1975. He also earned a master’s degree in statistics and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, both from Stanford.


Vernon Albertson

Former IEEE Region 4 director

Life Fellow, 86; died 6 June

Albertson served as director of IEEE Region 4 from 1993 to 1994.

From 1952 to 1954, he served as a communications officer in the U.S. Air Force and then worked in the private sector. He was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, from 1959 to 1963 before leaving to join the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, as a professor of electrical engineering.

Albertson’s research focused on complex electrical power systems. In 1965, he helped create the Minnesota Power Systems Conference. Cosponsored by the IEEE Power & Energy Society, this annual meeting has become the premier event for the electric utility industry in the Midwest. He founded the university’s Center for Electric Energy in 1981 and formed partnerships with several utilities. He was elevated to IEEE Fellow in 1990 for “contributions to the understanding of the effects of geomagnetic storms on power systems.” 

Albertson was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from North Dakota State University, in Fargo, and a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

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