Robert Jastrow, R.I.P.


Physicist Robert Jastrow, founder and director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Mount Wilson Institute which manages Mount Wilson Observatory in California died last week at the age of 82. Jastrow, an excellent popularizer of science, was the author of Red Giants and White Dwarfs and The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe.

The New York Times' obituary correctly notes:

"He had a deep sense of the need to interpret science and make it available to the public," said Albert Arking, a former student of Dr. Jastrow. As an ambassador of science, he was a natural, Dr. Arking recalled, saying, "His enthusiasm for science was infectious."

Besides being a fan of his books, I got to know Jastrow in the mid-1980s when I was working as a television producer for the PBS foreign policy program American Interests. We had him on as a guest to debate the feasibility of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative a number of times. I later encountered him as a skeptic in the debate over the seriousness of man-made climate change (he was the head of the Marshall Institute which has published numerous reports highlighting defects in climate models, temperature data sets and the politicization of climate change science). Ironically, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies is now home to cllimate modeler James Hansen, one of the biggest proponents of the argument that unmitigated global warming is likely to be catastrophic.

Setting aside those scientific controversies, I will always fondly remember Jastrow for his generosity in taking me on a personal tour of the Mount Wilson Observatory several years ago. I got to see and touch the 100-inch Hooker telescope that enabled astronomer Edwin Hubble to discover in the 1920s that Milky Way was just one of billions of galaxies and that the universe was expanding. That was a moment of true awe for me.

The world will miss this happy warrior for science.