Researcher and Past Arecibo Observatory Director Gordon Pettengill, W1OUN, SK

photo of Gordon Pettengill, W1OUNFrom the ARRL Letter, May 27, 2021:

Renowned physicist, astronomer, and past Arecibo Observatory Director Gordon Pettengill, W1OUN, of Concord, Massachusetts, died on May 8. An ARRL member, he was 95.

“He was instrumental [as Arecibo Observatory Director] in getting some ‘telescope time’ at that facility for hams to do EME (moonbounce) on 432 MHz, giving a lot of hams with modest stations a shot at making a QSO via moon reflection,” said Chip Taylor, W1AIM. “He was the first person to use that big dish to do radar mapping of the surface of Venus, Mercury, Mars, and various asteroids and comets. And he was a mentor to many of us interested in microwave communication.”

A World War II combat veteran, Pettengill completed his bachelor’s degree at MIT after the war, then received a doctorate in high-energy physics at the University of California-Berkeley. His career in radio astronomy took off when he joined MIT Lincoln Laboratory, using the Millstone Radar in Westford, Massachusetts, for astronomical observations.

In 1963, he moved to the newly opened Arecibo Observatory. He was named its director in 1968. In 1977, he was Principal Investigator of the radar aboard the Pioneer Venus Orbiter that created the first near-global topographic map of any planet, and in the 1990s he was the Principal Investigator of the Magellan mission to Venus.

Pettengill was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1979, and served as Director of MIT’s Center for Space Research from 1984 until 1989. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980 and spent his sabbatical at the University of Sydney, Australia. He retired in 1995. He was active on the air until recently.

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