Frank B. McDonald [right] with astronomer James A. Van Allen.
Frank B. McDonald
August 31st, 2012
"Frank McDonald, NASA scientist, astrophysicist 50 years"
September 15th, 2012
Frank B. McDonald, an astrophysicist and former NASA chief scientist who helped design scientific instruments for research flights into space and who was a key force behind several initiatives and programs that helped scientists peer into the reaches of the solar system, died Aug. 31 at a scientific symposium in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Dr. McDonald, 87, had been a senior research scientist at the University of Maryland’s Institute for Physical Science and Technology. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage after giving a speech, said his wife, Irene.
Dr. McDonald’s career in space physics spanned more than a half-century, starting with experimental research in the mid-1950s to measure the radiation above the Earth’s atmosphere. His mentor in this effort was James A. Van Allen, a University of Iowa physicist who became a leader in space research and for whom the radiation belts encircling the Earth were later named.
With the help of the Navy, he and Van Allen concocted ‘‘rockoons,’’ small rockets lifted to 70,000 feet by balloons that would then thrust up to 350,000 feet. The rockoons carriedequipment to learn more about cosmic rays, high-energy particles in Earth’s magnetic field.
In the 1970s, Dr. McDonald was a leader on experiments that have gone to the remotest corners of the solar system. For the Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 crafts, he helped design, build, and use instruments to measure cosmic rays.