Charles P. Sonett
In 1973, Gerard P. Kuiper (1903-1973), widely considered to be the father of modern planetary astronomy, invited Charles P. Sonett to be his successor as director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and to head the new interdisciplinary Department of Planetary Sciences, chartered that year by the Arizona Board of Regents. As a space exploration pioneer, Sonett was involved in numerous spacecraft programs, including the Pioneer Program, the Explorer Program and the Apollo Program–missions that dramatically advanced our understanding of the solar system, its planets and moons and beyond.
During his term as the second LPL director and first planetary sciences department head (1973-77), Sonett presided over a dramatic expansion. He built research and education programs in solar system science that became internationally recognized. In 1992, Sonett was named a Regents' Professor, the highest academic rank at the UA. Sonett retired in 2003 as a Regents' Professor Emeritus.
Read more about Professor Sonett: Charles P. Sonett: the Legacy of a Pioneering Space Scientist
Director, Department Head
Planetary Sciences graduate coordinator Pam Streett passed away suddenly on September 30 after a brief illness. Pam had been with LPL since 1989; her first position was as a part-time secretary working for Professor William Boynton. In 1993, she transferred to the Academic Office as a full-time Administrative Assistant, before transitioning to her most recent role as graduate academic advisor (Program Coordinator) in 2005.
Pam was dedicated to her family and to the success of her LPL family—the many graduate students she helped to guide toward degree completion. She was a close colleague to her peers across the UA campus and a fan of UA Wildcat basketball. Outside of the office, Pam enjoyed craft projects and scrapbooking. She was active with the local Girl Scouts program and fostered animals through local rescue groups. Pam touched many lives with her kind heart, bright smile, and big laugh. Several generations of LPL faculty, staff, and students mourn her passing; we will miss her always.
Karen's life was characterized by a generosity of spirit, an uncommon warmth of personality, and a light-hearted sense of humor. A woman of many passions, Karen had a great love for nature and she pursued many outdoor adventures, particularly hiking. The breadth of Karen's life experiences also cemented in her a deep commitment to service to others both in Arizona and abroad. Her spirit, passion and philanthropy truly knew no borders. In Arizona, Karen worked for 17 years at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. She was also a highly regarded graphic artist. Karen's loss will be felt deeply not just in Arizona and her home-state Nevada, as her life transcended cultures and geographies. She spent many of her latest years traveling and living abroad, in both Canada and Peru in support of her husband's work, and her years living in Peru were marked by her work to create positive social change. In the Peruvian and Canadian communities where she worked and was well known, Karen's loss will also continue to be deeply felt. Karen, born in Las Vegas, Nevada, passed away on June 28, 2011. She is survived by her husband, Andy; her parents, multiple siblings, nieces and nephews. Those who wish to honor Karen's memory and her immense contributions to the lives of so many can do so through donations in her name to Doctors without Borders.
Former longtime LPL staff member Tom Teska passed away on March 15, 2013. Tom was the Manager for Mike Drake's Microprobe Lab from the early 1970s until 1998, when he retired.
Thomas M. Teska 79, passed away March 15, 2013. He was born in Chicago in 1933 to Emma and Thomas Teska. Surviving are his wife, Shelley Esterquest; son, John Teska; daughter, Jennifer Teska; grandson, Andrew and five stepchildren. Tom will be remembered by the many people with whom he shared his life in loving marriages, service to the Unitarian Church, and work at the University of Arizona. Through his hobbies, his gifts of charity, his good humor and his love, Tom gave so much to the people around him. He will be dearly missed.
A Memorial Service and Celebration of his life was held on Tuesday, March 26, 2013, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 4831 E. 22nd St., Tucson. Memorial gifts in Tom's honor may be made to the charity of your choice.
Research Specialist, Senior
Randy Tufts, the co-discoverer of Kartchner Caverns who helped keep the underground wonder a secret for 14 years to guarantee its preservation, died Monday. He was 53. Tufts died at University Medical Center after a long battle with the rare blood disease known as myelodysplastic disorder syndrome, according to a statement issued by friends and family members.
Tufts was born in Tucson and graduated from Palo Verde High School. He went on to graduate in 1972 from the University of Arizona, majoring in geology and serving as student association president. While at the university, Tufts helped create and lead the Arizona Student Services Corp., which founded several student businesses to provide income for student services.
Tufts embarked on a 12-year career in public policy after leaving the UA. He helped lead the grass-roots organization Citizens Take the Initiative and helped found and direct Tucson Public Power, which challenged proposed rate increases of former utility Tucson Gas and Electric Co.
During the late 1990s, Tufts turned his attention to conducting research as a UA planetary scientist studying Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. He is credited with discovering the 600-mile San Andreas-like fault "Astypalaea" on Europa. Tufts earned a Ph.D. in geosciences at the UA at age 50.
He was diagnosed with MDS two years ago, and in November 2000 he received a bone-marrow transplant from his only sibling, Judy Rodin. The transplant took, and Tufts began to recover. Then in late January of this year, his body unexpectedly rejected the transplant and he fell ill.
Besides his wife and sister, Tufts is survived by his mother, Carol Tufts, of Tucson. Memorial donations may be made to the Tucson Light the Night Walk of the Desert Mountain States Chapter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Suite E-100, 2990 E. Northern Ave., Phoenix, AZ 85028.
Robert E. Watson Jr., known to friends and family as "Bob," passed away on August 2nd, 2018, at the age of 72 years, in Tucson, AZ. Bob loved Tucson and spent many years there until his passing. He did move about the United States during his military years and settled in Minnesota working for Sperry Univac and other companies where he traveled around the world before moving back to Tucson. He loved his furry friends and had many pets over the years. As an advocate for the Humane Society he enjoyed supporting them with donations as well as a few adoptions. He also loved to take his dog Sadie everywhere he went, including to the Tucson Botanical Gardens. He enjoyed reading, using the internet, and watching movies on the subjects of Science Fiction and Fantasy, but loved all kinds. You can tell this by the hundreds (literally) of movies he had in his collection.
He served as a Captain and Missile Launch Officer in the Air Force, after which he obtained a Master’s Degree in computer science from the University of AZ. He spent most of his career developing computer programs and his last employer (before retiring) was the University of AZ where he worked at the Lunar Planetary Lab as Staff Engineer, specifically working on the Cassini project. Bob will be forever remembered by his family, daughters, Barbara (Shawn) Knoth and Sheron (Tim) Prinsen, brother, Edward (Cynthia) Watson. Bob will also be forever remembered by his numerous nephews and extended family and dear friends. He was preceded in death by his wife Sandra Watson (Clark), his parents, Robert Watson Sr. and Margarita Watson, Wayne L. Clark Jr and Elsa Clark and Grandparents.
Ewen A. Whitaker came to Tucson in 1960 with Gerard P. Kuiper to conduct a lunar mapping project. Whitaker soon found that his work was just what NASA needed, and played a pivotal role in the first lunar missions: Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter. The mapping project produced the first compositional maps of lava flows on the moon—maps made possible by Whitaker's pioneering use of groundbased differential UV/Infrared lunar photography. These maps were instrumental in the selection of landing sites for the Surveyor and Apollo missions. Along the way, Whitaker worked with Kuiper to build and grow the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) into a leader in the field of planetary science. Ewen retired from LPL in 1987, but never gave up his research in lunar selenography and nomenclature (the subject of Whitaker's Mapping and Naming the Moon is the history of lunar maps and nomenclature).
Following his retirement, Ewen was a regular visitor to LPL, taking time away from hobbies like clock repair to participate in outreach events and help to answer questions about the moon or LPL history, fulfill requests for information, and archive lunar maps and glass observing plates. Scientists, reporters, amateur astronomers, and historians sought him out for his expertise. In 2011, he was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by the University of Arizona's College of Science, which recognized his "contributions to the UA, mankind and science." In 2014, he was interviewed extensively in the documentary Desert Moon.
For more information about Ewen Whitaker, visit:
Associate Research Scientist
Laurel L. Wilkening
Cosmochemist Laurel L. Wilkening (1944-2019) began her career at LPL in 1973, joining the faculty as an Associate Professor. Her research focus was comets and meteorites; she was editor of the University of Arizona Press Space Science volume, Comets (1982). Professor Wilkening served as LPL Department Head and Director from 1981-1983 before moving on to other prestigious administrative positions, including service as Dean of the UA Graduate College (1987-1989) and also as Vice President for Research, Vice Provost, and Acting Dean of Sciences. During her scientific career, she served on many national commissions and committees related to the U.S. space program, including terms as Vice Chair of the National Commission on Space, Vice Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Programs, and Chair of the Space Policy Advisory Board.
From the beginning of her faculty career, Professor Wilkening was instrumental in the development of women's studies at the University of Arizona, teaming with Professor Myra Dinnerstein to advocate for creating an academic department; she served on the Women's Studies Advisory Council, which formed to generate financial and political support for the Women's Studies department. Professor Wilkening endowed The Myra Dinnerstein International Travel Fund for Dissertation Research on Women and made the lead monetary gift in support of the Women's Plaza of Honor, where she was honored with a gift by her husband, Godfrey Sill. Today, the Department of Gender and Women's Studies offers a B.A. with optional concentrations in Chicana/Latina Studies and Sexualities and Queer Studies concentrations; J.D./M.A. in conjunction with Rogers College of Law; a graduate certificate program and, since 2008, a Ph.D. program in Gender and Women's Studies that is already within the top six nationally.
Professor Wilkening achieved a number of firsts: at the University of Arizona, a she was the first person to serve as Dean of Sciences and first woman to serve as a Vice President. She was also the first woman to serve as Provost at the University of Washington, the first woman to serve as Chancellor at the University of California, Irvine, and the third woman to serve as a Chancellor of a University of California campus.
In 2001, Professor Wilkening was interviewed for the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. News of a bequest made by Dr. Wilkening in support of the LPL field trip program was announced in 2013.
Director, Department Head
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