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Black Astrophysicist Dies, Designed Telescope That Flew on Apollo 16

The Big Picture

NASA astrophysicist and engineer Dr. George R. Carruthers, best known as the principal designer of a telescope that flew to the Moon on Apollo 16, has died at age 81.

About Dr. Carruthers

Dr. Carruthers was a leading astrophysicist with a lifelong interest in space science. He built his first telescope out of glass lenses and a cardboard tube when he was 10 years old. In the 1960's, he attended University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, a master’s degree in nuclear engineering, and a doctorate in aeronautical and astronautical engineering. He spent his entire career at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. In 1969, he earned a patent for a specialized ultraviolet telescope for use in observing radiation in space.

The Apollo 16 Telescope

His telescope flew aboard the Apollo 16 lunar module, which landed on the Moon on April 21, 1972. For nearly three days, astronauts John Young and Charles Duke used it to capture more than 200 images of Earth’s atmosphere, hundreds of stars, and distant galaxies. As described by the Washington Post, it was essentially "a planetary observatory on the moon, the first time such a sophisticated telescope had been used by astronauts in space."

Later Years

After retirement, Dr. Carruthers taught Earth and space science at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 2013, he received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation, presented by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony. He died on December 31, 2020. He was 81.


Dr. Carruthers was an African-American.


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