Today in Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month History – 2001: Charles Elachi

Charles Elachi officially assumed his duties as the eighth director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a California-based federally funded research and development center and NASA field center. Elachi had been born in the town of Rayak in Lebanon in 1947.

Elachi received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France; and a master’s degree in engineering from Grenoble Institute of Technology. Elachi then moved to the United States, earning a master’s degree and a doctorate in electrical sciences from the California Institute of Technology. In addition, he has received a master’s degree in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California.

Elachi began working at JPL in 1970. For more than four decades, he served as a researcher and science investigator on numerous space exploration missions and projects. Elachi has also authored over 230 publications. As JPL’s director, he oversaw a total of 24 space exploration missions launched by the organization. Elachi served as director until 2016.

“I marvel at what we have accomplished together,” Elachi stated in an email to JPL employees in which he reflected on his 15 years as director. “An array of missions to Mars — Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the lander Phoenix and the rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity — have provided exquisite detail of that planet. Cassini has explored majestic Saturn and its fascinating moons. Cloudsat, Jason 1, Jason 2, Aquarius, OCO-2, GRACE, SMAP and a host of science instruments have provided vital information about the state of our planet.”

Elachi is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He has also received a large number of awards, including the Aviation Week Lifetime Achievement Award, Philip Habib for Distinguished Service Award, and the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. In outer space, an asteroid was named 4116 Elachi in honor of his extensive contributions to planetary exploration.

For more information on Charles Elachi, please check out https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4754 and https://www.gps.caltech.edu/content/elachi-retire-jpl-director

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