Jastrow, Robert 1925-2008

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Jastrow, Robert 1925-2008


See index for CA sketch: Born September 7, 1925, in New York, NY; died of pneumonia, February 8, 2008, in Arlington, VA. Astronomer, physicist, educator, commentator, and author. Jastrow was one of the earliest space scientists to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, and also one of the first to bring "hard science" into American living rooms, where ordinary television viewers and general readers could share his enthusiasm for the science and history of the universe and man's place in it. His credentials couldn't have been more stellar. Jastrow spent his first years with NASA as a division chief and chair of its lunar exploration committee. He moved to New York City in 1961 to establish the Goddard Institute for Space Studies and teach astronomy at Columbia University. He directed the institute for twenty years. During this time, Jastrow was also a frequent guest on television shows and a presenter of documentary specials intended to help the general public understand the principles of planetary science, gain a new perspective on the panoramic history of the universe, and glimpse tantalizing flickers of what the future could hold. He also produced several books on these topics, books that were very popular with the reading public and also drew the respect of critics and his own peers. Jastrow's career spanned more than fifty years, during which time he played an instrumental role in the creation of the new field of astrophysics and turned it into a serious hobby for an ever-growing fan base. He received many awards for his contributions, including the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and the Arthur S. Flemming Award for Outstanding Service to the U.S. Government. Jastrow's popular books include Red Giants and White Dwarfs: The Evolution of Stars, Planets, and Life (1967); God and the Astronomers (1978), in which he compared the big bang theory to the creation story of the Christian Bible and found striking similarities; The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe (1981), a natural history of the evolution of human consciousness, from the earliest reptiles to modern man, and a prognosis that the future might see a transformation of the human brain into a human-computer hybrid of sorts; and Journey to the Stars: Space Exploration—Tomorrow and Beyond (1989). Many of Jastrow's books were provocative, some generated serious critical reservations, but one in particular aroused a substantial amount of controversy. In 1984 Jastrow became the cofounder of the George C. Marshall Institute, a Washington "think tank" established to address topics related to the policy directives of the Reagan administration. From that connection emerged his most controversial book, How to Make Nuclear Weapons Obsolete (1985), a defense of Reagan's Star Wars plan, or strategic defense initiative. He also issued statements skeptical of the catastrophic potential of climate change and man's role in global warming. Jastrow finished his career as a professor at Dartmouth College until 1992, and as chair of the trustees of the Mount Wilson Institute until 2003.



Chicago Tribune, February 18, 2008, sec. 2, p. 12.

Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2008, p. B13.

New York Times, February 12, 2008, p. C14.

Washington Post, February 15, 2008, p. B7.