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Alcorn exceled in missile research

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

George Edward Alcorn Jr. attended Occidental College in Los Angeles where he earned eight letters in basketball and football and was an honors student studying physics. He received his bachelor's degree in 1962 and a master's in nuclear physics from Howard University a year later.

Alcorn earned his doctorate in physics in 1967, but not before he spent time as a research engineer with the Space Science Division of North American Rockwell. There he performed computer analysis of launch trajectories and orbital mechanics involving missiles. Specifically, he worked on the Titan I and II and the Saturn IV. It was here that he began an association with NASA -- one of only a few African Americans to work on such projects at the time.

Alcorn's research was funded by a series of NASA grants. He specialized in developing experimental techniques and equipment for chemical analysis and possible detection of life in space. His work led to eight patents. He also pursued missile research, working on classified military projects involving missile re-entry and defense.

While Alcorn achieved rapid success in basic research, he also committed himself to teaching. He joined the faculty at Howard University, and over the course of the next 25 years rose through the rank of professor.

He continued his NASA work at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, where he began to focus his efforts on the transfer of technology and commercialization of NASA research. The goal was to extend the benefits of NASA research. Alcorn eventually was made chief of GSFC's Office of Commercial Programs, overseeing all of the center's technology transfer efforts.

-- By John G. Radzilowicz, director, Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium & Observatory

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