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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University November 14, 2005 | Vol. 35 No. 11
Obituary: Robert J. Thompson Jr., 88, Rocket Propulsion Specialist

By Margaret Brown
Applied Physics Laboratory

Robert J. Thompson Jr., a specialist in rocket propulsion technology who was instrumental in technical program development at the Applied Physics Laboratory, died Nov. 5 of multiple organ failure at the Hospice Unit of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. He would have been 88 on Nov. 10.

Born in San Francisco, Thompson received his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1940 from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1946 from the University of Rochester.

From 1943 to 1946 he was a research associate at the Alleghany Ballistics Laboratory in Cumberland, Md., a section of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Defense Research Committee created to improve American preparedness. His work there focused on solid propellants, internal ballistics studies and development of high-velocity aircraft rockets.

He was then chief of research at the M.W. Kellogg Co. in Jersey City, N.J., from 1946 to 1953, working in its special projects division; senior research engineer at Bendix Aviation in Teterboro, N.J.; and, at Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division in Cangoa Park, Calif., from 1954 to 1973, supervisor to the vice president and director of research, and later vice president and general manager of the solid rocket division.

Thompson came to Johns Hopkins in 1974. After serving as special assistant to the director of APL and a member of the program review board, he supervised the Technical Information Branch from 1979 to 1985. One of his responsibilities was to apply his expertise in rockets to overseeing the Chemical Propulsion Information Agency, which was then managed by the Laboratory.

He served on the editorial board of APL's Technical Digest and was also one of the principal architects of Johns Hopkins' master's degree program in technical management, which was developed by the Laboratory. That program, which began as part of APL's evening college, transferred in 1983 to the School of Engineering. Thompson continued to serve as vice chairman of the Technical Management Program Committee until 2005, even after officially retiring from APL in 1995.

Throughout his career, Thompson authored numerous technical articles and participated in various academic and professional societies, including the American Chemical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineers and American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He also was involved with the American Field Service, hosting exchange students in California and Maryland. He was interested in environmental and population issues, was a voracious reader and enjoyed poetry, listening to classical music and attending concerts.

Thompson is survived by his wife of 60 years, Nancy; two sons, William and John Thompson; a daughter, Ann Welch; and six grandchildren.

The family requests that donations in Thompson's memory be directed to the Nature Conservatory, the American Field Service, the Kossiakoff Systems Engineering Memorial Fund at the Whiting School of Engineering or Planned Parenthood.


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