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
Engineering. Thompson continued to serve as vice
chairman of the Technical Management Program Committee
until 2005, even after officially retiring from APL in
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