William G. Fastie, a retired researcher in Hopkins' Physics and Astronomy Department, died July 14 of pneumonia. He was 83.
Although he never formally studied astronomy, Fastie was a space researcher for most of his life, and was a driving force in the expansion of Hopkins' Physics Department into astronomy in the 1960s. That work, together with a key design modification he developed for instruments on space-based probes and satellites, led many to call him "the father of the Hopkins space program."
Born in West Baltimore, Fastie first came to Hopkins in 1934 for classes in the night school. He studied physics and optics at Hopkins for seven years but never received a degree.
In the 1940s, he left to work at a corporate laboratory in Philadelphia. He returned to Hopkins five years later, and never left again. He retired in the 1970s but stayed active until a stroke left him bedridden two-and-a-half years ago.
"He convinced you that anything was possible, and he knew how to make these things which seemed impossible work," Paul Feldman, chairman of the Physics and Astronomy Department, reminisced for the Baltimore Sun.
Fastie's key contributions to astronomy included the development of a spectrometer that used one mirror instead of two. The small size and ruggedness of the new design made it possible to mount the device on spacecraft. A spectrometer he designed was the first to measure ultraviolet light from the aurora borealis; later spectrometers would go to Mars, Jupiter and Venus.
Fastie was also a key player in bringing the Space Telescope Science Institute to the Hopkins campus. He was involved with the creation of the Hubble space telescope, and with efforts to fix early problems it experienced.
In 1997, Fastie received an honorary degree from Hopkins. The citation read, in part, "William Fastie, in honor of a life dedicated to this institution, to teaching, to mentoring, to science and discovery, The Johns Hopkins University is proud to confer upon you this, your first academic degree: Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa."
A memorial service will be held by the Physics and Astronomy Department when classes resume in the fall.