H.D. (Don) Wolpert was President of OSSC in 2000-2001 and inducted as a Fellow in May 2008. He also served as a Councilor for several years, twice as Program Chair and Secretary. For 7 years, Don served on the editorial board of Photonics Spectra magazine.
Don graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1959. His first job was in an advanced infrared lab with General Dynamics in Pomona. This seven-person group was engaged in new missile guidance and tracking systems, requiring extensive field testing to gather IR signatures of U.S. and foreign aircraft and IR backgrounds. He soon “Saw the Light” and began studying optics and physics, which changed his career to Electro-Optical Systems Engineering.
Joining Northrop Space Laboratories in Palos Verdes, Don began working on targeting, tracking and stellar navigation systems operating in the visible and ultraviolet spectral regions. His first experience with a payload was a UV spectrometer on the X-15. Data gathered was important in understanding the earth’s background from the near regions of space.
Don’s next move was to E.H. Plesset Associates in Santa Monica, an EO consultant to various government agencies and large defense and aerospace contractors. Some initial studies in scintillation and seeing of the atmosphere were accomplished by sending laser beams from the 5th floor of a bank building in Santa Monica to the nearby mountains (try doing this today!). They also studied laser damage in the eye using monkeys and rabbits as subjects. As the company grew, they took on more significant roles in hardware development programs. Don developed an EO laboratory for a prime defense contractor which operated an aircraft out of Alaska for tracking and data collection of reentry vehicles. With the help of some universities, a course was developed in re-entry physics which he taught for two years. It was used to train crews on tracking, ballistic spectral cameras, photometers and radiometers in order to gather better data. It was during this time that he began studying nature for answers to optics and physics problems.
Don went to TRW in 1970, where he developed a hyperspectral instrument for an aircraft program. Don was responsible for the opto-mechanical package, but with all-reflective anastigmatic optical systems not available yet, an all-refractive system was used. Since silicon CCDs with the needed area and speed were also not available, an FPS vidicon was used. Other remote sensing instruments were designed during this time, as well as a light-weight sun simulator for sample illumination for a Mars explorer.
In 1973, Don began working at Xerox Electro-Optical Systems in Pasadena where he designed the first laser printers. To convert the Library of Congress database to digital format, he developed laser input scanners for the first optical disk system in the U.S. This was followed by a UV space radiometer for tracking and gathering data on missile launches. He also participated in the design and development of a drop physics experiment for materials growth in the micro-g environment of the Space Shuttle.
Returning to TRW in 1995, Don worked on hyperspectral instruments for spacecraft payloads, including EO1 (a Korean survey instrument), Kompsat and Hyperion. The latter, intended for a 1 year life, was still operational 7 years later. Working on LADAR systems, Don was involved in the development of single photon detection area arrays with pixel binning and 0.5-1 nsec resolution. A number of other programs required working with optical coating houses for the development of advanced optical filters for optical communications and multi-spectral instruments.
Over the years, Don’s interest in biomimicry led to papers and presentations to groups and companies, exposing them to the benefits of understanding nature’s approaches to optics and physics problems. He authored a chapter in the 2011 book, Biomimetics: Nature-Based Innovation, edited by Dr. Yoseph Bar-Cohen*. Don retired from Northrop Grumman Space Technology (formerly TRW) January 31, 2008. He left this world too soon on June 14, 2013, after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, Barbara.
A special Scholarship Fund has been established and funded by Don's OSSC friends.