George H. Ludwig

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George H. Ludwig
Born (1927-11-13)November 13, 1927
Sharon Center, Iowa
Died January 22, 2013(2013-01-22) (aged 85)
Winchester, Virginia
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields space scientist
Institutions University of Iowa
Alma mater University of Iowa
Doctoral advisor James Van Allen
Known for First space instruments that discovered
Van Allen radiation belts
Notable awards NASA Exceptional Service and Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medals

George H. Ludwig, former chief research scientist for NASA satellite systems, director of operations for NOAA, and played a key role in adapting solid-state scientific research instruments for America's first satellites: Explorer I, II, and III

Early Years[edit]

George H. Ludwig was born on November 13, 1927, in Sharon Center, Johnson County, Iowa, a son of George M. and Alice G. (Heim) Ludwig. After graduating from high school in Tiffin, Iowa, in 1946, he served in the U.S. Air Force, where he received training as an aviation cadet and attained the rank of captain.

Iowa Group[edit]

A member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society, Ludwig completed three degrees at the State University of Iowa: BA cum laude in physics, 1956; MS in physics, 1959; and Ph.D. in electrical engineering, 1960. On July 21, 1950, he married Rosalie F. Vickers and the couple had four children.

While a graduate student during the late 1950s, Mr. Ludwig, in collaboration with Prof. James A. Van Allen, established one of the first spacecraft instrumentation laboratories, with its special techniques, equipment, and performance requirements. He was principal developer of the cosmic ray and radiation belt instruments for Rockoon and the successfully launched Explorers, I, III, IV, VII and, in some cases, their spacecraft structures and subsystems. The space based instruments were all transistor, a first.

He also served as a research engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California for a five-month period following the October 1957 launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union, in order to adapt Iowa scientific instrumentation to the Explorer satellites. He was one of the co-discoverers of the Van Allen Radiation Belts.

Goddard Space Flight Center[edit]

Upon completing his doctorate in 1960, from the University of Iowa, Dr. Ludwig joined the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, MD as chief of the new fields and particles instrumentation section. Later he was chief of the information processing division and associate director of data operations. The Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) was established on May 1, 1959 as NASA's first space flight center and research laboratory. Its first 157 employees were transferred from the United States Navy's Project Vanguard, but continued their work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., while the center was under construction.

Dr. Ludwig served as Project Scientist for NASA’s Orbiting Geophysical Observatory 1, 3 and 5, nicknamed "Street-Car" which carried more than 60 instruments to conduct a wide variety of space science investigations. During his 12-year career at Goddard his positions included: Project Scientist; Head, Instrumentation Section; Chief, Information Processing Division, Mission and Data Operations Directorate; and Associate Director for Data Operations.


In 1972, Dr. Ludwig joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which was created in 1970. Dr. Ludwig became Director of Systems Integration for the newly established National Earth Satellite Service in 1972 and, three years later, was named its Director of Operations, becoming Technical Director in 1980. In 1981 he became Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Environmental Research Laboratories, a position he held for two years.

Over the next ten years working in Washington D.C. and Boulder, CO he directed the design, construction, and check-out of the Television Infrared Observation Satellite TIROS-N/NOAA polar-orbiting satellite system and many of the evolutionary improvements to the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) system.


Dr. Ludwig returned to NASA as the Assistant Chief Scientist, NASA, Washington DC. He directed a critical examination of NASA space research data management. He retired in 1984.

Consulting and Writing[edit]

From 1985 to 1991, Dr. Ludwig was a Senior Research Associate at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and from 1989 to 1991 Visiting Senior Scientist for the California Institute of Technology, stationed at NASA Headquarters.

Dr. Ludwig led efforts to define the Data and Information Systems for the Global Change Research Program and early-Earth Observing System He consulted on Space Research and Space Station Design. Among his specialties were designs of radiation-detection instrumentation and orbiting geophysical observatories.

In 2004, at James Van Allen Day, in celebration of Dr. Van Allen's 90th birthday celebration, Dr. Ludwig presented a lecture on his contributions with the Iowa Group in the 1950s.

He finished the book, "Opening Space Research; Dreams, Technology, and Scientific Discovery," published by American Geophysical Union, shortly before his death.


Dr. Ludwig's most notable professional achievements include coordinating nine Federal agencies in the implementation of the Global Change Research Program Data and Information System. He also directed numerous NOAA research programs as well as its environmental satellite systems. Among his many honors and awards are the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (1984), the NOAA Program Administration and Management Award (1977), and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1969). He was featured in LIFE magazine as one of the nation's 100 outstanding young men in September 14, 1962 special issue.


Wrote book, audio/oral history with Transistor Museum.

Papers are with University of Iowa Libraries.

He received NASA awards for exceptional service and scientific achievement.

George H. Ludwig, 85, died of prostate cancer January 22, 2013 at his home in Winchester, VA.[1]

Here is a brief summary of George Ludwig’s major career accomplishments and positions:


  1. ^ "George H. Ludwig, scientist". Washington Post. 7 February 2013. 


Physics Today


Dr. George Ludwig Oral History References

  • "Dr. George Ludwig Oral History". Semiconductor Museum. p. 17. Retrieved 22 August 2013. 
  • Bergaust, Erik (1976). "Wernher von Braun: The authoritative and definitive biographical profile of the father of modern space flight (Hardcover)". National Space Institute (1976). ISBN 0-917680-01-4. 
  • Ludwig, George (2011). Opening Space Research: Dreams, Technology, and Scientific Discovery (Hardcover). American Geophysical Union (2011). ISBN 978-0-87590-733-8. 
  • Ludwig, George H. (April 1959). "Cosmic-Ray Instrumentation in the First U.S. Earth Satellite". The Review of Scientific Instruments. 30 (4). 

[2] U.S. Army Historical Webpage - Explorer Info [This site contains a wealth of historical information relating to Explorer and Jupiter-C. Be sure to watch the Army movie “The Big Picture” which captures all the excitement of the January 31, 1958 Explorer I launch].

  • Henry Richter (Feb 6, 1959). "Instrumenting the Explorer I Satellite". Electronics. 

[An excellent companion Cosmic Ray Instrumentation article above. This article covers the work done at the Naval Research Lab and JPL to develop the transistor transmitters for Explorer].

[4] University of Iowa – James Van Allen Day 90th Birthday Recognition, 2004. [This is the premier site for Explorer information, and detailed discussion of Van Allen’s work. Dr. Ludwig has contributed several articles and multiple photos to this site].

  • Williamson, Mark (April 2001). "The Early History of Spacecraft Electronics". IEEE Engineering Science and Education Journal. 10 (2). 

[Useful technical information and photos of Vanguard, Explorer and Sputnik. Well written].

[6] “Signal Conditioning for Satellite Borne Energetic Charged Particle Experiments”, George H. Ludwig, NASA Technical Note D-1080, August 1961. [This paper by Dr. Ludwig documents additional transistor circuitry for use in satellite instrumentation intended to measure cosmic rays. It is interesting to note the progress in transistor technology evident in this 1961 paper, compared with Ludwig’s classic 1959 paper, referenced above].