- Status Report
- Jan 28, 2023
Doug O’Handley, Indomitable? Influence for Hundreds of Space Professionals, Passes
Douglas Alexander O’Handley, Ph.D., died peacefully at home in Morgan Hill, California July 28, 2016, at the age of 79.
Doug is survived by his wife Christine (O’Neil) who he married on July 20, 1991, brother Donald and sister-in-law Norma, brother-in-law Jerry McCarty, stepsons and their wives Jeffrey and Megan Stube and Kevin Stube and Jessica Culler, granddaughters Lauren and Rachel Stube (children of Jeffrey and Megan) and numerous nieces, nephews, and alumni students of the NASA Ames Astrobiology Academy and NASA Space Exploration Academy. Doug is preceded in death by his parents Malcom (Syd) and Georgie, sister Gayle McCarty, and son Douglas Alexander Jr.
Doug was born on May 7, 1937, in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and the University of Michigan, and worked at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. while receiving his doctorate in Astronomy-Celestial Mechanics at Yale University in 1967.
Doug’s career began at the Naval Observatory accompanying atomic clocks to remote islands in the Pacific and Australia before joining NASA JPL where he managed a robotics group focusing on robotic vision and navigation, then NASA Headquarters in biomedical engineering in the Office of Industry Affairs and Technology Transfer. He returned to the JPL Biomedical Application Office through 1984, when he transitioned to Ames for a period including time on the Life Sciences Senior Management Council. He was detailed to TRW in Southern California before returning to NASA Headquarters as Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration. From 1988-1992 he was a member of the committee that created the Space Exploration Initiative – a nationwide planning initiative to take NASA into Extended Duration Exploration Missions, back to the moon and on to Mars. Doug created the Exploration Advisory Committee and worked with the White House’s National Space Council. In 1992, Doug returned to California and Ames where he developed the Center for Mars Exploration.
In the mid-1990s, Doug created and taught a multi-disciplinary undergraduate course in astrobiology at Santa Clara University. He – and the course – were wildly popular. From this course and the program initiated by Jerry Soffen at NASA Goddard, the seeds were planted for the NASA Ames Astrobiology Academy – a summer leadership development program committed to excellence that has operated for nearly 20 years (later the Space Exploration Academy).
The Academy catalyzed and inspired the lives of more than 240 students, many of whom are now well-established in scientific disciplines and careers around the country, ranging from NASA flight surgeons and principal investigators on multiple missions, to leaders inspiring others with their careers in academia, government and industry. Doug and Christy drew enormous pleasure from hosting the students that each year brought to their home on evenings, weekends and holidays – whether skiing with astronauts at Squaw Valley, boating on Lake Tahoe or backyard BBQs. The Academy students quickly became a part of Doug’s family, always welcome at any time. Doug was present for many life events of his former students, including officiating three weddings and introducing more than a dozen couples who are now married.
Doug was a member of the International Astronautical Academy, Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in England, Associate Fellow of the Aerospace Medical Association, and a member of the U.S. Senior Executive Service.
Doug was both a competent scientist and a faithful Roman Catholic, passionate on the subject of faith and reason. He was a good friend of the former Vatican astronomer, George V. Coyne, who he met when they were both teaching at Georgetown University. Doug was very active at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church in La Cañada, California, for which he brought a relic of St. Bede from England which is now mounted in the main alter of the sanctuary. He was also an Extraordinary Minister at St. Catherine’s Catholic Church in Morgan Hill.
Doug loved to travel with his wife Christy all over the world – from as close as Monterey, California, and their second home in Tahoe City, California, to across all seven continents.
A memorial service will be held on a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers, please donate to one of the following, in memory of Dr. Douglas A. O’Handley: University of Michigan, The Elbel Club; Yale University Graduate School; cancer research organization of your choice.