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Interview with James A. Westphal

Westphal, James A. (2002) Interview with James A. Westphal. [Oral History]

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An interview in six sessions in 1998 with James A. Westphal, engineer and instrument designer who became research associate and later professor of planetary science at Caltech (1961-2004); and principal investigator for the Hubble Space Telescope's original Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WFPC 1, 1977-1994). He was born in 1930 in Dubuque, Iowa, to parents of German ancestry and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Little Rock, Arkansas. Receives BS in physics from the University of Tulsa in 1954 and works for seven years in geophysical research for oil companies before coming to Caltech in 1961. He recalls early work in geology division with C. Hewitt Dix, H. Lowenstam and B. Murray; with the latter on chemical differentiation of the lunar surface, his first involvement with planetary science. Works with B. Kamb on Blue Glacier; also with M. Schmidt and J. Gunn in astronomy. Recollections of Caltech colleagues G. Neugebauer, R. Leighton, R. Feynman. Comments on history of 200-inch telescope at Cerro Tololo and Caltech's relationship with Carnegie Observatories. He recalls work in early 1970s with J. Kristian for Palomar Observatory on highly sensitive electronic detectors (silicon vidicon photometer) leading to the evolution of CCDs [charge-coupled devices]. Joins NAS's COMPLEX committee at invitation of chairman G.Wasserburg; involvement with NASA's Galileo mission. Subsequent involvement with Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaging project; proposal for original wide-field and planetary camera put together with J. Gunn at JPL. He comments on early attitude of HST astronomers toward planetary scientists. Installation and testing of WFPC 1 in telescope; 1990 launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Trouble with HST's solar panels and subsequent repair efforts. Westphal receives MacArthur award, 1991, and succeeds G. Neugebauer as director of Palomar, 1994-1997. With J. Miller of Lick Observatory becomes acting co-director of the new Keck Telescope; comments on instrument building. Earlier work (1983) with former grad student S. Kieffer, of USGS, on dynamics of Old Faithful geyser resumed; builds camera to send to the bottom of the geyser. Comments on R. Leighton's contributions to X-ray and infrared observations and planetary science. Further comments on instrument building.

Item Type:Oral History
Keywords:Geophysics, planetary science, astronomy
Record Number:CaltechOH:OH_Westphal_J
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Westphal, James A. Interview by Shirley K. Cohen. Pasadena, California, July 8-29, 1998. Oral History Project, California Institute of Technology Archives. Retrieved [supply date of retrieval] from the World Wide Web:
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
Subjects:Subjects > Physics
Subjects > Geology
All Records
Subjects > Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Subjects > Chemistry
Subjects > Astronomy
ID Code:107
Deposited By: Oral Histories Administrator
Deposited On:08 Jun 2005
Last Modified:04 Oct 2019 15:23

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