hans mark headshot

Professor Hans Mark passed away in Austin on December 18, 2021 at the age of 92. He was born in Mannheim, Germany in 1929.  His career evolved in a unique and remarkable path through academic and federal government institutions and he made significant contributions to both.  Together with his family, he escaped the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany and finally arrived in the United States in 1940 becoming a US citizen in 1945. He received a BA in 1951 from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954, both in Physics.

Following completion of his graduate studies, he remained at MIT as a research associate and acting head of the Neutron Physics Group, Laboratory for Nuclear Science. He then returned to the University of California in 1955 as a research physicist at the Berkeley campus, then at the university's Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Livermore, where he served until 1958. After a brief period as an assistant professor of physics at MIT, he returned to the University of California's Livermore Radiation Laboratory's Experimental Physics Division. He remained there until 1964, when he became chairman of the university's Department of Nuclear Engineering and administrator of the Berkeley Research Reactor. Throughout this period he was also active in teaching, and taught courses at MIT, the University of California, Boston University, and Stanford University.

Dr Mark was appointed Director of NASA Ames Research Center in 1969. He tirelessly championed Ames at NASA headquarters, and forged valuable alliances between Ames and the universities and private industries around it, transforming it into an institution with broadened influence and importance within NASA and the aerospace community. He initiated his own research in aeronautics, where he focused on the use of advanced computational techniques to study aircraft and spacecraft flow fields and championed the approach of using computational fluid dynamics to reduce the cost and time associated with aerodynamic wind tunnel testing. As the NASA Ames director, he was a major force behind the success of the incredible Pioneer space probes.

He subsequently served as Under Secretary of the Air Force from 1977 until July 1979, when he was promoted to Secretary of the Air Force. Concurrently, he served as Director of the National Reconnaissance Office, from August 1977 to October 1979. He remained at this position until 1981, when President Reagan appointed him Deputy Administrator of NASA, a position he served in from July 10, 1981 to September 1, 1984. During his service with the Air Force and the NRO, he made important classified contributions related to the problem of nuclear deterrence. With NASA, he played an influential role in developing the space shuttle and in establishing the international space station. The challenges related to these events are described in his monograph entitled  “The Space Station: A Personal Journey”.   He left NASA in 1984 to become Chancellor of the University of Texas System in 1984 and served until 1992 when he returned to the department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics as the John J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering. While serving as Chancellor, he continued his support for high performance computing by overseeing the development of a system wide high performance computing capability, which came to fruition in the early 1990s and provided a significant stimulus to academic research.  During this period, he administered significant improvement in programs of the system minority universities bringing UT Brownsville and UT Pan American into the University of Texas System.  In supporting the technical development of the State, he helped to bring the semiconductor research consortium Sematech to Austin in 1988, and its operation over the next decade helped catalyze the transformation of Austin to the technology hub it is today.

During 1999–2000, he returned to Washington, DC for a final tenure after being appointed by President Clinton to serve as Director of Defense Research and Engineering. He rejoined the University of Texas again in 2001, where, as a Professor of Aerospace Engineering, he devoted extensive effort to teaching aerospace engineering students. Professor Mark taught the introductory freshmen course on aerospace engineering for many years, inspiring students with his first-person accounts of significant events of the space age.  His students, many of whom rose to leadership positions in academia, industry and federal laboratory positions, remember him for his insight, accessibility, and humor.  

He received numerous awards reflecting the achievements of a lifetime of service. These include election to the National Academy of Engineering, the nation’s highest honor for engineering professionals, and election as an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is a recipient of the American Astronautical Society’s Military Astronautics Award (2006); the Space Foundation’s highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award (2008); and the Air Force Space Command’s Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award (2012). His major scientific accomplishments include contributions to the precise determination of the wavelengths of nuclear gamma rays, to the development of X-ray astronomy, to various fields of nuclear instrumentation and to the development of more accurate atomic wave functions.

Professor Mark is survived by his wife of 70 years, Marion “Bun” Thorpe, two children, James Randall “Rufus” Mark and Jane Mark Jopson, as well as five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


Jay C. Hartzell, President
The University of Texas at Austin

Charlotte Canning, Secretary
The General Faculty

This memorial resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Philip Varghese (chair) and Byron Tapley.