Hans Mark, former Secretary of the Air Force and NASA deputy who fled the Nazis, dies at 92

Hans Mark in 1998 with a tiltrotor aircraft model which he helped develop. Mark, an aerospace engineer at the University of Texas and former deputy director of NASA, has also served as secretary of the Air Force and chancellor of the UT system. (Austin American-Stateman / TNS)

AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) – Aerospace engineer Hans Mark, former Secretary of the Air Force and Chancellor of the University of Texas system who escaped the Nazis as a child, then grew up to help send a man on the moon, died on Saturday morning. .

Mark was 92. He died at Westminster Nursing Home in Austin and suffered from progressive dementia.

Originally from Germany who spent his childhood in Austria, Mark was a long-time professor of aerospace engineering at UT, as well as Secretary of the Air Force and Deputy Administrator of NASA. He worked on mission control on the first moon landing and convinced President Ronald Reagan to set the space station program.

Mark has also been instrumental in making UT and the entire city of Austin research centers. He left no doubt about the critical importance of frontier research.

“Because it’s in our DNA,” Mark told reporter Monica Kortsha for an article republished in Alcalde magazine in 2014. “Exploring is an essential part of life, and a great nation has an obligation to to explore.”

Research, scholarship and teaching have supported his family for generations.

“Hans was the descendant of a long line of scholars through his father, Herman Mark,” said his wife of 70, Marion Thorpe “Bun” Mark, referring to the chemist father who received the President’s National Medal of Science. Jimmy Carter. . “Hans is remembered for his warm support to his students. He was honored for his serious work ethic, modesty, incorruptibility, and respect for others. He won a lot of honors that I didn’t even know about.

His students at UT realized how lucky they had been to study with him.

“Dr. Mark is the god of aerospace engineering,” wrote an anonymous student in a review posted to the Rate My Professors website. “Be prepared to worship one of the best aerospace engineers turned bureaucrats in aerospace history. This guy has been on many important projects, has met some of the most important people in history – Carl Sagan knew personally – and her stories are to die for. Be prepared to love this class. “

Born in Mannheim, Germany on June 17, 1929, Mark escaped Austria in 1940 with his family before the Nazis hardened the border.

In his 2019 book, “An Anxious Peace: A Cold War Memoir” (published by Texas A&M University Press), Mark described a captivating journey through Switzerland, Italy, France, UK, Canada and the United States. His father had shaped the family economies. in platinum hangers, which they hastily decided to leave behind. A maid, however, hid them in the trunk of their Hudson, an American-made car.

“They lived off these hangers,” Bun said. “The maid thought they would need it.

Mark graduated from Stuyvesant High School in New York in 1947 and received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1951. He received his doctorate. in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954.

Also opposed to fascism and communism, Mark devoted much of his career to nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, including the development of covert technologies to spy on and improve America’s nuclear capability. He was a protégé of Edward Teller, known as the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb”.

Mark held several research and teaching positions until 1964, when he became chairman of the Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering while directing the Berkeley Research Reactor. In 1969, he was appointed director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s he held positions in Washington, DC including Secretary of the Air Force, Director of the Top Secret National Reconnaissance Office, Deputy Administrator of NASA, and Director of Research and defense engineering at the Pentagon.

In 2008, the Space Foundation awarded Mark its highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award, and in 2012, the Air Force Space Command awarded him the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award.

Mark and his family moved to Austin in 1984 when he was appointed Chancellor of the UT System, a position he held until 1992. Of his time in this office, Mark said he was most proud of for creating a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley and for hiring pioneer Diana Natalicio as president of the El Paso branch of UT. The late Natalicio resigned after 31 years in this post in 2019.

While periodically called back to Washington for research work, Mark’s great love was teaching aerospace engineering at UT’s Cockrell School of Engineering. His students, many of whom rose to leadership positions in academia, remembered his accessibility and humor.

“I teach them aerospace, then I tell them jokes,” Mark told Kortsha. Michael Webber, one of his proteges, was later appointed Josey Centennial Professor of Energy Resources at UT.

“He leaned over me and grabbed me and said, ‘You have to do better,'” Webber told Kortsha. “Don’t give up and you will like it. And it was true.… It’s part of the job of a teacher: you can make someone feel very special. You can see something in the student that ‘he can’t see. You can encourage them to strive higher, to accomplish more. And I feel like that’s what Dr. Mark was doing with me. “

Hans and Bun Mark moved to Tarrytown, not far from the Chancellor’s official residence. He is survived by two children, James Randall “Rufus” Mark and Jane Mark Jopson, as well as five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

A memorial will be held for Mark at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on January 15th. Memorial gifts can be made to the Hans Mark Scholarship Endowment at the University of Texas.

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