BY DAWN LEVY
Professor (Research) Emeritus H. Taylor Howard, a renowned radio scientist who built the first home satellite dish and led several experiments to explore the moon and planets, died Nov. 13 when his single-engine plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the Calaveras County Airport. He was 70. The crash of the radar astronomer's Beechcraft Bonanza A-36 also killed Howard's stepson, Bryan Files, 37, and injured family friend Dean Hollingsworth, who was hospitalized with leg fractures and back injuries.
"Tay brought to bear a unique array of talents to help investigate and solve problems associated with the nature of space and of the other planets of our solar system," said Howard's longtime Stanford colleague Von Eshleman, professor emeritus of electrical engineering. "He understood the machinery, instrumentation and science involved, and how to use them insightfully. With his particular emphasis on radio and electronic techniques and phenomena, he played a major role in the creation and operation of the Center for Radar Astronomy at Stanford University. His leadership and involvement in science teams for the Apollo, Mariner, Pioneer, Voyager and Galileo space missions to the moon and planets, particularly Venus, Mercury and Jupiter, led to a new depth of understanding of these other worlds." That knowledge may help us better understand the complexities of our own planet's atmosphere, oceans and continents, Eshleman added.
Electrical engineering Professor G. Leonard Tyler, a longtime friend and colleague who flew with Howard, categorized both Howard and Files as "very skilled pilots." He called Howard "primarily an engineer-experimenter" who while working at Stanford in 1957 captured data about Sputnik's first orbit, before it had been around the world. "That characterized his initiative -- it took a lot of quick thinking and action to do that."
Howard was born in Peoria, Ill., on April 5, 1932, the son of Caterpillar executive/engineer Henry Howard and homemaker Florence Finlay Howard.
He earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1955. Despite his vast accomplishments, he did not have a master's degree or a doctorate. After graduation, he worked at the university for a year as a research associate before spending three years as a naval electronics engineering duty officer installing and repairing shipboard communication, navigation and fire control equipment.
In 1959, he returned to Stanford, where he served as a research associate, senior research associate, adjunct professor of electrical engineering, co-director of the Center for Radar Astronomy and associate director of the Stanford Radioscience Laboratory (now called STARLab).
Howard served as principal investigator on several NASA projects while at Stanford, including Apollo flight experiments and planetary probes. Though he became emeritus in 1982, he was recalled to active duty part time every year after that to lead the radio team for the Galileo spacecraft project to explore Jupiter. He built and operated a large radio transmitter at the Stanford Dish to measure solar wind for the Pioneer experiment and to study, with Tyler, lunar characteristics for Apollo and Explorer projects. Tyler and Howard collaborated on Mariner projects to study Venus and Mercury.
In 1973, Howard received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement for his work. His experiments tended to be of two types. One used radar to bounce radio waves between the Earth and moon with a goal of mapping the moon. The other bounced radio waves between the Earth and spacecraft exploring planets with a goal of studying those planets' atmospheres.
In 1976, as a result of his private experiments with video transmission from communications satellites, in his backyard he built the first homemade, privately owned satellite receiving system. It was a large dish-shaped antenna that he used to pick up programs that cable TV content providers offered for distribution to their subscribers. When he wrote a check for $100 to HBO to pay for movies he had watched, the company returned his check, saying that it dealt only with large cable companies, not individuals. Howard then published a how-to-do-it manual on his system. Soon afterward, with mechanical engineer Bob Taggart, he co-founded Chaparral Communications Inc. of San Jose to produce the parts for the system that he continued to improve. Within six years, Chaparral became a $50 million company.
In 1980, Howard became the founding president of the satellite industry trade association, SPACE, and served as an officer, director or chair. When the group merged with the Satellite Broadcasting and Communication Association (SBCA) in 1986, he was elected chair and later testified in this position before Congress on behalf of the satellite industry. In 1994, as a tribute to Howard, the SBCA established a nonprofit foundation in his name to improve opportunities for women and ethnic minorities to participate in the satellite industry. Howard responded with a statement of his personal philosophy. "One of my strongest beliefs is that broadband communication between all people in the world is necessary if we are to have peace and the human race is to advance to its highest potential," he said. "My goal has always been for the satellite industry to provide communication in a way that attracts worldwide participation and is of benefit to all."
Tyler recalled Howard as "a very enthusiastic, supportive kind of guy who did things and made things happen ... a person of great energy who took charge." He was extremely supportive of his students and colleagues, he said, and a man who acted on his convictions. "He believed in the exploration of space. He believed that the university is a special place with people that need support and care because they can accomplish things that not everyone can," Tyler added.
A resident of San Andreas since 1969, Howard commuted by personal plane from his Calaveras County ranch to Palo Alto Airport to work at Stanford, where he rented rooms or kept apartments. To illustrate Howard's wide range of talents, Tyler said: "He grew up around machinery and had a bulldozer on his ranch, and he liked to make the roads himself. On the other hand, he also mastered these extremely delicate space experiments."
Howard was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Geophysical Union, the International Scientific Radio Union, the American Astronomical Society and Sigma Xi, and was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is credited with more than 40 scientific publications and eight U.S. and several foreign patents.
Survivors include his widow, Ann; son, Craig Howard of
Seattle; daughters Gail Benton of Seattle and Leslie Howard of Palo
Alto; stepdaughter, Christa Files of El Dorado Hills, Calif.; and
two grandchildren. The family is holding a private memorial. For
further information contact Leslie Howard at
email@example.com. The family requests donations to either
the T. Howard Foundation, 225 Reinekers Lane, Suite 600,
Alexandria, VA 22314, phone (703) 549-6990, or the Northwest
Parkinson's Foundation, P.O. Box 56, Mercer Island, WA 98040, phone
(877) 980-7500. (Howard's widow suffers from Parkinson's
Henry Taylor Howard
Stanford Report, November 20, 2002