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Arthur Dodd Code (1923–2009)

Published onDec 01, 2009
Arthur Dodd Code (1923–2009)

AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives,
John Irwin Slide Collection

Former AAS president Arthur Dodd Code, age 85, passed away at Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin on 11 March 2009, from complications involving a long-standing pulmonary condition. Code was born in Brooklyn, New York on 13 August 1923, as the only child of former Canadian businessman Lorne Arthur Code and Jesse (Dodd) Code. An experienced ham radio operator, he entered the University of Chicago in 1940, but then enlisted in the U.S. Navy (1943-45) and was later stationed as an instructor at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. During the war, he gained extensive practical experience with the design and construction of technical equipment that served him well in years ahead. Concurrently, he took physics courses at George Washington University (some under the tutelage of George Gamow). In 1945, he was admitted to the graduate school of the University of Chicago, without having received his formal bachelor's degree. In 1950, he was awarded his Ph.D. for a theoretical study of radiative transfer in O- and B-type stars, directed by Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.

Following a one-year appointment at the University of Virginia (1950-51), Code was hired onto the faculty of the Department of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1951-56). He then accepted a tenured appointment at the California Institute of Technology and the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories (1956-58). But following the launch of Sputnik, Code returned to Wisconsin in 1958 as full professor of astronomy, director of the Washburn Observatory, and department chairman so that he could more readily pursue his interest in space astronomy. That same year, he was chosen a member of the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences (created during the International Geophysical Year) and shortly became one of five principal investigators of the original NASA Space Science Working Group. In a cogent 1960 essay, Code argued that astrophysical investigations, when conducted from beyond the Earth's atmosphere, "cannot fail to have a tremendous impact on the future course of stellar astronomy," a prediction strongly borne out in the decades that followed.

In 1959, Code founded the Space Astronomy Laboratory (SAL) within the UW Department of Astronomy. Early photometric and spectrographic equipment was test-flown aboard NASA's X-15 rocket plane and Aerobee sounding rockets. Along with other SAL personnel, including Theodore E. Houck, Robert C. Bless, and John F. McNall, Code (as principal investigator) was responsible for the design of the Wisconsin Experiment Package (WEP) as one of two suites of instruments to be flown aboard the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO), which represented a milestone in the advent of space astronomy. With its seven reflecting telescopes feeding five filter photometers and two scanning spectrometers, WEP permitted the first extended observations in the UV portion of the spectrum. After the complete failure of the OAO-1 spacecraft (launched in 1966), OAO-2 was successfully launched on 7 December 1968 and gathered data on over a thousand celestial objects during the next 50 months, including stars, nebulae, galaxies, planets, and comets. These results appeared in a series of more than 40 research papers, chiefly in the Ap.J., along with the 1972 monograph, The Scientific Results from the Orbiting Astronomical Observatory (OAO-2), edited by Code.

Between the OAO launches, other SAL colleagues of Code developed the Wisconsin Automatic Photoelectric Telescope (or APT), the first computer-controlled (or "robotic") telescope. Driven by a PDP-8 mini-computer, it routinely collected atmospheric extinction data. Code was also chosen principal investigator for the Wisconsin Ultraviolet Photo-Polarimeter Experiment (or WUPPE). This used a UV-sensitive polarimeter designed by Kenneth Nordsieck that was flown twice aboard the space shuttles in 1990 and 1995. Among other findings, WUPPE observations demonstrated that interstellar dust does not appreciably change the direction of polarization of starlight, thereby supporting its possible composition as graphite.

Code was the recipient of numerous awards, including the Professional Achievement Award of the University of Chicago Alumni Association (1969), NASA's Public Service Award (1970), and its highest honor, the Distinguished Public Service Medal (1992). He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (1971), the International Academy of Astronautics (1972), chosen a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1974), and elected vice president (1976-78) and president (1982-84) of the AAS. He was a member of the Board of Physics and Astronomy of the National Research Council and served for many years on the board of directors (and later was appointed chairman, 1977-80) of AURA, Inc. Code was closely involved with AURA's bid to manage the Space Telescope Science Institute and served as the latter's interim director (15 January - 1 September 1981). He also played a significant role in establishing the WIYN (Wisconsin, Indiana, Yale, and NOAO) consortium and Observatory. Code's numerous achievements reflect his competencies as both a theorist and experimentalist/observer, along with noted administrative skills.

During his lengthy career at Wisconsin, Code supervised twenty doctoral dissertations (one of which was co-directed with Robert Bless). Following his retirement in 1995, he and his wife relocated to Tucson, Arizona, where he was appointed adjunct professor at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory and concurrently WIYN Observatory Scientist. At the time of his death, he was the Joel Stebbins and Hilldale Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at UW-Madison. Code belonged to the First Unitarian Church of Madison. He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Mary Guild Code, their four children, Alan, Douglas, Edith, and David, and six grandchildren.

Among other sources, this essay draws upon the 1982 oral history interview with Code, conducted by David H. DeVorkin (National Air and Space Museum/Smithsonian Institution); remarks made by the late Donald E. Osterbrock at Code's 80th birthday dinner (2003), Frank K. Edmondson's (1997) history of AURA, and previous work published by the author on the WEP. One box of Code's papers (1958-1985) is preserved at the Memorial Library Archives, UW-Madison. Additional contributions toward this essay have come from Robert W. Smith, Robert C. Bless, and the members of Code's family.

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