The orbital debris, space surveillance, and astronomical communities lost a valued and beloved friend when John L. Africano passed away on July 27, 2006, at the young age of 55. John passed away in Honolulu, Hawaii, from complications following a heart attack suffered while playing racquetball, which was his avocation in life. Born on February 8, 1951, in Saint Louis, Missouri, John graduated with a B.S. in Physics from the University of Missouri at Saint Louis in 1973, and received a Master's degree in Astronomy from Vanderbilt University in 1974. John had a real love for astronomical observing and for conveying his many years of experience to others. He encouraged many young astronomers and mentored them in the basics of photometry and astronomical instrumentation. John was author or co-author on nearly one-hundred refereed publications ranging from analyses of cool stars to the timing of occultations to space surveillance. He was honored for his contributions to minor planet research when the Jet Propulsion Laboratory named Minor Planet 6391 (Africano) after him. John held operational staff positions at several major observatories including McDonald Observatory in Texas, Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, and the Cloudcroft Telescope Facility in New Mexico. He observed at numerous observatories worldwide, including Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile, developing a world-wide network of friends and colleagues. John's ability to build diverse teams through his managerial and technical skills, not to mention his smiling personality, resulted in numerous successes in the observational astronomy and space surveillance arenas.
As an astronomer for Boeing LTS Inc., he worked for many years at the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance site (AMOS) on Maui, Hawaii, where he contributed his operational and instrumental expertise to both the astronomy and space surveillance communities. He was also the co-organizer of the annual AMOS Technical Conference whose attendance expanded dramatically during his tenure. John moved to the NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, in 1998 to work full time on orbital debris projects including the 3.0 meter Liquid Mirror Telescope and the CCD Debris Telescope in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. In 2000 he moved back to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to be closer to his family. From there he continued to support both the NASA Orbital Debris Program Office (ODPO) and AMOS. John was very instrumental in establishing cooperative programs between the ODPO and AMOS, which will benefit both organizations for many years to come. John left an indelible mark on his programs and all those who knew and loved him. The impact of his untimely departure will reverberate for many years. As John's wife Linda put it, "John is now visiting the stars and galaxies he adored from afar."
John is survived by his wife, Linda Ann Africano; two sons, James Keith and Brian Michael; a daughter, Monica Lynn Africano; a sister, Diana Smith; and four grandchildren.
The author acknowledges valuable input from Brian Africano (University of Colorado at Colorado Springs), Eugene Stansbery (NASA), Mark Mulrooney (NASA contractor), Tom Kelecy (Boeing LTS, Inc.), Paul Sydney (Boeing LTS, Inc.), Kira Abercromby (NASA contractor), and Patrick Seitzer (University of Michigan).