Joseph W. Siry died after a brief illness at the age of 80 on 4 January 2001. Born in New York City and raised in New Jersey, Siry earned a BS in Physics from Rutgers University in 1941. He served in the US Navy from 1942 to 1946 with the final rank of Lieutenant. While in the Navy, his training included courses at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was followed by duty at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC. After his discharge from the Navy, Siry completed his graduate studies, receiving MA (1947) and PhD (1953) degrees in Mathematics at the University of Maryland, where he also taught graduate mathematics from 1953 until 1955.
At NRL, working under Dr. Homer E. Newell, Siry was a member of the Rocket-Sonde team that initiated upper atmosphere research with rockets in 1946. From 1949 until 1953 he headed Rocket-Sonde's theoretical analysis program. Siry then led Project Vanguard's Theory and Analysis Branch from its establishment at NRL in 1956 until 1959. That pioneering US space program encompassed all aspects of space research, including science, applications, rocket launching vehicles, satellites, tracking, orbit determination and analysis, operations, and atmospheric, ionospheric and gravity field studies. Vanguard became one of the initial elements of NASA when that agency was created in 1958.
From NASA's origin in 1958 until 1973, Siry was responsible for orbit determination and analysis for scientific and applications satellites. He was assigned to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland from its inception in 1959. His experience included early orbit determination from the first Soviet Sputniks through over one hundred satellites and space probes; maneuvers and attitude determination for over twenty spacecraft, including the first communication and weather satellites; and precise orbit predictions for other satellites, including ECHO, the first passive communications orbiter. In this period his responsibilities included satellite tracking and data systems, and trajectory analysis. He managed investigations of the atmosphere, gravity field and figure of the earth, and dynamical astronomy and lunar research. He was also responsible for geodynamics analysis from its start at Goddard in 1971, until he went to NASA Headquarters as Program Manager for the Earth and Ocean Dynamics Applications Program or EOPAP (1973-1975). This program's satellites included GEOS-3, the first geodynamics ocean satellite; LAGEOS, the first laser geodynamics satellite; SEASAT, the first oceanographic/atmospheric satellite; and MAGSAT, the first crustal magnetic field satellite.
After returning to Goddard, Siry was Chief Scientist for Earth and Ocean Applications (1975-1981). During this period, he chaired the major expansion of Goddard's Oceans Discipline Program as it came to include research in all elements of NASA's Oceanic Processes Program, including ocean circulation, ocean productivity and color, air-sea interactions, and ice, with interdisciplinary ties to atmospheric and earth-science programs including weather, climate, topography, gravimetric geodesy, and geodynamics, all of which culminated in the establishment of the Oceans and Ice Branch in 1980. Siry served as Senior Scientist in the Oceans and Ice Branch to his retirement in 1991.
In 1958 Siry served in Moscow as a representative of the US National Committee for the International Geophysical Year (IGY). He then served as a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, from its inception in 1959. In 1963 he was a member of the US Delegation to the US-USSR negotiations on cooperation in space, held in Rome. Siry served as chairman of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Committee in 1965 and 1966. He served on the Commission on Satellite Geodesy of the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics from 1974, the Special Study Group on Contributions from Satellite Geodesy to Geometric Geodesy of the International Association of Geodesy from 1975, and the Commission on Celestial Mechanics of the International Astronomical Union from 1976. As a member of the American Astronomical Society, Siry served in the Division on Dynamical Astronomy. He was an author or co-author of 185 papers relating to earth dynamics, geodynamics, geodesy, astronomy, mathematics, astrodynamics, orbit determination and analysis, attitude determination, the environment, cosmic rays, the ionosphere, upper atmosphere research, rocket research, and topology.
In 1960 Siry received the Arthur S. Fleming Award as one of the ten outstanding young men in federal service. Siry was a recipient of the NASA Group Achievement Awards to Goddard's TIROS Project Group (1963), Goddard's SYNCOM Group (1965), as a member of Goddard's Radio Astronomy Explorer Team (1968), the Goddard Earth Model Group (1975), and as a member of the Laser Geodynamic Satellite Team (1976). He received the Goddard Exceptional Performance Award (1972) and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1974). In 1992, he received the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit "in recognition of [his] exceptional achievements in early rocket and scientific satellite research which have contributed significantly to the success behind many of NASA's science and applications programs and satellite missions."
His wife and son, his only daughter having predeceased him in 1999, survive Siry.
Photograph courtesy of Joseph M. Siry