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Maui Rocket Scientist Reaches for the Stars

“If the sky were the limit, there wouldn’t be footprints on the moon.”

September 9, 2010
Cindy Schumacher

Alfriend travels the world contributing to the field of astrodynamics. In Kīhei at the Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC), his contemporaries say he has taken the Astro Program to a new level.

“Working with MHPCC allows me the use of new astrodynamics techniques as well as visiting my island home,” Alfriend said.

Alfriend was roasted, toasted and applauded for his numerous contributions to science and space at a reception at the Monterey Plaza.

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The American Astronautical Society honored part-time Maui resident Dr. Kyle T. (Terry) Alfriend on his 70th birthday for his extraordinary career spanning more than 43 years.

“Alfriend has reached the height of an extraordinary career,” said long-time friend and colleague Dr. Richard W. Longman from Columbia University. He thanked Alfriend for “getting old enough to have this event.”

AAS sponsors spoke of the key work Alfriend has done: “His contribution to our understanding of flight mechanics and control of space vehicles is astounding.”

Alfriend’s career includes an unusually rich mix of experiences in academia, industry and government. It is remarkable that technical papers from every phase of his career continue to be regularly referenced at conferences and in journals.

Alfriend’s innovations appear prominently in analytical celestial mechanics, satellite formation flying, attitude dynamics and control, space surveillance, applications of space systems for intelligence and reconnaissance, and probabilistic problems in astrodynamics, including probability-of-collision formulations used by NASA to ensure safety of manned space flight.

“Alfriend became head of the Aerospace Engineering Department at Texas A&M University when I was deciding where to attend school to work on my Master’s Degree,” said Maui resident Matt Wilkins. Knowing Alfriend’s international reputation in astrodynamics research, Wilkins gave up full scholarships at other schools and instead applied for student loans to study with him.

“He taught me that it is important to be passionate about your chosen field,” said Wilkins. “I have learned so much from his astonishing insight into the fundamental nature of physics and how it translates into mathematical relationships.”

Currently, Wilkins and Alfriend work on research projects together on Maui.

“Solving problems is very gratifying, and I’ve been fortunate to continue working with him long after I finished my Ph.D.,” said Wilkins.

“Our profession has recognized Dr. Alfriend with many high honors,” said Dr. Shannon Coffey of Naval Research Laboratory, “including election to the National Academy of Engineering, election to the International Academy of Astronautics and citation with the Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He is a fellow of both the AAS and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He has received both the Mechanics and Control Flight Award and the Dirk Brouwer Award from these societies.”

In 2005, Alfriend received an International Scientific Cooperation Award for his decade-long efforts to organize the U.S./Russian Space Surveillance Workshop series. He continues today as one of the two principal American organizers of this unique contribution to international understanding.

“He is a doting father and grandfather to his two children and four grandsons,” said his wife, Bonnie, near the end of the ceremony. “And I take pleasure in his timeless romanticism…

Although his engineering skills for loading the dishwasher are incalculable, Bonnie said as far as his kitchen prowess goes, “Even Cooking for Dummies does not work.”



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