AUSTIN, Texas — Hans Mark, a world-renowned aerospace engineer who was in Mission Control during the first moon landing and who served as chancellor of the University of Texas System for nearly a decade, died on Saturday, Dec. 18 at the age of 92. Mark leaves a legacy of exploration and discovery, warmth and inspiration, and leadership and innovation. In addition to being a champion of research and technology, he was known for bringing a personal approach to the UT community.
“Hans Mark was a giant in our community,” said Sharon L. Wood, executive vice president and provost of UT Austin. “A NASA leader and visionary, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a chancellor of The University of Texas System, and a beloved UT Austin professor — Hans had a tremendous impact on society and touched so many lives throughout his life. His legacy will live on for generations.”
Mark joined the UT System as chancellor in 1984, serving in the position until 1992. During his time as chancellor, he helped establish UT as a research powerhouse, doubling the university system’s research budget and helping to bring microchip consortium SEMATECH to Austin. Mark also led the establishment of The University of Texas-Pan American, on the Texas-Mexico border, which merged with UT Brownsville in 2015 to become UT Rio Grande Valley.
After his chancellorship, Mark divided the rest of the 1990s between teaching aerospace engineering courses at UT Austin and advising in Washington, D.C., on space research and engineering. From 2001 until his retirement in 2014, he was an integral and consistent part of the Cockrell School of Engineering community and the undergraduate aerospace engineering experience, having made teaching the program’s introductory class his main priority.
“With the passing of the unique and remarkable Hans Mark, the world lost a great leader and visionary, who steered the university and, indeed, our country toward excellence in engineering and scientific research. But also, he was a generous and beloved friend of the UT faculty and students, and especially those of us in aerospace engineering,” said J. Tinsley Oden, professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics who was a colleague of Mark’s. “Those of us who were fortunate enough to know him will miss his humor, friendship and insight into university and world affairs and will always cherish his time with us and remember his contributions to our professional, academic and personal lives.”
Mark was born in 1929 in Mannheim, Germany. He and his family — his Jewish father, who is known as the father of polymer science, his mother and his brother — escaped the Nazi regime and came to the U.S. With a fascination for the development and creation of the atomic bomb that brought World War II to a decisive end, Mark went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, both in physics, followed by conducting nuclear weapons research at Lawrence Livermore Lab.
Prior to joining the UT System, Mark was essential in the development of advanced nuclear technology, government aeronautics and space exploration in the 1960s and 1970s. He served as chair of the UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering and administrator of the Berkeley Research Reactor from 1964 to 1969. He directed NASA’s Ames Research Center from 1969 to 1977; served as undersecretary of the Air Force and concurrently director of the National Reconnaissance Office under President Jimmy Carter until 1979 before serving as secretary of the Air Force until 1981; and then served as deputy administrator of NASA under President Ronald Reagan until 1984. He also later served as director of defense research and engineering.
One of his great missions of discovery during this time was the development and launch of the first manmade object to leave the solar system; the Pioneer 10, which Mark worked on with Carl Sagan, was a space probe that the NASA Ames lab designed to fly past the asteroid belt, Jupiter and Saturn to collect data and images. Throughout his esteemed career, Mark’s major scientific accomplishments include contributions to the development of X-ray astronomy, more accurate atomic wave functions and various fields of nuclear instrumentation.
“Hans Mark was an amazing mentor, an insightful engineer, a wise adviser and a good friend,” said Wallace Fowler, aerospace engineering professor emeritus and a colleague of Mark’s. “His sage advice, usually provided in his office along with strong coffee before 7 a.m., was priceless. We who worked with him have been blessed beyond measure.”
Mark was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. He is a recipient of the American Astronautical Society’s Military Astronautics Award (2006); the Space Foundation’s highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award (2008); and the Air Force Space Command’s Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Award (2012). He was inducted as an honorary member of UT’s aerospace engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni in 2019.
Mark is survived by his wife of 70 years, Marion “Bun” Thorpe; two children, James Randall “Rufus” Mark and Jane Mark Jopson; as well as five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial will be held for Mark at Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on Jan. 15. Memorial gifts can be made to the Hans Mark Scholarship Endowment.
View additional photos of Hans Mark from his childhood through his career.