Hamil­ton-born sci­en­tist helped man land on the moon in 1969


The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - DANIEL NOLAN

Dr. Ge­orge Luchak, a Hamil­ton­born sci­en­tist who achieved much suc­cess in the United States, counted among those achieve­ments a role in help­ing man land on the moon.

Luchak — who died June 6 at the age of 97 in his home in Prince­ton, N.J. — spent the years 1963-1966 work­ing as a se­nior sci­en­tist at the Ra­dio Cor­po­ra­tion of Amer­ica (RCA). The firm was one of the con­trac­tors work­ing on the Lu­nar Ex­cur­sion Mod­ule (LEM) be­ing built for NASA by the Grum­man Corp.

The job came af­ter he spent time work­ing on de­vel­op­ing the new field of sys­tems en­gi­neer­ing at the Gen­eral Elec­tric Mis­sile and Space Ve­hi­cle Di­vi­sion in Philadel­phia. Luchak did a risk as­sess­ment on the LEM, us­ing his math skills to de­ter­mine how many backup sys­tems it needed pre­cisely to en­sure the safe re­turn of the as­tro­nauts from the moon and open up space for equip­ment to per­form ex­per­i­ments. The prob­lem was im­por­tant — it was said to cost $10,000 to trans­port a pound of equip­ment to the moon.

On July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 LEM landed on the moon with as­tro­nauts Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin. The pair spent about 22 hours on the moon and re­turned to earth July 24.

Ear­lier in his ca­reer, Luchak worked at the Cana­dian De­fence and Re­search Board as a re­search sci­en­tist from 1949-1956 in Suffield, Alta., where he pub­lished papers in the fields of en­vi­ron­men­tal physics and math­e­mat­ics. In 1953, his pub­lished his PhD dis­ser­ta­tion, The­ory of the Earth’s Mag­netic Field, and later helped NORAD set up the Dis­tant Early Warn­ing Line (DEW Line) to de­tect in­com­ing Soviet bombers.

In 1955, he was the Cana­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tive to ob­serve an atomic bomb test in the Ne­vada desert. He came to work at Prince­ton Univer­sity as a pro­fes­sor in the School of En­gi­neer­ing in 1966, a decade af­ter mov­ing his fam­ily to the United States.

“My fa­ther was a bril­liant sci­en­tist and an in­spi­ra­tional teacher,” said his daugh­ter Jolanne Stan­ton. “He loved a good dis­cus­sion and was al­ways will­ing to chal­lenge his fam­ily, friends and stu­dents to fos­ter lively and cre­ative de­bate ... He of­ten dis­cussed art, lan­guage, his­tory and many cul­tures with the knowl­edge and author­ity of ex­perts in the field ... Peo­ple were drawn to Dad’s warm and op­ti­mistic spirit through­out his life.”

Luchak came from a well-known and very suc­cess­ful clan. He was the el­dest of 10 chil­dren born to Eli, a cav­al­ry­man from the Aus­troHun­gary Em­pire, and “gen­nie,” a Ukrainian from Odessa (she chose gen­nie by hap­pen­stance when she came to Hamil­ton). The cou­ple lived on James Street North and ran a gro­cery store at Bar­ton and James.

One daugh­ter moved to Texas, an­other ran her own ra­dio sta­tion in North Carolina, one brother be­came a judge and son Fred be­came a big sup­porter of clas­si­cal mu­sic in Hamil­ton and one of the city’s top lawyers. Stan­ton said her fa­ther came back to Hamil­ton many times, in­clud­ing in 1999 when Fred com­mis­sioned a con­certo in their mother’s mem­ory.

“In 1973 we vis­ited for an ex­tended fam­ily re­union at Christ­mas­time,” said Stan­ton. “We cel­e­brated with a huge suck­ling pig that dom­i­nated the ta­ble.”

Ge­orge Luchak at­tended Can­non Street School and Cen­tral High School of Com­merce. He ob­tained his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in math­e­mat­ics and physics at the Univer­sity of Toronto in 1942, which he got a year early in or­der to join the Cana­dian Army and serve in the Sec­ond World War. He rose to the rank of Cap­tain and en­tered Europe via Nor­mandy Beach on D-Day plus 10. He re­turned to the Univer­sity of Toronto in 1946, where he earned his PhD in Physics.

In the 1970s, Luchak was asked to in­ves­ti­gate a plan by the New Jersey Public Ser­vice Elec­tric and Gas to build a float­ing nu­clear power plant off the coast of the state. His tes­ti­mony helped lead the U.S. Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion to re­ject the idea and also helped get him ap­pointed to the Science Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee for the State of New Jersey. He served as chair in the early 1980s.

Luchak is sur­vived by his wife El­iz­a­beth, son Frank, daugh­ters Elaine, Jolanne and Heather, 10 grand­chil­dren and sisters Pa­tri­cia and Irene (who lives in Burling­ton).


Ge­orge Luchak, on far left wear­ing sun­glasses, rep­re­sented Canada at a brief­ing on an atomic bomb test by the United States in the Ne­vada desert in 1955.

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