Hamilton-born scientist helped man land on the moon in 1969
OBITUARY: DR. GEORGE LUCHAK
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.