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Richard Dean Carper ’60

March 9, 2018, in Corvallis, Oregon.

Dick grew up in the small rural town of Galva, Illinois, where his grandparents farmed, his father owned a gas station, and everybody knew everyone else. As was common at the time, as soon as he graduated he volunteered for the army, where he received technical training in missile telemetry and worked at the White Sands Missile Range on the United States’ first guided ballistic missile system. This training and experience led him later in his career to NASA.

After completing his army service in 1956, Dick drove with a friend to Reed and applied for admission. He did not graduate from Reed, but found the two years funded by the GI Bill transformative. Dick’s small-town, Midwestern upbringing contrasted with the diverse and academically challenging atmosphere at the college. He was able to keep pace with his peers in this intellectual environment, and for the rest of his life he cherished the concepts and history he had learned in what was then Hum 11, and continued to read from  the required text, Arts & Ideas. In choosing a major, Dick was torn between physics and philosophy, and though he chose a career in engineering, he always maintained those interests.

When his tuition funding ran out, Dick went to work for the RCA Missile Test Project doing telemetry testing. In 1958, he married fellow Reedie Margot Wilson ’58. The couple moved to Maryland, where Dick took a job at NASA’s Goddard Flight Center in 1960. They had two daughters, Rachel and Ruth ’91, but divorced in 1976. The girls spent extensive time with both parents, and often spent summers with Dick, who made constancy and stability a priority throughout their childhood. When Rachel underwent a long hospitalization and difficult brain surgery at the age of 14, he made long visits every day, often spending the night to reassure her, and cared for her during her recovery after leaving the hospital.

For more than 30 years, Dick was a systems engineer at NASA, working on space data and communications systems for more than 20 research spacecraft projects, including environmental and astronomical observatories. He contributed significantly to the development and adoption of international standards in space data systems, often through his involvement with the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS) an international forum of the world’s major space agencies on the development of international spaceflight standards. In addition to the fascinating technical challenges, this gave him the opportunity to travel the world. Shortly before his retirement, Dick, a “pathfinder for CCSDS for more than 20 years,” became the first recipient of the Telemetering Pathfinder Award for his lifetime contributions to the field.

In 1993, he moved Corvallis, Oregon, with his new wife, Mary McCarthy Carper, continuing as a part-time consultant for NASA. The two were eventually joined in Oregon by both of Mary’s adult daughters and their families, and Dick delighted in his role as grandfather and great-grandfather.

In his retirement, Dick renewed his pilot’s license and enjoyed several years of flying, working as a “test pilot” for flight simulators and volunteering as a ham radio operator with Good Samaritan Health System’s emergency preparedness program. Garbed in his tuxedo, he was a regular attendee at Reed’s holiday party, and returned frequently to take in readings from the humanities syllabus. Dick was introduced to river kayaking by his honorary granddaughter, Jen Hooke, and continued to paddle into his late 70s. He worked towards his goal of solo kayaking the entire Willamette River in segments, and made it to the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, leaving only the final leg unfinished. But most of all, he enjoyed spending time with his family in the Willamette Valley with his front-door view of the Three Sisters. He passed away quietly in Corvallis, surrounded by his family, and is survived by Mary, his wife of 25 years; his daughters, Ruth and Rachel; his stepdaughters, Suzanne Limerick and Katherine Steele; and his sister, Joyce Dietrich.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2018

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