Bob led the team that designed halo orbits that were critical in enabling spacecraft reach multiple science targets.

New Horizons Team Bids Farewell to Bob Farquhar: Planetary Pioneer Served as First Encounter Mission Manager

October 26, 2015

NASA's New Horizons team was saddened by the recent passing of one of its own, Bob Farquhar.

Farquhar, a planetary pioneer who designed some of the most esoteric and complex spacecraft trajectories ever attempted, died from complications following a respiratory illness at his home in Burke, Va., on Oct. 18. He was 83.

"Bob had been pushing for a Pluto mission since the early 1990s," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, "and we worked closely together over many years to make that dream a reality."

A 50-year veteran of deep-space missions, Farquhar made pivotal contributions to the historic explorations of asteroids and comets.

He joined the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in 1990. During his 16 years at the Laboratory he applied his trajectory design skills, along with extensive space mission experience and unique insight, to a wide range of challenges in mission design and navigation. He played a key role in APL's initiatives to support deep space missions through NASA's Discovery program.

Most notably, he conceived, and was the flight director for, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission to 433 Eros - the first launch of the Discovery program. Launched in 1996, NEAR (later called NEAR-Shoemaker) reached Eros in February 2000 and became the first spacecraft to orbit, study and then - a year later - safely land on an asteroid. The mission answered many fundamental questions about the nature and origin of asteroids.

Farquhar went on to make critical contributions to other APL-led Discovery missions, including the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), and the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission to the planet Mercury. He also served as the first mission manager for New Horizons, which, following a trajectory that Farquhar envisioned flew past dwarf planet Pluto and its family of small moons this past July.

"At heart, Bob was an inveterate dreamer: he wanted to expand the reach of humankind in the solar system," said Mike Ryschkewitsch, head of APL's Space Exploration Sector. "Bob was a master of trajectory design and the use of gravity-assist flybys, particularly to reach challenging targets such as Mercury. The Discovery class MESSENGER mission to Mercury is largely a product of his trajectory design that incorporated multiple gravity assists to reach the inner solar system."

One of the more famous of Farquhar's pre-APL missions was the International Sun Earth Explorer-3, or ISEE-3, launched in August 1978 to study space weather. ISEE-3 was the first mission to exploit Farquhar's development of "halo orbits" around libration points, where the gravitational pull from two celestial bodies is balanced. After ISEE-3's initial mission was accomplished, Farquhar and long-time collaborator David Dunham designed an intricate series of orbits and engine firings that sent the spacecraft away from Earth to perform the first encounter with a comet. Renamed the International Cometary Explorer (ICE), the spacecraft made a textbook pass through the tail of comet Giacobini-Zinner on Sept. 11, 1985.

Farquhar was born in September 1932, and attended elementary and high school in Chicago. As a child, he became interested in aviation, often reading about it and building model airplanes of his own design. Prior to college, he joined the Army and served in Japan and Korea during the Korean War.

He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Illinois and received his bachelor's degree with honors in 1959. His first studies of orbital mechanics coinciding with the launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. He went on to receive his master's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1961. He worked for a period of time at Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in Sunnyvale, Calif., and earned his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1969.

From 1969 to 1990, he worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and NASA Headquarters in Washington, holding a number of positions that included studies of post-Apollo lunar exploration concepts, the lunar shuttle transportation system, and key management positions for numerous satellite projects.

Farquhar was bestowed numerous honors and awards from the military, NASA, and a variety of space organizations and associations, and had written, co-written or contributed to over 200 publications. He is survived by his wife, Irina, stepdaughter, Anya, and a host of relatives.

"New Horizons bids a fond farewell to its good friend and colleague, but the team will never forget Bob's many contributions to the success of the New Horizons mission to Pluto," said New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL.


Robert Farquhar (1932-2015) was a visionary and expert in planetary exploration, spacecraft design, and celestial navigation at NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. and KinetX, Inc., He died in October 2015 at the age of 83.

A 50-year veteran of deep space missions and often referred to as a genius in his field, Farquhar made pivotal contributions to deep space missions to asteroids and comets.

"At heart, Bob was an inveterate dreamer: he wanted to expand the reach of humankind in the solar system. Bob was a master of trajectory design and the use of gravity-assist flybys, particularly to reach challenging targets such as Mercury."
- Bob Farquhar

In 1960, he joined NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where he participated in the design of the Saturn V launch vehicle. From 1961-1964, he worked at the Lockheed Missiles and Space Company in California, perfecting orbital dynamics and control of satellites while also assisting in the preparation of an Interplanetary Flight Handbook for NASA.

From 1969-1990, he was employed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and NASA Headquarters in Washington. He held a number of positions that included studies of post-Apollo lunar exploration concepts, the lunar shuttle transportation system, in addition to key management positions for numerous satellite projects.

At APL from 1990-2007, he conceived, and was the flight director, for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission to the asteroid named Eros. Launched in 1996, NEAR (later called NEAR-Shoemaker) was the first spacecraft to orbit and perform an in-depth investigation of an asteroid, and then safely land on it in February 2001. Thanks to Farquhar's efforts, the mission answered many fundamental questions about the nature and origin of asteroids.

Also while at APL, he helped lead the Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR) mission; the Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission to the planet Mercury; and the New Horizons mission to the dwarf planet Pluto, and its moon, Charon.

Also among Farquhar's career highlights was the International Sun-Earth Explorer/International Cometary Explorer (ISEE-3/ICE) mission. As the mission's flight director, Farquhar led the crew that placed ISEE-3 in a "halo orbit" around the gravitational balancing or libration point between the sun and the Earth. He designed the quintuple lunar flyby trajectory that sent the spacecraft through the tail of the P/Giacobini-Zinner comet in September 1985. Farquhar invented this trajectory that allowed the U.S. to become the first nation to encounter a comet. Farquhar's knowledge of halo orbits, a term that he had coined in his 1969 dissertation at Stanford University, was critical in calculating the trajectory for the successful mission.

Born in September 1932, Farquhar attended elementary and high school in Chicago. As a child, he became interested in aviation, often reading about it and building model airplanes of his own design.

Farquhar attended college briefly before joining the army in April 1951. He completed basic training at Fort Knox and jump training at Fort Benning before being deployed to Fort Bragg as part of the 82nd Airborne Division.

In late 1952 Farquhar requested to be transferred to a division which was taking part in the Korean War, being deployed to the 187th Infantry Regiment stationed in Japan. After some training in Japan, Farquhar was invited to attend clerk typist school and became the company clerk, writing reports, for some time. One day, after some North Korean prisoners were released, Farquhar's division was moved to Kimpo airfield for one month. There, he was on the front lines until the ceasefire.

Returning to the U.S., Farquhar attended the University of Illinois Navy Pier campus before moving to the main campus at Champaign in 1957. There he decided on a career in spaceflight, finishing his bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering in 1959. He stayed at the University of Illinois for graduate school before applying and being accepted for a position at the University of California, Los Angeles.

During his summer after graduating Farquhar worked at the RAND Corporation in California. He completed his engineering master's degree at the University of California and attended Stanford University for his PhD in astronautics which he obtained in 1968, working with John Breakwell to develop halo orbit and other libration point trajectory concepts and applications.

Farquhar was bestowed numerous honors and awards from the military, NASA, and a variety of space organizations and associations. Farquhar wrote the book, "Fifty Years on the Space Frontier: Halo Orbits, Comets, Asteroids, and More", voted the best book of the year by the International Academy of Astronautics, and has written, co-written or contributed to over 200 other publications.

He is survived by his wife Irina, step-daughter Anya, and a host of relatives.



*American Institute of Physics: Robert Farquhar Oral History Interview
*Listen to Bob Describe New Horizons' Journey to Pluto in 2006
*Listen to Bob Describe New Horizons' Science Goals in 2006