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In Memoriam: Eberhardt Rechtin, 80

Rechtin played a key role in the development of U.S. space technology and had a storied career in government and industry before coming to USC.

Eberhardt Rechtin, a USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor emeritus who had academic appointments in three departments and who also received an honorary degree from USC last May, died April 14 following a long illness. He was 80.

“All of us at the Viterbi School will miss Eb, who was a giant in the aerospace industry and a creative force in the academic realm,” said Yannis Yortsos, dean of the school. “It was through his leadership that the Viterbi School established the graduate program in systems architecting and engineering, which continues to be one of our most successful programs.”

At USC, Rechtin held joint appointments in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and in the departments of electrical engineering, and aerospace and mechanical engineering. He played a key role in the development of U.S. space technology and had a storied career in government and industry before coming to USC.

“I first met him in January 1955 when he visited me at Harvard when I was a graduate student,” said Solomon Golomb, professor of electrical engineering. Rechtin was trying to recruit Golomb for his group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “I had just received a Fulbright Fellowship, but I eventually went to work for him in August 1956.”

In addition to Golomb, Rechtin’s JPL group included future USC electrical engineering faculty William Lindsey and Lloyd Welch, as well as USC trustee Andrew Viterbi, where they made fundamental advances while developing U.S. space technology, particularly deep space communications.

Nobel laureates had told Rechtin that communication with spacecraft at the edge of the solar system would be impossible, but he and his group accomplished that feat with technology still in use today. All five were eventually elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Rechtin received his B.S. (with honors) and Ph.D. (cum laude) from Caltech, where William Pickering, the director of JPL, which was administered by Caltech, was his adviser. Rechtin started at JPL as an engineer in 1948 and left in 1967 as an assistant director.

Rechtin moved to the Department of Defense (DoD), where he was director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, now DARPA), then principal deputy director of research and engineering, and finally, assistant secretary of defense for telecommunications, each for a term of two years.

While at the Pentagon, he met David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett Packard, who was deputy secretary of defense and who recruited Rechtin to become chief engineer for his company.

In 1977, Rechtin became chief executive of Aerospace Corp. for a term of 10 years. He tripled revenue while advising the Air Force on development of such big technology projects as the Global Positioning System and Star Wars missile defense program.

After retiring from the Aerospace Corp. in 1987, he joined the faculty at USC, where he created the Systems Architecting and Engineering Program.

Rechtin said the field was known as “the front end of systems engineering” because of its emphasis on conceptualization, design management and certification for use, and dealt with problems that are ill-structured, non-replicable and non-measurable.

In addition to being an NAE member, Rechtin was a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the American Association for Advancement of Science and the Institute of Environmental Sciences.

He received IEEE’s Alexander Graham Bell Award, the DoD Distinguished Public Service Award, the U.S. Navy Distinguished Public Service Award, the U.S. Air Force Exceptional Service Award and the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement. He was honored with Caltech’s Distinguished Alumni Award and the AIAA’s von Karman Lectureship.

Born in 1926 in New Jersey, Rechtin served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1943 to 1958. He was an accomplished musician who played the piano, violin and other instruments.

A resident of Rolling Hills Estates, he is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Dorothy Denebrink (Deedee), five children, four grandchildren and a sister, Joan Lincoln.

A memorial service was held April 23 at the Neighborhood Church in Palos Verdes Estates.

In Memoriam: Eberhardt Rechtin, 80

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