Lew Allen Jr., ex-spy chief and JPL director, dies
Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:20 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 11:20 a.m.
PASADENA, California — Retired Air Force Gen. Lew Allen Jr., who led the mammoth National Security Agency through a period when congressional scrutiny brought its domestic eavesdropping activities out of the shadows and who later became director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has died. He was 84.
Allen died on Monday in Potomac Falls, Virginia, according to a NASA statement. A cause of death was not given.
Allen was the first JPL director hired from the outside after a long career in the military and as a spy chief.
In 1973, President Nixon appointed Allen director of the NSA, at the time a little-known agency responsible for electronic intelligence gathering.
Two years later, testifying before a Senate committee, Allen acknowledged that, at the request of other agencies, the NSA had intercepted the phone calls of Americans. As a result of the hearings, Congress in 1978 passed an act that established a secret court responsible for issuing warrants for domestic wiretapping.
Allen later became Air Force chief of staff in 1978, retiring from the service in 1982 as a four-star general.
During his tenure at JPL from 1982 to 1990, he saw the budget for planetary science rebound from an all-time low.
He presided over important robotic space missions including the launches of the Magellan spacecraft to Venus and the Galileo mission to Jupiter. He also oversaw the Voyager 2 flybys of Uranus and Neptune and the completion of a sky survey by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.
A champion of technology, Allen invested money into research and development projects that eventually allowed scientists to study planets around other stars, said Charles Elachi, the current JPL director.
"He was one of the most visionary people I have ever met, always thinking 10 to 15 years downstream," said Elachi.
Born in Miami in 1925, Allen attended West Point and joined the Air Force in 1946, flying bombers out of Carswell Air Force Base in Texas. While an Air Force officer, Allen earned a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Illinois in 1954.
When Allen first came to JPL, people were initially suspicious about a retired general running a civilian space lab, but Allen quickly won them over, said Peter Westwick, author of "Into the Black: JPL and the American Space Program, 1976-2004."
"When you talk with people anywhere in the military or in the aerospace industry, Allen was really universally respected," said Westwick, an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery.
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