In Memoriam: Donald A. Beattie

Mr. Donald A. Beattie passed away in Florida this weekend. He was 85 years old. Born October 30 1929 on Staten Island New York, Mr. Beattie was a retired US Navy carrier pilot. He was perhaps best known for having managed the Apollo program’s lunar surface experiments for NASA. In this capacity he assisted in training the astronauts to perform geology on the moon. He was also a pioneer in alternative energy and in this capacity worked on nuclear, wind and geothermal energy systems.

Early Life

After graduating from Columbia College and receiving a commission in the U.S. Navy, Don Beattie began his first career as a carrier pilot serving on active duty from 1951 – 1956 and in Ready Reserve squadrons until 1967.

Upon leaving the Navy, he returned to graduate school at the Colorado School of Mines receiving a M.S. degree in 1958 with majors in Geological Engineering and Geophysics. Hired by Mobil Oil after graduate school, he began a second career supervising a geology field party mapping the large Mobil concessions in little known, jungle and rain forest regions of Colombia S.A., including the mountainous area along the Panama/Colombia border. During the rainy season, he was well site geologist on a number of wildcat wells drilled in remote locations of the Llanos and northern Colombia. His final position before leaving Mobil, was District Geologist for Northern Colombia.

Time at NASA

While working in Colombia, he learned that NASA was recruiting geologists to help plan Apollo lunar exploration. He was accepted for a job at NASA Headquarters and began work in September 1963 in the newly formed Advanced Manned Missions Office. In this position he participated in planning for Apollo and post-Apollo missions. From 1965 to 1973, he managed NASA offices that had responsibility for the development of experiments, training, and simulations for these missions. In his final position, he was NASA Headquarters Program Manager, Lunar Surface Experiments.

National Science Foundation

At the end of the Apollo Program, he transferred to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and was appointed Director, Advanced Energy Research and Technology Division. This appointment coincided with the first ³oil shock² and Division programs grew dramatically for the next three years. A major initiative was RD&D for renewable energy. Hundreds of demonstration projects were installed in the next three years on buildings throughout the U.S. For the two major national energy studies conducted at this time, The Nation¹s
Energy Future released in 1973, and Project Independence released in 1974, he led the Solar and Geothermal energy panels. In 1975, the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) was formed by President Gerald Ford combining energy research programs from many government agencies. Beattie was appointed as Deputy Assistant Administrator (later as Assistant Administrator) for Solar, Geothermal and Advanced Energy Systems. The latter responsibilities included managing high energy physics and magnetic
confinement fusion programs previously under the direction of the Atomic Energy Commission. President Carter, at the beginning of 1978, further consolidated federal energy programs by establishing the cabinet level Department of Energy (DOE). Beattie was appointed as Assistant Secretary (acting) for Conservation and Solar Applications reporting to DOE Secretary James Schlesinger. He held this position until August 1978 when President
Carter¹s nominee for the position was finally approved. As a senior manager at NSF, ERDA, and DOE, he testified frequently before House and Senate committees explaining and defending programs and budgets.

Return to NASA

He returned to NASA in August 1978 as Division Director – Energy Systems Division. This office was responsible for managing all the energy RD&D programs underway Lewis Research Center (LeRC), Marshall Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Langley Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. These programs were carried out by using funds transferred from other agencies such as DOE and AID. Advanced technology projects were built and demonstrated for solar and wind energy, electric and hybrid vehicles, magneto hydrodynamics, and fuel cells. For example, LeRC managed contracts
that built and operated the world¹s largest, multi-megawatt, wind turbines on the island of Oahu and along the Columbia River. Mr. Beattie worked on the world’s first modern wind turbine.

Later Life

Leaving NASA in 1983, Beattie joined BDM International, an engineering services company, as Vice President Houston Operations. His office provided advanced technology projects for the domestic and foreign oil and gas industry. In 1984 he started his own consulting business. Clients included many Fortune 500 companies such as: General Electric, Boeing, Raytheon, Martin Marietta, Lockheed Martin, Chevron, and North American Rockwell.  In
1991 he started a small company, ENDOSAT, to develop a high altitude, microwave propelled long duration UAV. The ENDOSAT could theoretically stay on station for months being powered by microwaves from a ground station. The company pioneered high frequency microwave beaming of power. From 1987 to 1994 he was appointed to NASA’s Space Station Advisory Committee. The world’s first microwave propelled UAV with a revolutionary power
transfer system designed by Beattie.


He is the author of dozens of articles published in scientific journals, and author of History and Overview of Solar Heat Technologies, MIT Press, Taking Science to the Moon, Johns Hopkins University Press, and ISScapades: The Crippling of America¹s Space Program, Apogee Books and his autobiography No Stone Unturned, Apogee Books.

Obituary courtesy of Rob Godwin of Apogee Books. For further details please contact Robert Godwin at [email protected]