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Famed space camera fabricator George Carruthers dead at 81

Pioneering black astrophysicist designed telescope for Apollo 16 mission.

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George Carruthers receives the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from Pres. Obama, Feb. 2013
George Carruthers receives the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from Pres. Obama, Feb. 2013
(Brendan Hoffman/Getty)
Updated: January 23, 2021 - 7:56pm

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George Carruthers, a former scientist at the United States Naval Research Laboratory who designed an advanced space telescope for use on the Apollo 16 mission, died last month at age 81, his family revealed this week. 

Carruthers designed multiple telescopes for NASA, one of which famously proved the existence of molecular hydrogen in the vast gulf of intergalactic space. Another one of his creations, the Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph, which was used on the Apollo 16 mission, was left behind when the astronauts departed — and is presumably still on the moon's surface. 

Carruthers "was a great tool builder who applied himself to scientific questions," space historian David DeVorkin told the New York Times on Saturday. He was awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Barack Obama in 2013. 

Carruthers was born in Ohio and raised there and later in Chicago. Following his retirement from the naval laboratory, he taught classes at Howard University and helped high school students design telescopes. He is survived by his widow Debra and two brothers. 

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