Former KSU professor, space innovator dies

Amanda Garrett

Former Kent State physics professor Richard H. “Dick” Emmons died at his home in North Canton on June 29.

Emmons, 86, was an adjunct faculty member at Kent State’s Canton division until 1950. He was also a physics professor at the Salem branch from 1970 until his retirement in 1981.

Emmons, who was known as “Mr. Astronomy,” spent his life studying outer space, with a special focus on asteroids and comets.

Emmons’ son, Thomas, who teaches the popular course Seven Ideas that Shook the Universe, is a physics instructor at Kent State.

One of Emmons’ discoveries paved the way for manned space exploration. By observing the satellite Echo I, Emmons found that the near-space environment contained fewer hazards than expected.

While working as an engineer at Goodyear Aerospace in Akron, Emmons became the first civilian qualified by NASA to track satellites, said Myra West, professor emeritus of physics. Using his mobile observatory, Emmons founded and directed the Akron-Canton Satellite Moonwatch Project to track the emerging space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, West said.

“When Sputnik went up in the early ‘60s, he had the equipment to track it,” she said. “He invited me over to his home to look at his equipment, and I was duly impressed.”

In 2001, NASA named an asteroid Emmons 5391 to honor Emmons’ contributions to astronomy. Emmons 5391 is about 10 miles wide and circles the sun at a distance of 210 million miles every three-and-a-half years, traveling in an asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Emmons was famous in the Canton area for bringing astronomy to tens of thousands of school children. He often opened his North Canton home to allow school groups to visit his self-made planetarium. With his son Thomas, he built 23 small planetariums in schools and museums across the country.

Music history graduate student Margie Kierstead remembers Emmons bringing his scientific equipment to her house.

“My father worked with Professor Emmons at Goodyear Aerospace,” she said. “I remember about 1957, he came to our house and set up his equipment in our backyard. He and my father would talk satellites and astronomy, and Professor Emmons would let me look through his telescope. It was exciting.”

Emmons is survived by a sister, two children, three grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Aultman Hospice Program in North Canton or to the Columbus chapter of UNICEF.

Contact on-campus reporter Amanda Garrett at [email protected].