NASA Meteorologist John T. Madura Dies At 71
By Bob Granath // August 22, 2014
Helped Develop nasa Launch Commit Criteria
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — Meteorologist John T. Madura, who led development of the lighting launch commit criteria used by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, died August 14 at the age of 71.
He served as manager of the Kennedy Space Center’s Weather Office since 1993.
“John worked long hours and maintained many relationships with organizations supporting spaceflight and, indeed, we are all better for his service,” said Patrick Simpkins, Ph. D., NASA’s director of Ground Processing at the space center.
“He bravely fought health issues years ago in order to come back to the team and the work he loved.”
The spaceport’s Weather Office was established in the late 1980s after studies showed that 50 percent of all launch scrubs were due to meteorological issues. A part of the spaceport’s Ground Processing Directorate, the office coordinates weather support to NASA human spaceflight and expendable launch vehicle operations agency wide, as well as supporting work throughout the Florida spaceport.
The space center’s chief technologist, Karen Thompson, added her praise for Madura’s service.
“It has been my pleasure to work with John for many years and to see how visionary he remained,” she said.
“He recently led a tour for members of the Research and Technology reorganization group to provide an understanding of capabilities related to weather. We will greatly miss him.”
Fellow meteorologist, Frank Merceret, Ph. D., explained that his longtime colleague was one of the most hard-working individuals he ever knew.
“John always was dedicated to his job,” said Merceret, retired chief of NASA’s Applied Meteorological Unit. “He deeply believed in what he was doing.”
The Applied Meteorology Unit is a multi-agency cooperative effort for transitioning new techniques from the research arena to improve operational weather forecasting and analysis in support of the space program.
A Los Angeles native, Madura earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Loyola-Marymount University in 1964, a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Southern California in 1967 and a master’s in meteorology from the University of Michigan in 1973.
Prior to joining NASA, Madura was commander of the U.S. Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. The group performs weather assessments for air and space operations specifically focusing on weather observations, forecasts, advisories and warnings.
“The Air Force brought John in after the loss of AC-67,” Merceret said.
On March 26, 1987, Atlas/Centaur (AC)-67 carrying a Department of Defense Fleet Satellite Communications F-6 satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The NASA investigation board determined that the vehicle was struck by a triggered, cloud-to-ground lightning ultimately resulting in the breakup of the rocket.
SETTING UP A LIGHTNING ADVISORY PANEL
“The accident investigation determined that the failure was due, in part, to inadequate and misinterpreted launch commit criteria for lightning,” said Merceret.
Madura set up a Lightning Advisory Panel made up of leading experts in lighting phenomena. The group established new standards for use by NASA, the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“In addition to the new criteria, John developed a rigorous training program for launch weather officers in the use and interpretation of lighting data and the lighting launch commit criteria,” Merceret said.
“John also worked with NASA to secure funding and engineering assistance to upgrade the network of field mills around Kennedy and the Cape.”
Electric field mills are devices that allow scientists to measure the potential for lightning. After retiring from the Air Force as a colonel in 1993, Madura assumed his role with NASA.
When the agency’s Weather Office in Washington closed in 1997, the local Weather Office became responsible for weather support to all Space Shuttle and Expendable Launch Vehicle programs, including support from the Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Edwards Air Force Base in California and the Western Range.