YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Dream of an Academic First Crashed With Challenger

February 02, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

When astronaut Gregory B. Jarvis climbed aboard the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger last week, he planned to conduct experiments in space aimed at designing better satellites.

But the 41-year-old Jarvis, who worked at Hughes Aircraft Co. in El Segundo and lived in Hermosa Beach with his wife, Marsha, also planned to become the first person to get a college degree in space, and he apparently worked on his thesis until the last minute.

Diploma On Board

The day after the tragedy, Jarvis' handwritten thesis arrived by air express at West Coast University in Los Angeles, said Prof. Norm Oglesby, head of the business school. In a note attached to the thesis, Jarvis told the professor he was sorry the thesis had not been completed earlier and said a copy of his unsigned diploma was already tucked aboard the spacecraft.

When the package arrived, Oglesby said, "I couldn't believe it, I just couldn't believe it. We had been talking to the media about him and here comes this package."

He said the school's president, Robert M. L. Baker Jr., had planned to sign the diploma once the space shuttle was in orbit, thereby making Jarvis the first person officially to get a degree while in outer space. The signed diploma was to be presented to Jarvis at a ceremony once the astronaut returned home.

The thesis was the final requirement Jarvis had to fulfill before earning a master's of science degree in management, Oglesby said. He said it now will be awarded posthumously.

The astronaut, who had attended West Coast off and on since 1970, already had degrees in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo and from Northeastern University in Boston. He also had enrolled in at least one class each semester at El Camino College in Torrance, said El Camino spokeswoman Mary Ann Keating. Among the classes he took, she said, were courses in astronomy, anthropology and real estate.

41-Page Document

Oglesby speculated that Jarvis had asked a friend or secretary to send the thesis for him because it was postmarked Jan. 28, the day of the launch. The 41-page document centered on the engineer's work at Hughes, which had selected him for astronaut training from 600 employee applicants. Hughes manufactures satellites for the space program. In his thesis, Jarvis applied to Hughes some of the principles outlined in the best-selling book, "In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies," by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr.

The thesis' next-to-last paragraph was especially ironic, Oglesby said. It read: "At (Hughes), the overriding principle is technical excellence. Cost and schedule are important . . . but it is a cardinal sin to have something fail in orbit."

Los Angeles Times Articles