TO: Space Nuclear Community
FROM: Gary L. Bennett
Below is the obituary of Dr. Emil Skrabek (far left), one of the key technical people in the U.S. space nuclear program. As the obituary notes, Emil was involved in many of the U.S. space nuclear missions. He invented the thermoelectric material TAGS-85 that was used in the Pioneer-10/11 RTGs, Viking Lander-1/2 RTGs and currently in the Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory RTG. He was smart, knowledgeable yet with a certain quiet humbleness and a clever sense of humor. He will be missed.
P.S. The acronym TAGS comes from the constituents of the thermoelectric material: tellurium, antimony, germanium, and silver.
RTG = Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
Emanuel Andrew Skrabek, PhD., known to family and friends as Emil, died peacefully at home surrounded by family on Thursday, March 14 after a courageous 7-year battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy and Parkinson’s disease.
The son of Joseph and Catherine (nee Frazier) Skrabek, he was born in 1934 and raised in the Highlandtown section of Baltimore. He attended Mount St. Joseph high school and earned degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park (BS), the University of Wisconsin (MS), and the University of Pittsburgh (PhD).
He retired from Orbital Sciences Corporation in 2013, after a distinguished career of more than 50 years dedicated to the U.S. space program and space nuclear power at companies including Fairchild Space and Defense Corporation, Teledyne Energy Systems, Dynatherm Corporation, Martin Marietta Corporation, and Sun Oil Company. He held 10 patents on thermoelectric alloys and devices. In 1967 he and Donald Trimmer invented the TAGS-85 material that was integral in providing a stable energy source for deep space missions. He worked on the energy systems for the Pioneer 10, 11, & 12 Spacecrafts, Viking Landers 1 & 2, Galileo, Ulysses, Cassini, and Pluto-New Horizons missions, and the Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator and Mars Surface Lander Programs, which included the Curiosity Rover. Many of these power supplies greatly exceeded their pre-launch life expectancy requirements and in so doing greatly expanded humanity’s knowledge of the universe. The TAGS Material (via MMRTG) is slated to be used on the 2020 Mars Lander (joint mission with the European Space Agency). In addition to developing various energy systems, he was a consultant to the Department of Energy and NASA laboratories and sites involved in the production, storage, and disposal of fuel for space missions. He served on numerous DOE and NASA chartered committees and task groups, especially pertaining to safety and testing.
As devoted to his family and community as he was to his professional vocation, he was was a wonderful husband and father and an active community volunteer, particularly as a faithful, longtime member of the Church of the Nativity in Timonium, where he was involved in various positions of leadership and ministry over the past 50 years. He took great pleasure in the company of family and friends and was as quick to share his keen sense of humor as his vast knowledge. His humble, compassionate, and generous nature earned the respect, admiration, and affection of all who knew him.
He is survived by his devoted wife of 47 years, Geraldine (nee Bonsall), daughters Lisa Koonce (Lance) and Alison, and grandchildren Emma, Nellie, and Andrew Koonce.
Visitors will be received at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home (1050 York Rd., Towson, MD 21204) Monday 3/18 2-4pm and 7-9 pm, and Tuesday 3/19 2-4 pm and 7-9 pm. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the Church of the Nativity (20 E. Ridgely Rd., Lutherville-Timonium, MD 21093) Wednesday 3/20 at 11am.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorial donations be made in Honor of Dr. Emanuel Skrabek to Maryland Parkinson’s Support Network – M.A.P.S. (Maryland Association for Parkinsons Support, Inc. P.O. Box 450 Brooklandville, MD 21022 www.marylandparkinsonsupport.org) or CurePSP (1216 Broadway 2nd Fl., New York, NY 10001 www.psp.org)
Published in Baltimore Sun on Mar. 17, 2019