News & Events


JPL Designates Perseverance Rover’s Landing Site and Observation Point


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has designated the Perseverance rover’s landing site as the Octavia E. Butler Landing and the rover’s observation point to record Ingenuity helicopter tests as the Van Zyl Overlook. Jakob van Zyl (MS ’83; PhD ‘86) joined JPL in 1986 and stayed for 33 years in various positions, including director for Astronomy, Physics and Space Technology. He taught at Caltech, as a senior faculty associate in electrical engineering and aerospace, for two decades. The Ingenuity helicopter was one of his last projects at the JPL. Van Zyl retired from the JPL in 2019 and passed away unexpectedly in August 2020. Octavia Butler lived just miles away from JPL; she was a pioneering author and one of the first Black female science fiction authors. Butler was the first to write about prominent Black characters in science fiction settings, using dystopias, time travel and other tropes. She was awarded both the Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction author to receive a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Butler passed away in 2006. [USA Today]

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EAS Remembers Jakob van Zyl


Jakob van Zyl, Senior Faculty Associate in Electrical Engineering and Aerospace, passed away on August 26, 2020 at the age of 63. He came to Caltech in 1982 and received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering in 1983 and 1986, respectively. He joined JPL in 1986 and retired in 2019 as the Director of Solar System Exploration. He was world-renowned for his research in imaging radar polarimetry. He made pioneering contributions to the design and development of many synthetic aperture radar (SAR) systems, including SIR-C, SRTM, AIRSAR, TOPSAR, and GeoSAR. He held management roles at JPL including, Director for Astronomy and Physics (2006-2011), Associate Director of Project Formulation and Strategy (2011-2015), and Director of Solar System Exploration (2016-2019). He received many honors and awards, including an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa in 2015 for his contributions to space missions, for being a good ambassador for Africa, and for inspiring young scientists and engineers in his home continent. Over the last two decades, he taught EE/Ae 157 Introduction to the Physics of Remote Sensing. He contributed in numerous ways to promote interactions between EAS and JPL.

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2017 Caltech Space Challenge


Last week 32 students from around the world met up at Caltech for the 2017 Caltech Space Challenge. This year’s competition involved designing a launch-and-supply station—dubbed Lunarport—for future space missions. Lunar in-situ resource utilization could allow larger payloads to be launched from Earth, bringing deep-space a little closer for human exploration. The Caltech student organizers were Ilana Gat and Thibaud Talon. The Caltech and JPL faculty advisers were Professor Paul Dimotakis, Dr. Jakob van Zyl, and Dr. Anthony Freeman. It was an extremely close competition but Team Explorer was finally called the winner because their business plan and cost estimates were more realistic than those of Team Voyager. [Pasadena Weekly] [Radio interview with Ilana Gat] [Caltech story]

Tags: GALCIT Paul Dimotakis Space Challenge Jakob van Zyl Ilana Gat Thibaud Talon Anthony Freeman

Dr. van Zyl Receives Honorary Doctorate


Dr. Jakob J. van Zyl (PhD ’86 EE), Caltech Senior Faculty Associate in Electrical Engineering and Aerospace, as well as the Associate Director of Project Formulation and Strategy at JPL, will receive an honorary Doctor of Engineering (DIng) degree from Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Dr. van Zyl was born in Outjo, Namibia and received his first degree in electrical engineering from the University of Stellenbosch . He then came to Caltech where he obtained his Masters and PhD in electrical engineering.

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