Charles Elachi

Charles Elachi
Commencement speaker: Graduate ceremony 
Honorary Degree: Doctor of Engineering

Charles Elachi, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and one of the world’s foremost science and engineering leaders, has been known to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson to describe JPL’s guiding mission since its founding by the California Institute of Technology in the 1930s.

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Elachi, who is also a vice president and professor of electrical engineering and planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, has left many a trail in his 46 years with the NASA-affiliated lab, including 15 years in his current post.

An engineer with degrees in physics, electrical sciences, and geology—plus an MBA—Elachi has served as principal investigator on a range of research and development and flight projects sponsored by NASA, including the space shuttle imaging radar.

Many of JPL’s most exciting achievements in the exploration of our solar system and the heavens beyond have come under Elachi’s leadership, either as director or in his previous position as head of the lab’s Space and Earth Science Programs from 1982 to 2000.

These trailblazing missions include the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity; Cassini, which is now exploring Saturn and its moons; and the Juno discovery spacecraft, now on its way to Jupiter.

Elachi’s achievements in leading JPL to accomplish these extraordinary flights of discovery have earned him numerous awards and honors from organizations around the world. He has had an asteroid renamed for him; was awarded a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by France; and received the Massey Award from the Royal Society of London, the United Kingdom’s academy of science.

In 2006, he was selected as one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report and the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics. His awards from those organizations include the NAE’s Arthur M. Bueche Award, the AIAA Carl Sagan Award, and the IEEE Medal of Engineering Excellence.

Elachi is the author of more than 230 publications in the fields of active microwave remote sensing and electromagnetic theory, and has lectured in more than 20 countries about space exploration and Earth observation.

He earned a Bachelor of Science in physics from University of Grenoble, France; the Diplom-Ingenieur in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble; and a Master of Science and doctorate in electrical sciences from the California Institute of Technology. He also has a Master of Science in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Southern California.

He has been awarded honorary doctorates by American University of Beirut and Occidental College.