Prof. Tolson


B.S. Aeronautical Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
M.S. Physics, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Ph.D. Engineering Mechanics, Old Dominion University

Dr. Tolson has over fifty years of research, management, and educational experience in aerospace science, engineering and technology.

NASA/LaRC    During his early career, he performed guidance, navigation and trajectory analyses for the Lunar Orbiter, Apollo and Viking missions. He was either a principal investigator or a co-investigator on several space missions including the Lunar Orbiter Selenodesy Experiment to map the gravity field of the Moon, the Viking Radio Science Team that determined atmospheric, gravitational and areophysical properties of Mars, the Pioneer Venus Aeronomy experiment that explored the upper atmosphere of Venus, the GEOS-3 radar altimetry mapping of the terrestrial oceans. He was the originator of the Viking Phobos-Deimos Encounter Experiment during which the Viking Orbiters passed within 30 km of Phobos and 100 km of Deimos, thereby determining the mass of both satellites and providing images with resolution below 1 meter. He has other experience analyzing and interpreting Earth and planetary observation data including the Nimbus-6 measurements of stratospheric ozone.

At NASA, Dr. Tolson acted as head of the Planetary Physics Branch and the Atmospheric Science Branch. He was also head of the Interdisciplinary Research Office which was a division level office focused on interdisciplinary research for aerospace vehicles including rotorcraft, hypersonic vehicles and large, flexible space structures. He has performed other management functions including Navigation Manager for the Viking Mission to Mars responsible for all navigation from the Earth to Mars orbit, to entry, descent and landing on Mars, and post-landing position determination. He has received the Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement, NASA's highest scientific award. He also served as the Chief Scientist of the Langley Research Center.

Viking Lander GWU/JIAFS     He was a Professor at George Washington University from 1991 through 2003. Research activities of Prof. Tolson and his students are provided at Atmospheric Flight, Space Flight Mechanics and Dissertations and Theses. Space flight experiences, include the Venus Magellan atmospheric science experiment to determine properties of the upper atmosphere of Venus. He participated in the first planetary aerobraking activity by determining atmospheric density from attitude control system data and was subsequently the PI for both the Windmill Experiment to characterize the aerodynamics in free molecular flow and the Termination Experiment to characterize transitional flow. He and his students were involved in real time operations during the aerobraking phase of the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Redonnaissance Orbiter missions. During these missions, real time analysis and interpretation was performed using accelerometer and other telemetry data to determine aerodynamic/atmospheric properties at aerobraking altitudes. Results of these studies were used by the project to make daily orbit maneuver decisions. Post flight analysis have been performed to characterize aerothermodynamic, aerodynamic and atmospheric properties for future atmospheric flights. Other space flight experiences include developing structual characterization methods for the Space Station culminating in the Shuttle-Mir structural dynamics experiment, using GPS for spacecraft attitude determination, drag and mass spectrometer data analysis to improve drag prediction capability to enable maintenance of the orbiting object catalog during solar storms, Pathfinder entry analysis, and Earth satellite drag data to identify anthropogenic carbon dioxide cooling of the upper atmosphere.

UMD/NIA    Professor Tolson was the University of Maryland Liaison Professor to the National Institute of Aerospace in 2004. His students performed research on orbiting propellant depots, hazard avoidance during lunar landings, optimal interplanetary transfers, orbiting and landing on Phobos and Deimos, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter aerobraking.

NCSU/NIA    Professor Tolson served as the North Carolina State University Samuel P. Langley Distinguished Professor in Planetary Atmospheric and Flight Sciences to the National Institute of Aerospace from 2005 through 2011. He and his students performed research that included recovering zonal winds on Mars from the Odyssey accelerometer data, the aerobraking phase of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, studies under the Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts program, and using LIDAR for precision landing and hazard avoidance. They also performed atmospheric flight mechanics studies for the Mars Science Laboratory, the Phoenix mission, Crew Exploration Vehicle and Constellation Launch Abort vehicle, Titan-Huygens entry reconstruction and atmospheric characterization, and the Mars Exploration Rover entry anomaly investigation. MSL studies included uncertainty quantification in mesoscale atmospheric density and temperature predictions due to dust distribution uncertainty and the development of efficient methods for utilization of mesoscale data in flight simulations.

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Updated 10/1/2011 by RHT
Viking photographs property of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration