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    Namibian-NASA Scientist Dr. Jakob van Zyl Dies

    Dr. Jakob 'Japie' van Zyl
    Top Namibian-NASA scientist Dr Jakob ‘Japie’ van Zyl who made headlines with his work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the USA, has died. Dr Van Zyl passed away today at the age of  63 on 26 August 2020 following a heart attack. He was rushed to Pasadena Huntington Hospital in California. He was found in the driveway to his house where he collapsed after returning from his morning jog. His wife Kalfie was with him, but she is not allowed to visit any more due to Covid-19 rules. We therefore don't have much information, but we urge friends and family to pray with us," his brother, Ben Van Zyl, said.

    An untimely death of Dr. Japie van Zyl has robbed the nation of an icon, who served as an example to young Namibians of what can be achieved through hard work and dedication. President Hage Geingob in a message of condolence lauded Dr. van Zyl for his contribution as an outstanding scientist and said he was saddened by the news of his untimely death.

    Van Zyl
    Dr. Jakob Japie van Zyl.
    In a statement issued by the Namibian Presidency, Dr. Geingob said: “The passing of Dr. Japie van Zyl has robbed our nation of an outstanding Scientist whose contributions in space research advanced our understanding of the universe. My exchanges with the highly affable Dr. van Zyl during his visits to the country of his birth were always pleasant and illuminating.” Dr. Geingob said Dr. van Zyl had the unique ability to make the complex field of space science and his work at NASA accessible to many young Namibian learners and dared them to dream through his exchanges with them.

    Namibians will remember him as one of them, born in the small town of Outjo, but who through sheer determination and a quest for excellence in research reached the summit by becoming a top engineer at NASA,” he said. The President on behalf of the Namibian Government and the people of the country expressed his deepest condolences with Dr. van Zyl’s wife, Kalfie, his family, and friends.

    Jakob "Japie" van Zyl born in 1957 at Outjo in Namibia. He worked at NASA as electrical engineer and space manager. He was a high-ranking employee of NASA from 1986 to 2019 and was awarded the Outstanding Public Service Medal as part of the InSight - Mars mission by NASA in September 2019.


    Van Zyl earned degrees in engineering ( B. Hons. ) From Stellenbosch University in South Africa (1979) and M.Sc. and Ph.D. in the same subject from the California Institute of Technology in the United States (1983 and 1986). During this time he also taught there. From 1986 he worked in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and was responsible for setting up numerous synthetic aperture radar systems.

    He holds two patents and 17 NASA certificates of recognition. Van Zyl's research interests include electromagnetic theory, wave propagation, diffraction and scattering, remote sensing techniques, radar polarimetry and interferometry, and antenna and sensor theory and techniques. He and his wife, Kalfie, are residents of Pasadena, CA in the United States.

    Namibian University of  Science and Technology Chancellor, Peter Katjavivi poses picture with Dr. van Zyl.
    He was most recently head of the exploration of the solar system of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and previously headed from 2006, the department astronomy and physics . Van Zyl worked with other scientists to improve a test device for the detection of COVID-19 diseases.
    A street in his hometown Outjo has been named after Japie van Zyl since 2018.

    • 1997: Fred Nathanson Memorial Radar Award from the IEEE Aerospace and Electronic Systems Society
    • 2010: Distinguished Achievement Award from the Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society
    • 2019: Outstanding Public Service Medal from NASA

    InSight (Discovery Mission) was one of the space mission a robotic lander (Curiosity Rover ) the creative art designed by Dr. Jakob van Zyl to study the deep interior of the planet Mars. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory successfully landed at Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018 at 19:52:59 InSight traveled 483 million km (300 million mi) during its journey to the red planet. InSight seeks to answer one of science's most fundamental questions: How did the terrestrial planets form?

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