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Ronald Scott Dies; Designed Soil Scoop for Early Unmanned Moon Mission

California Institute of Technology Media Relations Release
19 August 2005.

PASADENA, Calif. -- Ronald Scott, a soil engineer who designed the ingenious lunar scoop that first sampled extraterrestrial material, died Tuesday, August 16, at his home in Altadena after a long battle with cancer. He was 76.

Scott was a civil engineering professor at the California Institute of Technology when he worked out a way to test the soil on the moon in anticipation of the Apollo landings. His design was incorporated into the unmanned Surveyor 3 mission, which landed below the rim of a small crater at Oceanus Procellarum on April 20, 1967. The second soft landing on the moon by a U.S. spacecraft (the Surveyor 2 having failed), Surveyor 3 provided crucial details about the strength, texture, and structure of the ground on which astronauts would walk two years later.

According to his longtime colleague Paul Jennings, who is now Caltech's provost, Scott was known in the technical community for numerous other advances in addition to his lunar soil studies. "Ron was an acknowledged intellectual leader in the field of soils mechanics and led the introduction in this country of the use of centrifuges to study problems in the mechanics of soils, particularly during earthquakes.

"He was an exceptional researcher who approached his subject with the motivation of an engineer and the tools of a scientist," Jennings adds. "He was also a noted expert on the cause and mechanics of landslides and other soil failures. He was a consultant on the Baldwin Hills Dam failure in 1963 and the Laguna Hills Bluebird Canyon slide in 1978."

A native of Scotland, Scott had lived in the United States since arriving at MIT in the early 1950s for graduate study. After graduation he spent two additional years at MIT as a researcher, and then worked as a soil engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and with Racey, McCallum and Associates in Canada.

He joined the Caltech faculty in 1958 as an assistant professor, and rose through the ranks to become the Dottie and Dick Hayman Professor of Engineering. He retired from active faculty duties in 1998.

During his Caltech career, Scott also worked on various other NASA missions, including the Apollo manned missions, as a member of the soil mechanics team, and the Viking spacecraft that landed on Mars in 1976. He also was a consultant to private industry, local government, and U.S. government agencies on a wide variety of soil engineering problems.

His research interests included the mechanics of deformation and yielding in soils, soil behavior in earthquakes, the physical chemistry and mechanics of ocean-bottom-soil, and freezing and thawing processes in soils. He taught a variety of undergraduate and graduate classes in soil mechanics and foundation engineering at Caltech.

Scott was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1974. He was a winner of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Walter L. Huber Civil Engineering Research Prize in 1969, the Norman Medal in 1972, the Thomas A. Middlebrooks Award in 1982, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Newcomb Cleveland Prize in 1976.

He is survived by his wife, Pam Scott, and three sons, Grant, Rod, and Craig.

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