By Amanda Xoagus – Windhoek, Namibia, Thursday, August 27, 2020.
The world-renowned Namibian born space scientist, Dr. Japie van Zyl has died, Wednesday August 26, 2020, family sources have confirmed. He was 63.
The scientist died on the same day Namibia was celebrating its Heroes Day on Wednesday, a source said, describing the incident as a sad coincidence.
Van Zyl, who is regarded as one of the modern day pioneers of space exploration, died of a heart attack in the United States of America at the Pasadena Huntington Hospital after suffering an attack on Tuesday.
He was found in the driveway to his house where he collapsed after returning from his morning jog on Monday.
Van Zyl rose to fame especially for taking the lead on various National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) programs to explore the solar system.
Upon his retirement from the executive council of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as Director of Solar System Exploration in September last year, Dr. van Zyl received the prestigious Outstanding Public Service Medal Award from NASA for his trailblazing work and contribution to science.
Van Zyl who studied electronics engineering degree with cum laude honours at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa where he completed in 1979.
He then moved to California in 1982 where he completed a Master of Science degree and a Ph.D. in Electronic Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 1986. He joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) as a researcher shortly after completing his studies.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center in the city of La Cañada Flintridge with a Pasadena mailing address, within the state of California, United States.
Dr. Van Zyl distinguished himself by the significant contributions he made to NASA during his 33-year career, while simultaneously achieving world renown for his research in radar polarimetric scattering and image analysis.
Namibia’s President Hage Geingob described his passing away as a sad loss for the entire world and modern science.
“His passing has robbed our nation of an outstanding scientist whose contributions in space research advanced our understanding of the universe.
He made a 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,” Geingob said on Wednesday afternoon.