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Les Johnson
Les Johnson

A NASA scientist and renowned author will deliver the final lecture of the spring in the College of Engineering’s Distinguished Lecture Series at 4:00 p.m. Monday, April 4.

Les Johnson will give the talk, “Solar Sails for Spacecraft Propulsion,” in Room 622 of the Min H. Kao Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Building. Like other lectures in the series, his talk will be simulcast online.

His discussion will focus on the development of solar sails, which capture the energy of stars to power ships to the far reaches of the galaxy in much the same way that sails captured the wind to send explorers around the world.

In addition to providing a limitless supply of propellant, the theory holds, such power would also be capable of generating much higher speeds for spacecraft.

Johnson plays many roles at NASA, including serving as technical advisor of the Advance Concepts Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center, technology principal investigator for the NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Scout mission, and co-investigator for the European InflateSail solar sail demonstration mission.

His history at the agency also includes past stints as principal investigator of NASA’s ProSEDS space tether experiment and as manager of the Space Science Programs and Projects Office, the In-Space Propulsion Technology Program, and the Interstellar Propulsion Research Project.

For his work, Johnson has received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal three times and holds three patents.

As a writer, he has authored or co-authored three science books—Living Off the Land in Space, Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, and Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth as well as the science fiction books Going Interstellar, Back to the Moon, and Rescue Mode.

Johnson also served as a consultant and appeared on the Discovery Channel’s How the Universe Works and the National Geographic Channel’s How to Survive the End of the World.

Johnson earned his bachelor’s in chemistry and physics from Transylvania University and his master’s in physics from Vanderbilt University.

Those viewing the live webcast will be able to ask questions at the end of the discussion, while those interested in the presentation but unable to attend can watch an archived video.

C O N T A C T :

David Goddard (865-974-0683,