Roger Lee Easton, Sr.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Hanover, N.H. — Roger Lee Easton, Sr., died peacefully at Wheelock Terrace on the morning of Thursday, May 8, 2014.

Roger was born in North Craftsbury (now Craftsbury Common), Vermont on April 30, 1921, to Dr. Frank B. Easton, Sr. and Della Donnocker, a former schoolteacher. He grew up in Craftsbury Common and graduated from the Craftsbury Academy in 1939. After earning a degree in Physics from Middlebury College (’43) he attended the University of Michigan for one semester, where he met Barbara Coulter, of Flint, Mich. They married in 1945.

In 1943, Roger began a 37-year career of engineering and invention at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. He served as a uniformed officer in the Navy and worked on numerous groundbreaking technologies, including radar beacons, blind landing systems, and early rocket experiments. In 1955, he assisted in writing the proposal for Project Vanguard and served on the design team once it was selected as the US scientific satellite system for the International Geophysical Year. Vanguard was launched in March of 1958 and remains the oldest manmade satellite in orbit. Mr. Easton designed the Minitrack system, and led the team that constructed the U.S. Naval Space Surveillance System, used to track Vanguard & all other objects orbiting above the continental U.S.

In September of 1964, while trying to resolve issues of satellite drift & time synchronization across multiple stations, he realized a satellite could be loaded with an atomic clock and dedicated to transmitting, rather than receiving, a signal. This idea became the basis for his vision of a system of satellites called “Timation” (time/navigation) that could pinpoint any location at which a user held a calibrated receiver. With minor changes his vision was adopted by the Department of Defense as the Global Positioning System (GPS). Mr. Easton held 11 patents, including #3,789,409 for “Navigation Systems Using Satellites and Passive Ranging Techniques” for Timation.

In 1980, he retired from his position as Head of the Space Applications Branch at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and moved with Barbara to Canaan, N.H. He served two terms in the New Hampshire General Court and ran for Governor in the primary election of 1986, as a moderate alternative in the Republican party. Characteristic of his lifelong wit and humility, he said to his family that “the only thing worse than losing would be winning.” Roger loved New England, and the Canaan community where he indulged his lifelong passions of woodworking, covered bridge admiration, and berry-picking. He served on the board of the New Hampshire Electric Co-Op, and his enthusiasm for sustainable energy production is reflected in the solar photovoltaic collectors on his garage and his (as yet) unrealized design for a rail mounted wind power generator.

Among the many awards Mr. Easton received were the U.S. Distinguished Civilian Service award in 1960 for his work on Vanguard, the Thomas L. Thurlow navigation award in 1978 for Timation, and the Magellanic Premium in 1997 (the oldest North American medal for scientific achievement, established in 1786). The President of the United States awarded him the 2004 National Medal of Technology, and Roger was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2010. In July 2013, he received the 12th Sheikh Salam Al-Ali Al-Sabah Informatics Badge of Honor from His Highness, the Amir of Kuwait. In his honor, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory established the Roger L. Easton Award.

Mr. Easton is survived by his beloved wife of 68 years, Barbara Coulter Easton of Hanover; daughter, Ruth Easton of Canaan; two sons, Roger Jr. of Scottsville, N.Y. and Richard (and wife Kathleen) of Winnetka, Ill.; sister, Penelope Easton of Durham, N.C.; two sons-in-law, Randall Davis of Denton Texas, and John Dunleavy, of Burke, Va.; five grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. Roger was predeceased by his daughters, Ann Davis and Joan Dunleavy; half-brother, Daniel; and brothers, Frank Jr., Charles, and Nelson.

A public memorial service will be held at a later date. An online guest book is available by visiting www.rickerfuneralhome.com.