Frederick J. Doyle, photographic mapping specialist for NASA, dies at 93

May 18, 2013

Frederick J. Doyle, a photographic mapping specialist whose work included space photography for NASA, photo reconnaissance from spy satellites and high-resolution photographs of the Earth’s surface from outer space, died April 17 at his home in McLean. He was 93.

He had congestive heart failure, said his daughter Margaret Grant.

In 1969, Mr. Doyle became chairman of NASA’s Apollo Orbital Science Photographic Team, and he planned the camera systems and directed orbital science photography for Apollo lunar missions 13 through 17. His efforts resulted in full-scale lunar maps, including the “mountains of the moon.”

In 1971, Mr. Doyle received NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal for development of the Apollo orbital photographic system. He later directed photography projects on Mariner and Viking missions to Mars, Venus and Mercury.

Mr. Doyle was the principal investigator on the Landsat satellites, which for 40 years have taken continuous photographs of the Earth’s surface, allowing scientists to observe planetary phenomena such as deforestation and changes in vegetation. He was also principal investigator on Skylab, the first U.S. space station.


Frederick Doyle, photo-mapping specialist for NASA whose efforts led to the mapping of the moon, poses for a portrait in July 2007. He died April 17 at age 93. (Family Photo)

He was instrumental in promoting the large-format high-resolution camera first used in an October 1984 space shuttle mission, which produced more than 2,000 photos for the world’s mapping community.

Mr. Doyle began his career as a space scientist in 1954 as leader of an Air Force expedition to observe a solar eclipse in the Labrador region of Canada. In 1955, he led a similar expedition to Vietnam.

He came to Washington in 1960 to do research on classified satellite reconnaissance photographic systems for government agencies. From these spy satellites, the government could gather photographic data from countries where flyovers by U.S. aircraft were prohibited.

He retired in 1990 as a scientific adviser for cartography at the U.S. Geological Survey after 23 years with the agency, but for much of that time he had been on loan to NASA. While at USGS, he was an adjunct professor of photogrammetry at George Washington University and Virginia Tech.

Frederick Joseph Doyle was born April 3, 1920, in Oak Park, Ill. He began his mapping career during World War II with an Army Air Forces unit on Guam, where he prepared target-approach and damage assessment charts for B-29 bombing raids.

Later, he was assigned to a geodetic survey unit in Central and South America, and in 1946 was one of two survivors of an airplane crash in the Andes Mountains between Chile and Argentina.

For 12 hours, he waited on a mountaintop before a rescue party could reach him, and he was carried down the mountain, having suffered a broken femur and other injuries. After being hospitalized for 18 months, he entered Syracuse University, from which he graduated summa cum laude in 1951.

He then studied for a year on a Fulbright fellowship at the International Training Center for Aerial Survey in Delft, Netherlands.

He joined the faculty at Ohio State University in 1954 and later became the first chairman of a new department of geodetic sciences.

His avocations included model railroads, and he had an extensive collection of trains and tracks in the basement of his home.

Mr. Doyle was a former president of the parish council and director of the lector ministry at St. John the Beloved Roman Catholic Church in McLean, and a volunteer with Meals on Wheels.

Survivors include his wife, whom he married in 1955, Mary Blaskovich Doyle of McLean; four children, Frederick J. Doyle Jr. of Evergreen, Colo., Margaret Grant of Hermosa Beach, Calif., Mary Ellen Slattery of Annandale, and George Doyle of Vienna; two brothers; a sister; and 10 grandchildren.

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