Robert J. Thompson Jr., 87, a specialist in rocket propulsion technology at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, died Nov. 5 of multiple organ failure at the hospice unit of Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring. He was a longtime Silver Spring resident.
Dr. Thompson was born in San Francisco and received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1940. He received his doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester in 1946.
From 1943 to 1946, he was a research associate at the Allegheny Ballistics Laboratory, a section of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Defense Research Committee that had been created to improve America's military preparedness. His work at the Cumberland, Md.-based laboratory focused on solid propellants, internal ballistic studies and development of high-velocity aircraft rockets.
From 1946 to 1953, he was chief of research at the M.W. Kellogg Co. in Jersey City, working in the company's special projects division. In 1953-54, he worked as a senior research engineer at Bendix Aviation in Teterboro, N.J., and then moved to Rockwell International's Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park, Calif., where he remained until 1973.
Dr. Thompson joined the Applied Physics Laboratory in 1974. After serving as a special assistant to the director and member of the program review board, he supervised the technical information branch from 1975 to 1985. He applied his expertise in rockets to oversight of the Chemical Propulsion Information Agency, then managed by APL.
He served on the editorial board for APL's Technical Digest and also was one of the principal architects of the master's degree program in technical management at Johns Hopkins University. APL developed the program.
Dr. Thompson retired in 1995, although he continued working as an APL consultant until shortly before his death. Throughout his career, he published numerous technical articles and was involved in various academic and professional societies, including the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In conjunction with the American Field Service, he and his wife hosted exchange students from Finland and Austria. A voracious reader who enjoyed poetry, he also took pleasure in listening to classical music and attending concerts. In addition, he was interested in environmental and population issues.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Nancy Thompson of Silver Spring; three children, William Thompson of Vancouver, B.C., John Thompson of Los Angeles and Ann Welch of San Diego; and six grandchildren.