Often, greatness is determined by the times in which one finds oneself. For George Carruthers, growing up in the earliest stages of the space race, he like most other boys was fascinated with space travel. Unlike most of those boys, he would ultimately go on to make some of the greatest contribution to ever benefit the space program.
George Carruthers was born on October 1, 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was a civil engineer while his mother was a homemaker. The family lived in Milford, Ohio and George was an avid science fiction reader and constructed model rockets with help and encouragement from his father. He also had an interest in astronomy and at age 10, built his first telescope with a cardboard tube and a lens he purchased through mail-order. When his father passed away suddenly, the family moved to his mother’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois. There George spent a lot of time in the Chicago libraries and museums and in the Adler Planetarium He joined various science clubs and was a member of the Chicago Rocket Society. He read with particular interest about the space exploits of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC and upon graduating from Englewood High School in 1957, he enrolled in the University of Illinois.
Carruthers stayed at the University of Illinois for seven years, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1961, a Master’s degree in Nuclear Engineering in 1962 and a Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronomical Engineering in 1964 (his thesis focused on atomic nitrogen recombination). In his own words, “[W]hen I was in college, I was undecided whether to pursue aerospace engineering or astronomy as my major, so I decided to take courses in both of them.” While doing his graduate work, he also worked as a research and teaching assistant, working with plasma and gases. Upon finishing his Ph.D., he immediately accepted a position with the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)