National Capital Section
of the Optical Society of America

Ninth 2014-2015 meeting of the
National Capital Section of the Optical Society of America

At the NASA Goddard Recreation Centeron (Good Luck Road)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sponsored by the National Capital Section of the Optical Society of America
and the
DC-Northern Virginia Chapter of the IEEE Photonics Society

~ After Dinner Talk ~

The Impact of Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) Technology on Modern Science
Dr. John J. Degnan
Chief Scientist / Sigma Space Corporation


A career in science or engineering can be rewarding on many levels, Not only is it financially rewarding in an increasingly technological society, but the work is rarely repetitive or boring. Furthermore, there is nothing more exciting or satisfying than knowing that you have discovered or learned something that was previously unknown and then watching your scientific and engineering colleagues continue to build on your discoveries.

I started my professional career at NASA in 1964 as a Physics Cooperative Work/Study student after completing my Freshman year of college at the age of 18. I was extremely fortunate to be a junior member of the NASA/GSFC team that first successfully ranged to an artificial satellite with a ruby laser , only four years after it was invented. That experience jump-started a half-century professional career devoted to lasers and their applications. My talk will discuss the impact of Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) technology on modern science as well as spinoff applications such as laser altimetry, 3D imaging lidars, and laser transponders for interplanetary laser ranging and time transfer.


John J. Degnan received his BS in Physics from Drexel University in 1968 and his MS and Ph.D. degrees in Physics from the University of Maryland College Park in 1970 and 1979 respectively. Since 2003, he has served as Chief Scientist at Sigma Space Corporation in Lanham, MD. Prior to that, he was a Physicist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for over 38 years, specializing in the scientific, engineering, environmental, and medical applications of lasers.

Dr. Degnan is a Fellow of the International Association for Geodesy (IAG), a Senior Member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a Senior Member of the Optical Society of America (OSA), and a Charter Member of the International Laser Communications Society (ILCS). He is also a Member of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), Sigma Pi Sigma National Physics Honor Society, and the recipient of numerous NASA, academic, and international awards. These include the Annual Moe I. Schneebaum Award for Engineering from Goddard Space Flight Center in 1987, The Russian Space Agency’s Tsiolkovsky Medal for his contributions to Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) in 2002, Drexel University’s Alumni Circle of Distinction Award in 2005, and the ILRS SLR Pioneer Award in 2014. He is also included in several biographical listings of top technologists including Marquis Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Frontier Science and Technology, American Men and Women of Science, among others.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

5:30 PM: Students may set up projects at the NASA Rec Center

6:30 PM: Dinner

7:00 PM: Featured Talk: The Impact of Satellite Laser Ranging (SLR) Technology on Modern Science

8:15 PM: Award ceremony


Jim Heany,
301-286-9133 and

John Burris,
(301) 614-6031

DIRECTIONS to NASA Goddard Recreation Center

From the Capital Beltway (I-95/I-495) INNER LOOP: exit onto the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, North, towards Baltimore.
Almost immediately, exit onto Greenbelt Road (Rt. 193) East, following signs towards NASA Goddard Space Flight Center [you will turn
left from the exit ramp onto Greenbelt Road].
From the Capital Beltway (I-95/I-495) OUTER LOOP, on the exit road to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway there is a slip road
that merges directly on to Greenbelt Road eastbound.

Travelling east on Greenbelt Road:
Continue past the Goddard main entrance (on the left), pass one more traffic light, and turn left at the next light onto Good Luck Road. Look for a gate on the left, within less than 1⁄4 mile. There will be a guard at the gate to admit visitors after 5:30 PM.

GSFC Recreation Center Map


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