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Letter from Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA

From the President's Desk

To: The Rensselaer Community
Re: Letter from Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA

The outpouring of condolences to our community following the passing of Dr. Peter Fox has been tremendous.

I am sharing this letter received from Dr. Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA.


National Aeronautics and
Space Administration
Washington, DC 20546-0001

March 31, 2021

Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street – Troy Building, 3rd Floor
Troy, NY 12180

Dear President Jackson and the Rensselaer Community:

On behalf of the entire leadership team at NASA Science, I want to express our deep condolences on the sudden passing of Dr. Peter Fox, an international leader in our field and also a pioneer in data sciences. 

We all have Peter Fox stories and every one I hear seems to hit on three over-arching themes that speak to who he was and his impact in the community. First, there is his sincere friendliness and kindness that was part of every interaction, whether meeting with a student, an academic leader, or an elected official. Second, Peter brought an extreme depth of technical knowledge and expertise to every discussion. And finally, his sense of humor added the spice to so many discussions. He was kind, smart, and funny! 

I remember the last time we chatted and how he teased me, noting that I had gone from being a peer – another professor in a different university – to a “NASA bureaucrat”. He thanked me for that work, and especially for supporting and protecting Earth science, a science he deeply cared about. He also pointed out how Earth science is changing because of new data and computational technologies that are now available to all. It was, like so many discussions with Peter, both memorable and impactful. 

Our Heliophysics Division director, Dr. Nicola Fox, shared how she first met Peter in the line to pick up their badges at the American Geophysical Union meeting many years ago. Both were amused that they shared a last name and were immigrants -- and thus began their many interchanges and shared learning. 

The memories, condolences, and expressions of grief are pouring in from across the Earth science and data communities. The tributes to Peter’s intellectual influence on our field of data science describe a man whose influence was broad and deep, aspirational and enduring. But it was the direct and lasting influence he had on the people in our community that will multiply his personal accomplishments for many years to come. One of his many mentees expressed her appreciation this way: “Peter was kind, generous, and supportive yet didn’t take any nonsense from anyone about anything. This includes any nonsense you may have believed about yourself. He has believed in me when I did not, and more amazing to me - convinced me to believe in myself.”

Such a leader is a gift to us all.

Thomas H. Zurbuchen, Ph.D.
Associate Administrator,
Science Mission Directorate