Follow this link to skip to the main content
NASA Ames Research Center

Reflections on
Dave Koch

photo of Dave Koch

photo of William BoruckiFrom Bill Borucki


It is sad to know that Dave will no longer be with us to provide his help, wisdom, and humor. In some small way, his contributions to the Mission show us his basic personality. When no one believed that the Kepler concept could work, Dave believed. When others thought the concept was interesting, Dave was dedicated to making it work. Again and again we wrote and rewrote several-hundred page proposals. Although every rejection hurt and cast doubt on the viability of the concept, Dave’s faith and dedication didn’t waiver. We would continue to propose until we won.

Although no description can do justice to Dave’s character, several words come immediately to mind; words; faith, dedication, persistence, humor. Dave was also a Christian of great faith who got along well with his colleagues and was respected for his knowledge and careful reasoning. Before helping start the Kepler Mission, he worked on an X-ray astronomy project and then came to Ames to work on the airborne astronomy project. In 1992 Dave and I wrote our first proposal for the NASA Discovery Program; 3 years prior to the detection of any exoplanet around a normal star! Dave was intensely interested in bringing the excitement of science to the public; especially through education programs. He enjoyed finding cartoons that would make us all laugh and he was fully involved developing the images that show the Kepler Mission in space and the enormous range of discoveries that are being made. He was a great man; he made the world a better place to live in.


photo of Jon JenkinsFrom Jon Jenkins

I was privileged and honored to have known this fine man and lucky to have worked with him since 1995 on Kepler.

He was the kindest, most gracious, and generous man I’ve known.

He always had a wide smile to greet me and was truly fun to work with and be around, with a great sense of humor and really funny jokes.

Here’s one of the typical jokes Dave told:

I was cruising down interstate 75 south of Atlanta when a cop flagged me down for speeding.
“Boy, I’ve been waiting all day long for you to come along,” drawled the cop.
“Gee, I got here as fast as I could, officer!” I replied.

I miss his gentle soul and the civility and cheer he brought to the Kepler project.

Words cannot express the sadness I feel or the joy I feel having known David G. Koch.

Jon Jenkins

photo of Bill WelshFrom William Welsh
On a personal note, an event I will never forget occurred at launch time when Dave handed out hats to all the Team members, color-coded based on what aspect of the mission we worked on (red for the science team, blue for mission operations, etc). What a thrill it was to see so many folks wearing these hats at launch. It made me feel, for the first time, a very real member of the Team, and I was so proud to be wearing my "red hat". Dave not only knew his astronomy and engineering damn well, he knew people too.

photo of Alan GouldFrom Alan Gould
A significant part of my professional career has been intimately connected with Dave's uncommon support of education. There are many scientists that realize the importance of education, and often can state it fairly eloquently, but very few scientists put their heart, soul, and sweat into it like Dave did. In fact NONE that I can think of. I had a fairly clear picture of Dave's role in the Kepler mission, and I'm not at all certain it could have succeeded as it has, without him. But I had first hand frequent experience of his devotion to education and can say without hesitation----there was none like him.

photo of JorgenChristensen-DalsgaardFrom Jørgen Christensen-Dalsgaard,
Kepler Asteroseismology Team

…this sad news … is indeed hard to come to terms with.

What you may not realize is David's importance to our early involvement in the Kepler project, going back to 2003. We had some correspondence with him concerning our Danish Roemer satellite project (which never materialized) and that led him to visit us, at short notice, in September 2003 when he was at a meeting in Bremen. Hans would remember more of the details, no doubt, but David certainly gave an excellent talk about the Kepler project, and I am sure that we discussed the potential for asteroseismology already then, a potential that has been so dramatically fulfilled.

I very much appreciate Alan's words about David's contributions to outreach, of course also reminding me of his Lego model of a star and its planet.

Best wishes


photo of William Borucki2012 Aug 21
From: William J. Borucki
Subject: Dave Koch's Retirement
A Brief Note Recounting Some of Dave Koch’s Many Accomplishments

To Dave Koch, my dear friend and colleague,

This is the last day of your federal service and an appropriate time to look back at all your many accomplishments. Prior to your leadership role in the Kepler Mission, you were project scientist for Uhuru and later a project scientist on a helium-cooled IR telescope. After coming to Ames from SAO, you were actively involved in infrared astronomy with the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), and then as a co-investigator on the SWAS Mission. You created the EPO program for science teachers to participate in astronomical observations aboard KAO; a state-of-the-art NASA facility flying in the stratosphere. Although these many accomplishments are outstanding, I believe that it is your many contributions to the Kepler Mission that will be the most valuable and historic.

The Kepler Mission received its name from your understanding of the history of astronomy and people who were its pioneers. The Mission was originally named FRESIP, but you led the effort to name it after Johannes Kepler who developed the laws of planetary motion and the study of optics. Both of these areas are critical elements in the development of the Kepler Mission. Carl Sagan and Jill Tarter were your team mates in the successful effort to rename the Mission and they and I whole-heartedly supported the change.

Prior to 1992, before any extrasolar planets had been discovered, you and I would go again and again to NASA HQ to advocate the development of a mission to detect and characterize and determine the frequency of Earth-size planets around other stars. Then in 1992, Wes Huntress at NASA HQ inaugurated the Discovery Program to provide medium-size missions for planetary exploration. Discovery Program proposals require a full description of the proposed mission: instrument and spacecraft design, development and testing; choice of rocket booster and orbit, management with a specified manager with appropriate experience, arrangement with the companies that will build and integrate the components, a detailed budget, and the choice of team members and their tasks. Because of your experience with Ball Aerospace and Technology Corporation (BATC) and your association with Harold Reitsema at BATC in the development of the SWAS Mission, BATC was chosen as the prime contractor.

Your advice for the choice of team membership to balance the need for technical expertise in CCD and instrument development, for observers to do the follow-up observations and interpretations, mission operations, asteroseismology, data analysis, theoretical modeling of the results, and for overall guidance were crucial to the selection of the Kepler team. You recommended Edna DeVore and Alan Gould because of their enthusiasm and experience in bringing to the public the excitement of astronomical research. The EPO proposal that they wrote resulted in a top rating for that portion of our proposal. It was widely copied and became a paradigm for other mission proposals.

During the years from 1992 to the time Kepler was launched in March of 2009, your creativity and detailed understanding of the Mission requirements were constantly called upon to generate graphics packages to explain to at least 100 groups that the Mission was technically ready and to describe how it would meet its goals. Your invention of a practical and reproducible method to change the optical flux from apertures simulating target stars at the 100ppm level was especially important. The invention allowed us to build a lab demonstrate of a prototype of the Kepler photometer that could detect signals as small as that produced by Earth-size planets orbiting the sun-like stars. The completion and writeup of the laboratory tests was convincing proof that the technology was ready for mission development. Shortly afterwards (2001) our proposal was selected for flight development.

Once the Mission was chosen for flight, it was necessary to begin writing the documentation that specified the science requirements to be accomplished; the Science Requirements Document (SRD), and based on it, to write the Mission Requirements Document (MRD). Here and in the writing of the mission proposals in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, your clarity of thought and careful attention to detail created documents that convinced doubters of the viability and promise of the Kepler Mission.

You were my Science Representative to BATC and their subcontractors with the responsibility for the instrument performance. With the instrument scientist Doug Caldwell, you helped develop the instrument performance test procedures and checked the results of each test. Even though the descriptions of each test ran to dozens of pages, your detailed analysis caught errors and suggested improvements. The excellent quality of the Kepler science results is in large part, due to your diligence and comprehensive understanding of the interplay between the technical performance of the instrument and the science results.

In summary, your participation in the Kepler Mission is a major reason for its success. Congratulations on a job well done. I hope that in the future, many planets will bear your name.