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Michael Freilich presenting at Earth Day 2017 (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky via Flickr)

EGU news Obituary: Michael Freilich (1954-2020)

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European Geosciences Union

Obituary: Michael Freilich (1954-2020)

7 August 2020

EGU is saddened to report the death of Dr Michael Freilich, a former NASA administrator and passionate advocate for earth observations, who passed away from cancer earlier this week. Freilich, who oversaw 16 major instrument and mission launches during his 12-year tenure as the director of NASA’s Earth Science Division, was known for his promotion of rigorous research and his dedication to training the next generation of Earth scientists.

Freilich was a long-standing friend of EGU and an important contributor to the Union’s annual General Assembly. “Mike attended the meeting for many years as an enthusiastic and impassioned speaker on NASA Earth Observation missions,” says former EGU President Jonathan Bamber. “His presence in scientific sessions and at the NASA booth and Hyperwall exhibit were regular highlights of the meeting.”

Freilich’s contributions will be missed by many EGU members, says Özgür Karatekin, a senior research scientist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. “His dedication to the EGU General Assembly was exceptional, and his contributions excellent,” Karatekin says.

“The members of EGU are devastated to lose Mike,” says EGU President Alberto Montanari. “We send our heartfelt condolences to his family and colleagues around the world.”

Freilich, who received a Ph.D. from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1982, was an especially passionate advocate for oceanography. Prior to joining NASA’s Earth Science Division in 2006, he held positions at California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Oregon State University.

In recognition of Freilich’s outstanding contributions to advancing the Earth sciences worldwide, the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the European Commission, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently renamed the Sentinel-6A Michael Freilich satellite in his honour. The satellite, which is scheduled to launch in November, will monitor global sea level and make additional measurements critical for climate forecasting and coastal and ocean-resource management.

The mission, which is expected to last for a decade, will honour Freilich’s lifelong commitment to rigorous scientific research as well as the intensity and dedication for which he was renown. “Freilich’s enthusiasm and dedication were infectious, and his support to the earth-observation community worldwide was unparalleled,” says Bamber. “All those who had the good fortune to have known or worked with Mike will miss that warm spirit and passion.”


Terri Cook
Head of Media, Communications and Outreach
European Geosciences Union
Munich, Germany
Twitter @EuroGeosciences


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