White Sands Missile Range Hall of Fame

Dr. Eugene Dirk
Served 1963 – 2006
Inducted 2012

Doctor Eugene Dirk joined the missile range in 1963 as a physicist. His credentials included a bachelor’s degree in physics from Penn State University and then a master’s and doctorate in physics from New Mexico State University.

In the early days of White Sands, a great deal of missile test data was captured on film. Even radars produced film in the form of video showing the blips of missiles and targets on an illuminated scope – the kind you saw in movies from the 1950s and 60s. The data on the film revealed the location of the target in space at a given time and it could also tell observers other things about the target if you knew what to look for.

To read those strips of film and gather the information locked in each frame required a small army of personnel and a great deal of time. That added up to high costs and delayed data reports for customers.

Through the efforts of Dirk and his team, the process was partially automated. Suddenly, what took three years to read by hand could be done in just a few days.

Later Dirk would be a leader in automating the reading of film from cinetheodolites. These complex instruments not only filmed the action in a missile test, each frame of film recorded timing data and the elevation and azimuth angles of the camera lens. For decades the position data provided by cinetheodolites was the most accurate measure available.

Like the radar-scope films, extracting cine data from the film was again tedious and time consuming. With Dirk’s proposals, film reading speeds jumped dramatically. It was so dramatic the idea was exported to other U.S. test ranges.

In addition to his work in extracting test data after a mission, Dirk supervised management of real-time operations at White Sands. It is the real-time information that is needed by Range Safety to make sure every missile and target stays within its prescribed footprint.

Toward the end of his government career, White Sands was returning to off-range missile launches from sites like Ft. Wingate. Dirk “provided technical management and guidance for design of hardware and applications software” for the return to missile flights along the northwest corridor.