Charles Elachi was born in Lebanon and received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Grenoble, France, and a diploma in engineering from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble (both in 1968). He received a master’s degree (1969) and doctorate (1971) in electrical sciences from Caltech. He also earned a master’s in business administration (1978) from USC and a master’s in geology (1983) from UCLA.
Dr. Elachi taught at Caltech, served in a variety of research and management positions at JPL beginning in 1971, specializing in remote sensing, and became the Director of JPL in May 2001. During his tenure as Director, JPL was involved in more than 20 missions including Cloudsat, Jason 1 and 2, Aquarius, OCO-2, GRACE, SMAP, GRAIL, Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Phoenix, Cassini, Deep Impact, Stardust, Dawn, and Juno. Three rovers, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity reached Mars and provided detailed information about the planet.
After retiring from JPL in June 2016 he became professor emeritus at Caltech, allowing him to pursue research interests while continuing to participate as a science investigator on a number of missions. He continues to advocate and be a spokesman for a strong space and Earth science program.