Dr. Jerome (Jay) Apt, a Massachusetts native who grew up in Pittsburgh during the dawn of the national space program, developed an early passion for physics, flight, and space exploration. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT, Apt joined the staff of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1980 and Johnson Space Center in 1982. He was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1985. Between 1991 and 1996, Apt flew four space shuttle missions aboard the Shuttles Atlantis and Endeavor, logging over 847 hours in space.
Jay Apt was born to Joan Frank (1927-2019) and Jerome “Jerry” Apt (1922-2010) in 1949 in Springfield Massachusetts. He had one sister, Judy Apt (1951-2000). Judy Apt married Richard Nathenson, of Pittsburgh, in 1973. They had four children, David, Michael, Robert, and Steven.
Jerry Apt was born in Wilkinsburg, Pa., and was the son of Jerome Apt and Sadie Shapira. He had a sister Marjorie Apt (b1928). Jerry Apt moved to Philadelphia before returning to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1939, where he studied engineering. While in college, Jerry joined the ROTC and trained as a pilot in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Jerry volunteered for the Air Force but was sent to the Army Corps Engineers because of the need for engineers with college training. He served until 1946. While at Carnegie Tech, Jerry met Joan Frank and the two married on August 10, 1947. Joan asked Jerry to give up flying as a condition of getting married.Jay Apt, “Interview with Jay Apt,” by Anne Madarasz and Emily Ruby (December 1, 2017), Heinz History Center.
After leaving the military, Jerry and Joan moved to Springfield, Massachusetts where he took a position as a maintenance and construction engineer at Monsanto Chemical Co., plastics division. Not long after the birth of their son, Jay, the Apts moved back to Pittsburgh, where Jerry became chief engineer for Mechanical Industries. He founded Industrial Gases Inc., in the 1950s. The company specialized in the use and distribution of liquified gas for use as a nonpolluting fuel and a substitute for acetylene gas in the metal-working industry. After selling the company in 1966, Jerry formed Industrial Engineering, consulting for companies in the energy industry. He later served as a senior mechanical engineer and corporate secretary at Concept Engineering Group from 1991 to 2001 before retiring.Dan Majors, “Mechanical Engineer Who held Seven Patents,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 21, 2010. … Continue reading
Joan Frank Apt is a descendent of one of the first Jewish families to permanently settle in Pittsburgh in the nineteenth century. Her great-grandparents William and Pauline Wormser Frank were among the first Jews to settle permanently in Pittsburgh. They were founders of the earliest Jewish religious and philanthropic institutions in Pittsburgh. William and Pauline Frank owned a glass factory, and their descendants Isaac W. Frank, William K. Frank, and James A. Frank became prominent in Pittsburgh’s engineering, steel, and real estate industries as well as in Jewish religious and philanthropic activities.
Isaac W. and Tinnie Frank had three children, Bessie, William, and Robert. Robert Jay Frank, an engineer and vice president for sales of Copperweld Steel Co. married Cecilia Kaplan around 1920. Robert and Cecilia Frank had three children, Barbara, Joan, and Alan I.W. Frank.
Joan Frank was born on July 4, 1927, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. When she was 13, her family moved into a house on Woodland Road near Chatham University. Cecilia and Robert Frank commissioned world-renowned architects Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer to design what has come to be known as the Alan I.W. Frank House.
Joan Frank attended Winchester Thurston School until 1944, before attending Wheaton College, where she majored in art history.
A contributor to Pittsburgh’s local arts and charitable organizations, Joan Apt joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1953 first as a volunteer and then as a leader. She eventually joined the PSO’s Board of Advisors and later the Board of Directors. In 1975, Joan co-founded the Pittsburgh Public Theater with Margaret Rieck, serving as the theater’s first treasurer. She was also a founding board member of Pittsburgh CLO, serving as treasurer, and helped found the American Wind Symphony and the Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival. A philanthropist, Joan volunteered with many local charities. She was Pittsburgh’s chair of the United Way’s Community Fund, city-county chair of the American Cancer Society, and was a co-founder of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. She received the Governor’s Award and the Carlow College Woman of Spirit award in 2002 because of her commitment to the Pittsburgh community.“Joan Frank Apt,” Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, June 17, 2020. https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/joan-frank-apt/ (accessed June 29, 2022).
Joan and Jerry Apt’s son, Jay, was born on April 28, 1949, in Springfield, Massachusetts. That same year, the Apt family moved back to Pittsburgh, where they commissioned architect and museum curator A. James Speyer to design their home on Woodland Road, the same road Joan grew up on.
Jerry shared his love for science, mechanical things, and flying with Jay. Jay was given an erector set, chemistry set, and electrical kit as a child. Jerry also took Jay out to see the satellite, Echo Balloon, flying around the world and enrolled his son in classes at the Buhl Planetarium. He took Saturday classes at the Planetarium where he studied mechanical drawing, astronomy, and physics. From a young age, Apt had a passion for science and flying and was sent to detention for listening to John Glenn’s 1962 Friendship 7 launch on the radio while in class at Shadyside Academy. It was at Shadyside Academy that Apt helped to launch the Model Rocket Club. He approached his science teacher, Mr. William Sales, and other students about the club after being shown a model rocket catalog from Premier Model Rocket Company on his thirteenth birthday. The Rocket Club met at Shadyside Middle school. After being introduced to the high level of competition in model rocketry, Jay along with other enthusiasts started a Pittsburgh-wide club that had a much broader reach than the one at Shadyside Academy. It became known as the Steel City Section and they launched every Saturday from the lower football field at Shadyside Academy. In 1965, Apt and teammate David Bayard won the National Team championship at the National Association of Rocketry Annual Meet (NARAM) 6 held in Aberdeen, Maryland.Jay Apt, “Interview with Jay Apt,” by Anne Madarasz and Emily Ruby (December 1, 2017), Heinz History Center.
In 1967, Jay Apt applied to six universities, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Cornell, Purdue, and Wisconsin, and was accepted into all six. Although Jay originally sought a degree in aerospace engineering, he chose to attend Harvard, a school that did not have an engineering department. While at Harvard, Apt was able to work in the lab in the Physics Department in the summer. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physics from Harvard University in 1971.
While in college, Jay remained active in model rocketry with friends at both Harvard and MIT. In 1968, his friends at MIT founded Model Rocketry Magazine, of which he became the business manager. The monthly magazine boasted 56 pages, with a circulation of several tens of thousands. It was around this time that the U.S. was preparing to launch Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon. Several members of the magazine staff received press credentials to attend the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. And so, Jay Apt, George Flynn, Bill Bangon, and Gordon Mandell went down to Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch, arriving on July 15, 1969, and returning to Boston on July 17th. Jay Apt watched the July 20th lunar landing on a 10-inch black and white TV that he took with him to a wedding in Cape Cod.Apollo 11 materials, Dr. Jerome Apt Papers and Photographs [MSS 1213], Box 12, Folders 38-51, Rauh Jewish Archives, Heinz History Center.
When it was time to go to graduate school, Apt got into Princeton, MIT, and Caltech. The best offer for a graduate assistantship came from an atomic physics group at MIT. While at MIT, Apt studied laser physics, receiving his Ph.D. in 1976. After receiving his Ph.D., he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in laser spectroscopy at MIT. Then, from 1976-1980, Apt worked at the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics at Harvard University, doing work for the Pioneer Venus Mission that was set to launch in 1978. He made maps of Venus from Mt. Hopkins Observatory. Apt also served as the Assistant Director of Harvard’s Division of Applied Sciences from 1978-1980. He applied to the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) operated by Caltech for NASA and got a position doing planetary research, studying Venus, Mars, and the outer solar system in 1980. Apt moved to Pasadena, California to work at JPL. He eventually became Science Manager of JPL’s Table Mountain Observatory and worked there for about two and a half years.
Originally, NASA targeted U.S. military pilots for its astronaut program, but beginning in the 1970s, they began calling for civilian astronauts. The first call went out in 1978, but Apt missed it as he was just beginning his work on the Pioneer Venus Mission. So, in 1980, when another call went out, he applied along with 10,000 other people. Apt was one of 120 people interviewed but wasn’t selected. The interview was a week-long at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. After speaking with the head of the selection board, Jay was offered a position in Mission Control, where he worked during the fifth shuttle mission. He moved to Johnson Space Center from California in October 1982. Apt applied to the astronaut program two more times, once in 1984 and again in 1985. He was one of thirteen people selected in 1985. This selection was just six months before the Challenger crash, delaying their flights for six years. Apt spent the next six years training for his first flight in 1991.Jay Apt, “Interview with Jay Apt,” by Anne Madarasz and Emily Ruby (December 1, 2017), Heinz History Center.
During the six years between his selection and first flight, Jay Apt was sent on several assignments. He was first assigned to Vandenberg Airforce Base in California where they were planning to launch a shuttle on a southerly trajectory, sending it into polar orbit but that plan was later scrapped. For his second assignment, Apt was sent to Cape Kennedy in Florida. While there, he worked with new payloads that the shuttle would take up into space. The Gamma Ray Observatory was one of the payloads that he was assigned to, which was one of NASA’s four great observatories—the Hubble Space Telescope, Gamma Ray Observatory, the Compton X-Ray Observatory, and an infrared telescope. Apt also helped to develop EVA (spacewalk) construction and maintenance techniques for the Space Station and worked as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM) for shuttle flights in Mission Control. Other roles include the Astronaut Office EVA point of contact, supervisor of Astronaut Training in the Astronaut Office, and Chief of the Astronaut Office Mission Support Branch. Then, in April 1989, Apt was sent to Tokyo, Japan, where he gave a talk in front of the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers. It was during this speech that he received a call from Don Puddy, the chief of flight crew operations, to inform him that he had been assigned to a space mission that was taking the Gamma Ray Observatory into Space.
On April 5, 1991, the Space Shuttle Atlantis launched from Kennedy Space Center for the STS-37 mission. This was the shuttle’s eighth flight. Onboard was Commander Steve Nagel, Flight Engineer Jerry Ross, and rookies Linda Godwin and Jay Apt. Their first job was to deploy the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO), but the robotics systems that were supposed to deploy an antenna onboard the Gamma Ray Observatory didn’t function. After failing to fix the issue from inside the shuttle, Apt and Jerry Ross were asked to go outside to see if they could fix it. They were sent out on an unplanned spacewalk that succeeded sixteen minutes later when the two astronauts successfully fixed the system. Apt and Ross were out on their spacewalk for a total of six hours after completing tasks that were scheduled for the following day. They also went on their planned spacewalk the next day, which lead to these walks being the only back-to-back spacewalks by the same crew in the whole shuttle program. These were the first spacewalks in five and a half years. Along with deploying the GRO, the crew conducted research on molecules, tested concepts of radiating heat from the Space Station, operated an amateur radio station, and took over 4,000 photographs of the Earth. The shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on April 11, 1991, after six days and completing 93 orbits of Earth.
The following year, Jay Apt flew on his second mission, STS-47, Spacelab-J. The Space Shuttle Endeavour was launched from Kennedy Space Center on September 12, 1992. Onboard was Commander Robert L. Gibson, Pilot Curtis L. Brown Jr., Mission Specialists Marc C. Lee, N. Jan Davis, Jay Apt, Mae C. Jemison, and Payload Specialist Mamoru Mohri. STS-47 was a joint NASA and National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) mission. The momentous flight included the first African American woman to fly in space, the first Japanese astronaut to fly aboard the shuttle, and the first married couple to fly on the same space mission. The crew performed life science and materials processing experiments. Endeavour landed at Kennedy Space center on September 20, 1992, after completing 126 orbits of Earth. In preparation for the flight, the crew trained in Japan and visited the country again, post-flight.
Apt’s third mission, STS-59, aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, launched on April 9, 1994, for an eleven-day mission. The crew included Commander Sidney M. Guiterrez, Pilot Kevin P. Chilton, Payload Commander Linda M. Godwin, Mission Specialists Jay Apt, Michael R. Clifford, and Thomas D. Jones. The crew’s assignment was to observe the land and oceans of Earth with three imaging radar systems and to map the global distribution of carbon monoxide in the lower atmosphere. The crew took over 14,000 photographs during their observations and experiments. Endeavour landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California on April 20, 1994, after 183 orbits of Earth.
Apt’s fourth and final mission was STS-79 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center on September 16, 1996, and landed on September 26. The crew consisted of Commander William F. Readdy, Pilot Terrence W. Wilcutt, Mission Specialists Thomas D. Akers, John E. Blaha, Jay Apt, and Carl E. Walz. Their assignment was to dock with Russian Space Station Mir to deliver equipment, supplies, and personnel relief, as well as perform scientific experiments. They transferred 4 tons of scientific experiments and supplies to and from the Mir station. The crew collected astronaut Shannon Lucid, who had spent 188 days in space, making it the first American crewmember exchange aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. Mission Specialist John Blaha took her place on the space station. It was the first shuttle mission to engage with a fully assembled Mir.
Jay Apt logged over 847 hours or 35 days in space. This includes 10 hours and 49 minutes on two spacewalks, and he has flown around the Earth 562 times.
In 1997, Jay Apt shared his images and knowledge of Earth in his book Orbit: NASA Astronauts Photograph the Earth, written in conjunction with NASA scientists Michael Helfert and Justin Wilkinson. The 224-page book was published by the National Geographic Society, sold over 600,000 copies in 11 languages, and received Scientific American’s Young Readers Book Award. Apt has also published over 100 papers in professional scientific journals.
Jay Apt is also an instrument-rated commercial pilot, logging over 6,000 hours of flying time in 25 different types of airplanes. In 1984, he flew a single-engine aircraft to Greenland, Iceland, and Europe, and flew to Alaska and Central America.
Jay Apt married Eleanor “Ebe” Emmons and they had two children, Rachel and Sarah. The Apt’s built a house at 806 Shorewood Drive in Seabrook, Texas before relocating to Pittsburgh in 1997. After 21 years, Apt left NASA in 1997 to become the Director of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. He spent three years in this role before leaving to become the Managing Director Chief Technology Officer of an early-stage venture capital firm. In 2003, he began working for Carnegie Mellon University, where he is a Professor at the Tepper School of Business and the Department of Engineering and Public Policy. He is also the Director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.
|Jay Apt, “Interview with Jay Apt,” by Anne Madarasz and Emily Ruby (December 1, 2017), Heinz History Center.
|Dan Majors, “Mechanical Engineer Who held Seven Patents,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 21, 2010. https://www.newspapers.com/image/?clipping_id=104631715&article=931dd05a-963a-4f82-a8dc-c3c91bcc035a&fcfToken=eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJmcmVlLXZpZXctaWQiOjk2NDU2NjY2LCJpYXQiOjE2NTY1MDk2MzgsImV4cCI6MTY1NjU5NjAzOH0.qj2u_2u-BC8hJS62IPZxlvqPxlubuSKARpWG_qdKBqM (accessed June 29, 2010 ).
|“Joan Frank Apt,” Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, June 17, 2020. https://jewishchronicle.timesofisrael.com/joan-frank-apt/ (accessed June 29, 2022).
|Jay Apt, “Interview with Jay Apt,” by Anne Madarasz and Emily Ruby (December 1, 2017), Heinz History Center.
|Apollo 11 materials, Dr. Jerome Apt Papers and Photographs [MSS 1213], Box 12, Folders 38-51, Rauh Jewish Archives, Heinz History Center.