Joachim P. Kuettner presently holds the Distinguished Chair for Atmospheric Sciences and International Research at UCAR/NCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research/National Center for Atmospheric Research) in Boulder, Colorado. He was born in Breslau, Germany, and received his doctorate in law at the University of Breslau and -- after studying in Darmstadt and Helsinki (Professor Väisälä) -- his doctorate in physics (Meteorology) at the University of Hamburg with a dissertation on the discovery of the mountain wave (1939). During World War II he was a test engineer and pilot in the German aircraft industry.
In 1945 he became Chief of the Zugspitze Mountain Observatory in the Alps and, in 1949, went to the United States where he worked at the Airforce Cambridge Research Center on problems of the air flow over mountains, the jet stream, and atmospheric electricity. During this time he was also Scientific Director of the Mt. Washington Observatory and scientific field director of the “Sierra Wave Project” (University of California, 1951 - 1955) which studied the airflow and lee waves over the Sierra Nevada Mountains using instrumented sailplanes and jet aircraft.
In 1958 he joined NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at Huntsville, Alabama, and became the Center’s Director of the Mercury Project, which resulted in the first space flights of the U.S. astronauts. Subsequently, he was Director of the Apollo Systems Office, responsible for the integration of the Apollo spacecraft and the Saturn-V rocket for the lunar landing.
In 1965 he became Chief Scientist at the National Weather Satellite Center in Washington and in 1967 Director of Advanced Research Projects at NOAA in Boulder, Colorado, which included the 1969 BOMEX Project (Barbados Oceanographic Meteorological Experiment), a forerunner of the international global experiments.
In the following decades Dr. Kuettner directed, for the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, most of the international field projects of the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP), among them:
- GATE (the GARP Atlantic Tropical Experiment) conducted in 1974 over the tropical Atlantic, Africa, and South America; an effort by about 75 nations to explore the tropical heat engine.
- MONEX (the Monsoon Experiment) which investigated in 1978 the Asian winter monsoon over the South China Sea ("Winter MONEX") and in 1979 the summer monsoon over the Indian Ocean ("Summer MONEX").
- ALPEX (the Alpine Experiment) conducted in 1982 over the Alpine region and the Mediterranean Sea to explore the airflow over and around mountain ranges and related cyclones.
Since 1985, Dr. Kuettner's home base has been the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, where he was associated with numerous major field projects, such as "GALE" (Genesis of Atlantic Lows, 1986), "TAMEX" (Taiwan Area Mesoscale Experiment, 1988), THERMEX (Thermal Wave Experiment, 1989), TOGA-COARE (Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment, Australia, 1992), CEPEX (Central Equatorial Pacific Experiment, 1993, studying the sea surface temperature regulation), INDOEX (Indian Ocean [aerosol] Experiment, 1999), MAP (Mesoscale Alpine Program, 1999), and T-Rex (Rotor Experiment, 2005/06).
Dr. Kuettner's 150 publications cover the fields of atmospheric physics, aeronautics and astronautics. His main scientific work in meteorology has been concerned with the airflow over mountains, organized convection, gravity waves, atmospheric electricity, sea-air interaction, radiation, tropical and satellite meteorology, while his astronautical work concerned primarily manned space flight.
Kuettner has flown research sailplanes to altitudes of over 13 km (43,000 ft) and established several national and world records for gliding. He has been scientific chairman of the international gliding organization "OSTIV" (Organization Scientifique et Technique Internationale du vol voile) from 1952 to 1982.
Dr. Kuettner is an Honorary Member of the American and German Meteorological Societies, and a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Royal Meteorological Society, the Royal Geographical Society and the International Academy of Astronautics.
Among his awards are the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society, the Lilienthal Medal of the FAI (Féderation Aeronautique Internationale), the Gold Medal of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce (NOAA), the Alfred Wegener Medal of the German Meteorological Society, the Cleveland-Abbe Award of the American Meteorological Society, the Julius von Hann Gold Medal of the Austrian Meteorological Society, the OSTIV Plaque of the International Scientific Gliding Organization, the Tuntland Research Award of the Soaring Society of America and membership in the Soaring Hall of Fame.
In 1999 Dr. Kuettner was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Physics degree from the University of Munich and an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Colorado.
At the American Meteorological Society’s 2010 annual meeting, a Symposium, Winds Over the Mountains: A Remarkable Man’s Love Affair with Flight and Mountain Waves was held in Dr. Kuettner’s honor. Speakers included Dr. Jay Fein, Dr. Richard Anthes, Dr. Hans Volkert, Mr. Einar Enevoldson, Dr. Ron Smith, Dr. Vanda Grubisic, Dr. Renate Brummer, Dr. Ed Zipser, Dr. Peter Webster, Dr. V. Ramanathan, and Dr. Volkmar Wirth.
On May 4, 2010, Wolfgang Drautz, the Consul General of Germany, presented Dr. Joach Kuettner with the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, one of the nation’s highest civilian honors.
On September 21, 2010, Dr. Kuettner celebrated his 101st birthday.