HALL OF FAME
E-Mail: Museum Director
Dr. Eugene Dirk
Digital Imaging Pioneer
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
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
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