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Remembering Michael J. Drake


PSRD lost a good friend when Dr. Mike Drake passed away on September 21, 2011. He was only 65 years old, but they were amazingly productive years. Mike made major contributions to understanding the compositions of the planets, in managing a large, first-class scientific organization at the University of Arizona, and by serving on numerous advisory committees.

Dr. Michael J. Drake. Photo courtesy of University of Arizona.

I have enjoyed Mike Drake's friendship since we were postdocs together at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. That was a productive time for us, and I learned a lot about geochemistry, especially trace element partitioning, from him. We did manage to spend some time hiking in New Hampshire, including a rainy ascent up Mount Washington. Those were great times and sealed our friendship. We ended up in different places after our postdoc stints, but you never completely lose touch with your colleagues in this business. Even better, once you were Mike's friend, you always were. I'm glad I got to know him so well so long ago.

Not too many years after I had moved to the University of New Mexico, Mike conspired with others there to get me to clown around after we took the annual group photo of the research group in the Institute of Meteoritics. Our photographer took a picture of me acting like an ape, including scratching my head. Mike used the surreptitiously obtained photo to make baseball cards with the picture on it. The stats and brief bio on the back of the card cannot be repeated. He gave them out liberally. Once you were Mike's friend, you always were.

I had two great conversations with Mike at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference last March. One was about the composition of the Moon and the extent of mixing in the inner solar system. It was, as usual when talking to Mike about this topic, enlightening and simulating. The other conversation was at lunch with a group. We reminisced about our mutual past, partly for the benefit of the youngsters present and partly because we loved those shared times.

Mike was PI of OSIRIS-REx, a NASA New Frontiers mission that will return samples of a carbonaceous asteroid. The samples will arrive on Earth in 2023. I'm glad that Mike got some time to savor the selection of the mission on which he worked so hard. It would have been even better if he had gotten to see the sample-return capsule opened, revealing dark rocks and powder from a primitive Solar System object. We can all think of Mike when that capsule is opened in 2023.

  — G. Jeffrey Taylor

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SEPT 2011