Obituary: Planetary Scientist Nathan Bridges

Published on 5/9/2017

Nathan Bridges

Nathan Bridges, a planetary research scientist in the Space Exploration Sector at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, died on April 26. He was 50 years old.

Bridges, who joined APL’s Planetary Exploration Group in 2009, was a senior expert on the geology of Mars; remote sensing techniques; and the role of wind-driven processes in planetary erosion and sedimentation on Earth, Mars and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Among his many important findings, Bridges discovered that wind is as important a geologic process on Mars as it is on Earth, despite the much lower density of the Martian atmosphere.

He was an integral part of multiple Mars missions and instrument teams. Bridges served as a co-investigator on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) instrument on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a co-investigator on the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover) ChemCam instrument, and a science team member on two Mars 2020 rover instruments: SuperCam and the Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer.

Bridges was also an associate research professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, where he taught a class and advised graduate students. Additionally, he took leadership roles in the international planetary science community: He served as editor of the American Geophysical Union publication EOS, secretary of the AGU Planetary Science Section, guest editor of several special issues of the journal Icarus, and on numerous NASA panels and advisory committees.

Bridges developed research collaborations with colleagues from around the world. His work included field studies at dune fields on Earth, experiments in wind tunnels to simulate conditions on other planets, and analysis of data from spacecraft observations.

He earned a B.A. in geology from the University of Colorado in 1989, an M.S. in geology from Arizona State University in 1992, and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Massachusetts in 1997. He spent 12 years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, before joining APL.

Bridges is survived by his wife, Karen, daughter, Sarah, and son, Matthew.

A tribute to Bridges from the Planetary Society, of which he was a member since 1980, can be read here.