Frank Curtis "Curt" Michel (June 5, 1934 – February 26, 2015) was an American astrophysicist, a former professor of astrophysics at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and a former NASA astronaut.

Personal dataEdit

Michel was born June 5, 1934. He was married to Bonnie Hausman, a web technical specialist. He had two children, Alice and Jeff by his wife Beverly who predeceased him, and three grandchildren.[1] His hobby was photography, and he enjoyed tennis, handball, and baseball.[2] Michel died at the age of 80 on February 26, 2015.[1]


Graduated from C. K. McClatchy High School, Sacramento, California; received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors in Physics in 1955 and a Doctorate in Physics in 1962, both from the California Institute of Technology.[2] His thesis was "Beta Spectra of the Mass 12 Nuclei". His thesis advisor was Thomas Lauritsen. Also on his thesis committee was William Alfred Fowler.[3]

At Rice University he trained eight PhD's: Jerry Modisette, Robert LaQuey, Robert Manka, Cliff Morris, Michael Pelizzari, Jürgen Krause-Polstorff, James Sokolowski, and Steven Sturner.[4]


Michel was a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the American Geophysical Union, and the American Astronomical Society.[5]


Michel was a junior engineer with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company’s Guided Missile Division before joining the Air Force in 1955. As an AFROTC graduate, he received flight training at Marana Air Force Base, Arizona, and at Laredo Air Force Base and Perrin Air Force Base in Texas. During his three years of military service, Michel flew F-86D Interceptors in the United States and in Europe.[2]

Following his tour of active duty in the Air Force, Michel was a graduate student and research fellow at the California Institute of Technology, doing experimental and theoretical work in nuclear physics for Thomas Lauritsen and Richard P. Feynman along with work in theoretical astrophysics for William A. Fowler. He came to Houston in July 1963 and became a member of the faculty at Rice University. Michel's efforts there were directed to researching and teaching space sciences, such as the interaction of solar winds and the lunar atmosphere.[2]

Michel accumulated 1,000 hours flying time with 900 hours in jet aircraft.[2]

Michel was selected as a NASA scientist-astronaut in June 1965. He resigned from NASA in September 1969 prior to being assigned to any missions in order to return to teaching and research, and was Department Chairman of the Space Physics and Astronomy Department at Rice University in Houston, Texas, from 1974 to 1979.[1] He was the Andrew Hays Buchanan Professor of Astrophysics from 1974 until his retirement in 2001. Michel was named a Guggenheim Fellow to the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France, from 1979 to 1980, and was awarded a Humboldt Prize to study in Heidelberg at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics, from 1983 to 1984. Michel spent a year from 2001 to 2002 in Japan at the Solar-Terrestrial Environment Laboratory of the University of Nagoya as a visiting professor.[5]


Michel's research spanned many disciplines. In 1964, he predicted the existence of spin “optical rotation” due to parity nonconserving weak interactions.[6] This phenomenon was experimentally confirmed in 1980 and is used to study parity nonconserving weak interactions between neutrons and nuclei.[7] Michel is best known for his work on pulsars and neutron star magnetospheres[8] but his work also included solar wind interactions with the Moon and other bodies, extending to the heliopause. In 2001, Michel officially retired from Rice but he continued to be active in research until his death in 2015.


  • Michel is well known for his book Theory of Neutron Star Magnetospheres, University of Chicago Press, 1990 ISBN 9780226523316.[8]
  • Michel is the author of the book Handbook of High-Energy Astrophysics Experiments, Springer Verlag, 2015 ISBN 9781441965288 .
  • Michel was a contributor to the book NASA's Scientist-Astronauts by David Shayler and Colin Burgess, Springer Praxis, 2007 ISBN 9780387218977
  • Michel's brief career in the astronaut corps is discussed in Template:Cite book


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Professor emeritus Curt Michel dies. February 27, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 [2] Prof. Curt Michel CV
  6. [3]"Parity nonconservation in nuclei", Phys. Rev. 133, 2B, pp. B329–B349
  7. [4]"Parity violation effects in neutron scattering and capture", Lett. Nuovo Cimento 28, 16, pp. 538–540
  8. 8.0 8.1
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