Celebrated NASA scientist Japie van Zyl dies

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Dr Japie van Zyl
Dr Japie van Zyl
Emile Hendricks

Celebrated Namibian NASA scientist Dr Japie van Zyl has died. He was 63.

Van Zyl died from a heart attack at his home in California in the US on Monday.

Stellenbosch University (SU) said in a statement the institution was deeply saddened by the death of Van Zyl, one of the world's leading space scientists.

"Van Zyl recently retired from NASA's esteemed Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he, inter alia, helped design the radar system that enabled the robot Curiosity to land on Mars in 2012," the university said.

READ | Japie van Zyl: Mars landing a 10 000km hole-in-one

SU honoured Van Zyl with an honorary doctorate in 2015 "for his contribution as driving force behind many a successful space project, ambassador for Africa and Stellenbosch University in probably the most advanced technological environment globally, and an inspiration for young scientists on his home continent".

Despite his many successes overseas, "the soil of Africa and the potential of the continent remained close to his heart". As extraordinary professor in SU's Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department, he ploughed back into the next generation of engineers and scientists at his alma mater.

SU expressed its deepest condolences to Van Zyl's family.

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