Bob Mitcheltree Has Died, Eric Slimko Injured

Editor's note: please feel free to post and comments - or your memories regarding Bob Mitcheltree. Further information on memorial services will be posted here.

Mitcheltree's coworkers write: "It is with deep, deep sadness that we inform you of the loss of a great friend, brilliant engineer, caring son, loving brother, intrepid sailor, constant explorer and southern gentleman, Robert Allen Mitcheltree."

Bob was killed instantly when his truck swerved off the road and struck a tree last night around 7:00 PM. Our dear friend and colleague, Eric Slimko, was in the truck and sustained serious injuries. He was taken to Holy Cross hospital where he underwent surgery for his injuries and is now in critical but stable condition. We stayed at Holy Cross with Eric's sister, Jennifer , through the night last night and we will update you on his progress as we learn more.

Robert Allen Mitcheltree was born in 1961 in Kansas City, Missouri. He grew up in Missouri and North Carolina. He went to North Carolina State University where he got his BS, MS and PhD in Aerospace Engineering. The focus of Bob's graduate work was aerothermodynamics. He joined NASA , first as a co-op in 1983 and then, as a full time employee, at the Langley Research Center in 1989. He moved to California in 2001 with his long time girlfriend, Kim MacFarlan, and joined us at JPL.

In the several years that we had been lucky enough to come to know, love and respect Bob, he proved to be a great friend, most excellent companion for adventure, and a colleague with engineering prowess that will likely never be seen again.

On MER and most recently on MSL, Bob's critical mind, careful and penetrating insight, and unwavering intellectual integrity, laid the foundation for the EDL design, development and V+V work. As a friend and roommate, Bob was always an easy going and game companion -- whether car camping-high lux style, bagging a high desert peak, grilling carne' asada for 20, or painting the town red.

Bob was a tireless creator -- inventor, artist and experimental scientist. In recent years, Bob had designed and built by hand a high speed land sailing cart, developed a solar powered hot tub, constructed almost every piece of furniture in his place in Tujunga, and designed and built his retirement cabin in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina.

Bob, who's PhD was in aero and aerothermodynamics, had constructed several home made "wind tunnels". A few years back, for MER, a sting system was constructed on his Jeep Wrangler and first order aerodynamic measurements were made on a balsa wood mock-up of MER lander -- late night on the 210 freeway. Recently, Bob had been planning some more in depth measurements of drag deficit on the MSL parachute during propulsion system firing. We were planning the first check-out runs out on the El Mirage dry lake this week end.

For all of us who knew and loved Bob, his departure is the greatest of losses. For those who had yet to get to know him, the loss is even greater. We will miss him deeply.

Ben Thoma and Adam Steltzner

Friends, Family and Colleagues,

We again want to thank all of you for the outpouring of caring and support. I speak for Bob's and Eric's families, his friends and colleagues when I say that we deeply appreciate it.


Bob's life will be remembered and celebrated this Wednesday, 1/11/06, with two gatherings in his honor.

12-1 PM, von Karman Auditorium, Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

From 12 PM to 1 PM, there will be rememberance of his life and a celebration of his professional life -- his contributions to JPL, NASA and robotic space exploration. This will be held in von Karman Auditorium at JPL. We will configure von Karman to allow Bob and Eric's families and off-lab friends and colleagues to attend. There will be slides, video and a book for attendees to sign and write down their fondest memories of Bob. We will also have a book for Eric, for you to write him your best wishes and encouragement for a speedy recovery.

4-6 PM, Steltzner-Melbourne Residence, Altadena:

In the afternoon and evening we will gather at my house (address below) and celebrate Bob's life outside of work. We will be celebrating "Bob-style" with Bob's favorite food and drink and again we will have more video, slides and music from his life. Bob and Eric's books will be on hand. We are going to be outside for some of the evening, so bring sweaters, jackets and blankets (outdoor slide/video show).

Steltzner-Melbourne Residence:

1171 E. Altadena Dr.
Altadena, Ca.
91001 Both gatherings are open to anyone who wishes to attend.

Flowers can be sent to either gathering or left at the crash site where a memorial has developed.

Work is underway to name a ridge feature on the surface of Mars for Bob. A ridge was chosen to mirror Bob's own "Double Oak Ridge" in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina, on which he had just built his retirement cabin. This work may or may not be complete by Wednesday, and we will keep you informed on progress.

Bob will be cremated and his remains will be taken back to South Carolina for a family service.

Eric: Eric's family really appreciates all the visitors that Eric has had at Holy Cross. Details for visiting are found below. Eric's book is on hand at the hospital. It must be noted that it is very important that Eric rest undisturbed. To that end, we ask that you not touch or speak with Eric when you visit and that you keep your conversations quiet.

The critical care visitors guide provides the following guidelines:

No visiting is allowed from 7:00-8:30 PM or from 7:00-8:30 AM every day due to the every 12 hour nursing shift change. Additionally visitors are not allowed from 9:30-10:00 M-F due to trauma rounds. No waiting in the hallway is permitted. The nurses on staff indicated that visitors were permitted at any other time outside of these restricted periods.

Only two visitors at a time may be in the room.

Cell phone use is prohibited in patients rooms and they ask that you turn your cell phone off before entering the critical care unit. The number for the hospital is 818-365-8051 if you have more specific questions.

Eric's condition has remained stable, the swelling in his face has subsided noticeably and he is doing his job of healing. This will be a slow process and he is expected to be kept sedated for several more days. We must keep him constantly in our thoughts and prayers as we hope for his full recovery.

On behalf of Bob's and Eric's families, friends and colleagues I again want to thank you for all the support. The loss of Bob will remain a void in each of our lives forever. The size of that void is perhaps proportional to a measure of his character and the life he created around him. I look forward to coming together with many of you this Wednesday and celebrating that life, the life of a truly special man.

Adam Steltzner

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 9, 2006 8:42 PM.

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