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Alexander Kossiakoff, 91, director of Hopkins APL, pioneer in Navy missiles


Alexander Kossiakoff, a chemist who devised ways to power early naval guided missiles and was later director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, died of heart disease Saturday at Montgomery General Hospital. The Brookeville resident was 91.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, he emigrated in 1923 with his family to Seattle, and earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the California Institute of Technology.

He moved to Baltimore in the mid-1930s and received a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University in 1938. He later studied with Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling at Cal Tech.

In 1943, Dr. Kossiakoff left the faculty of Catholic University in Washington to assist in establishing the Allegheny Ballistics Laboratory, a section of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Defense Research Committee created to improve American preparedness.

Under Dr. Kossiakoff's direction, the laboratory developed solid-propellant rockets, which colleagues described as forerunners of the Navy's air defense missile boosters, and engines for submarine-launched missiles.

"He was a pioneer in solid-state fuel missiles," said his son, Dr. Anthony Kossiakoff, a University of Chicago molecular biology professor. "He was incredibly generous with his time. I can recall him pulling an all-nighter to help me and a couple friends with chemistry and math and physics while we were all students at Maryland."

In February 1946, Dr. Kossiakoff joined Hopkins' APL and led its Bumblebee Program, which designed and perfected the Terrier, Tartar and Talos radar-guided supersonic missiles for shipboard air defense.

He held various posts at APL before then-Hopkins president Lincoln Gordon named him its director in 1969. Under his tenure, the laboratory near Laurel developed systems for radar, air defense, strategic communications, submarine operations and spacecraft.

In July 1980, Dr. Kossiakoff stepped down as director and became the lab's chief scientist, a post he held at his death. He also was serving as chairman of the Technical Management and Systems Engineering Programs at Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering, where he initiated and developed educational programs in technical management and systems engineering at the master's degree level.

One of the engineering school's largest graduate programs is housed at the APL physics laboratory's Kossiakoff Conference and Education Center, named in his honor in 1983.

Dr. Kossiakoff was awarded the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service in 1981, described as the agency's highest honor to an individual who is not an employee of the government. He also received the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award in 1958 and the Presidential Certificate of Merit in 1948.

In 2004, he was awarded the Johns Hopkins University President's Medal.

Dr. Kossiakoff held two patents on search radar systems and was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists and the International Council on Systems Engineering.

He was co-author of the 2002 book, Systems Engineering Principles and Practice.

Services are private.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 66 years, the former Arabelle Davies; a daughter, Tanya Schmieler of White Oak; five granddaughters; and five great-grandchildren.

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