Richard Mallis


Richard “Dick” K. Mallis, one of the pioneers of NASA’s Deep Space Network, died on Sunday 26th May 2019.

Richard had a long association with Australia, beginning with him leading the JPL team which brought Island Lagoon, Woomera, into service in 1960. Island Lagoon, DSS 41, was the first Deep Space Network station outside the USA.

In more recent years, Richard and his wife Kathleen have lived near Batemans Bay, on the coast southeast of Canberra.


Dick Mallis

JPL Operations Manager Richard Mallis, seated second from the left, receives a plaque in recognition of his support of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus (27 August 1962 – 04 January 1963).

1. William Pickering, JPL Director.
2. Nick Renzetti, JPL.
3. Richard Fahnestock, JPL Representative Adelaide.
4. Paul Jones, JPL Representative for South Africa.
5. Eberhardt Rechtin, JPL Deputy Director.
6. Bill Mettyear, DSS 41 Woomera, Station Director.
7. Richard Mallis, JPL Operations Manager.
8. Walt Larkin, Goldstone.
9. Douglas Hogg, DSS 51 Hartebeesthoek, Station Director.

Scan: Bill Mettyear Jr.

In this interview recorded in Canberra in 2009, during the Apoillo 11 40th anniversary celebrations, Richard speaks about the early days of the Deep Space Network.

He speak about the antenna which, in his opinion, was the very first antenna of the Deep Space Network –


Richard K Mallis spoke about the origins of the Deep Space Network in this 2009 interview.


In his section on Woomera, in Chapter 1 of “Uplink-downlink: a history of the NASA Deep Space Network, 1957-1997”, Douglas J. Mudgway outlines Richard Mallis’ key contribution to the Deep Space Network:

The signing of a “construction and operation” contract for the antenna around early April 1960 allowed both JPL and WRE to begin making major moves toward construction of a NASA deep space tracking station at Woomera. WRE initiated the road, buildings, power generation, and foundation work. JPL began shipping antenna components and the electronics for the station.

The antenna was finally built at a site known locally as “Island Lagoon,” so named for the nearby dry lake which appeared to have an island at the center.

Working under a JPL contract with supervisor Floyd W. Stoller, Blaw-Knox began assembling and erecting the antenna in May 1960. By August, the antenna was complete and an electronics team began installing the radio and tracking equipment, most of which had been supplied by Collins Radio Company.

When NASA built the second and third 26-m antennas in Woomera, Australia, and Johannesburg, South Africa, the task of integrating the new antennas with their electronics equipment and bringing the two new stations into operation fell to Richard “Dick” Mallis.

Island Lagoon

DSS-41, Island Lagoon, shortly after completion.

Photo: Bill Mettyear. Scan: Bill Mettyear Jr.


Richard Mallis was an outgoing individual, easy to work with, sociable, and much respected by his colleagues. He was an excellent manager with good communications and technical skills and an appreciation for the different institutional environments at all three antenna locations.

When he went to JPL in 1955 to work on radio guidance systems for the Army’s Sergeant missile program, native Californian Richard K. Mallis took with him a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California and a Navy background. Caught up in the changes that swept JPL into the space program in 1958, he assisted with the construction of the first 26-m antenna at Goldstone, and later implemented the down-range tracking station in Puerto Rico to cover the launches of the Army’s two Pioneer lunar probes.

Together with Goldstone, the three stations of the Deep Space Instrumentation Facility finally formed a worldwide network.

With these completed in time to support JPL’s first Ranger lunar missions, Mallis returned to JPL to take up a staff position in Renzetti’s new Communications Engineering and Operations Section. He was responsible for Operations, regulating the way the Network carried out its day-to-day tracking functions. In this role, he set-up a Network-wide logistics and repair program, a frequency and timing standards program, a documentation system, and a training program for operations and maintenance personnel. This essential infrastructure remained the basis for all operations, maintenance, quality control, and configuration management processes as the worldwide Network expanded in size and capability through the years. He integrated the first commercial contractor, Bendix Field Engineering Corporation, into the DSIF as the operations and maintenance service provider for the Goldstone facility.

Dick Mallis
JPL Operations Manager Richard Mallis, second from the left, joins the three DSN Station Directors in being recognised for his support of the Mariner 2 mission to Venus.

1. William Pickering, JPL Director.
2. Richard Mallis, JPL Operations Manager.
3. Bill Mettyear, DSS 41 Woomera, Station Director.
4. Walt Larkin, Goldstone.
5. Douglas Hogg, DSS 51 Hartebeesthoek, Station Director.
6. Eberhardt Rechtin, JPL Deputy Director.

Scan: Bill Mettyear Jr.

In later years, as his responsibilities expanded to include the Space Flight Operations Facility at JPL in addition to the DSN, he became Manager of the Operations Division. Eventually he transferred elsewhere in JPL to further his professional career. However, because of his unique experience with service contract management, he was frequently called upon to assist the DSN in evaluating new contract proposals when existing service contracts expired.

He retired in 1993 after 37 years of service at JPL and later took up residence in Australia.

In a final spectacular exercise on 3 November 1960, the Woomera station demonstrated its operational status by receiving voice and teletype messages transmitted from Goldstone via reflection from the Moon.

The JPL onsite manager, Richard K. Mallis, departed Woomera four days later, after turning the new facility over to WRE for its future management and operation. The Australian engineers soon demonstrated their ability to handle the technical complexities of the new “space age” facility for which they had accepted operational responsibility.


Dick Mallis

Richard and Kathleen Mallis are pictured here at the celebrations for 35th anniversary of Apollo 11 at the Canberra Club in Canberra, 21 July 2004.

Photo: John and Betty Saxon.