Wilhelm Nordberg

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Wilhelm Nordberg (born March 31, 1930 in Fehring , Austria; † October 3, 1976 in Greenbelt, Maryland ) was an Austrian-American physicist at NASA . Through his work in the USA he is also known as Bill or William, in Austria also as Willi Nordberg.

Life and education

Wilhelm Nordberg was born in the East Styrian community of Fehring in 1930 and spent the first years of his life there. In 1939 his brother Kurt was born. In 1941 his family moved to Celje in Lower Styria, as his father was employed in Zidani Most as the director of the boiler house. At the end of the war in 1945 the family fled to Weiz and later lived in Feldbach . Nordberg graduated from the Pestalozzi-Gymnasium in Graz , graduated with honors and began studying physics at the University of Graz . Under the supervision of Otto Burkard , he wrote a dissertation entitled The geomagnetic effect in the F2 layer and graduated summa cum laude in 1953. At the invitation of the US Army, Nordberg emigrated to the USA in 1953.

Nordberg was an enthusiastic mountaineer and member of the Graz Academic Section in the Austrian Alpine Club , where he met his future wife Trixi in 1952. In 1976, Nordberg died of skin cancer in Greenbelt, Maryland.


Nordberg began his career at the Fort Monmouth, New Jersey research center . In the first years of his research in the USA, he was particularly concerned with the structure of the upper atmosphere (wind speed, wind direction, composition of the air, ionization, temperature) at an altitude of 30 to 90 kilometers.

In 1959, Bill Nordberg, as he was called by his colleagues in the USA, moved to the Goddard Space Flight Center and thus to the recently founded NASA. Under his leadership, the first weather satellites of the TIROS series were sent into space in 1960 . For the first time, they were able to provide information about cloud formations and hurricanes. After the TIROS program, he played a leading role in three other satellite programs: ITOS, Nimbus program and Landsat . As the scientific director of the Landsat program, he coordinated the work of around 300 scientists in 38 countries. With Landsat, the satellite technology should be used for agriculture and forestry, oceanography, geology, cartography, for the exploration of ore and oil deposits and for researching the Antarctic ice and the ozone layer.

He has received several awards for his work: in 1965 he received the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award given by NASA . In 1969 he was honored by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for planning the Barbados experiment . In 1975 he was awarded the William T. Pecora Award and NASA's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal . In 1974 he was promoted to director of space applications at NASA.


Today Nordberg is considered the "father" of weather and remote sensing satellites. This was underlined by the international Willi Nordberg Symposium held in Graz from September 7th to 9th in 1987. Scientists from East and West took part in this congress and recognized his work. NASA annually awards the William Nordberg Memorial Award for Earth Science, COSPAR awards the William Nordberg Medal every two years.

In 2010 the East Styrian municipality of Fehring organized a symposium and an exhibition on the occasion of his 80th birthday under the title Nordberg. The way into space . The Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for War Impact Research and the Institute for Space Research, Austrian Academy of Sciences, provided scientific support . The exhibition portrays the personality against the background of the race of the superpowers into space during the Cold War, the current use of satellite technology for weather forecasts, climate research and commercial satellite use as well as the myth of space ( science fiction ). The exhibition could be seen until October 31, 2010, after which it was converted into a reduced permanent exhibition.


  • MF Buchroithner, R. Kostka (Ed.): Remote sensing: Towards Operational Cartographic Applications. Proceedings of the Willi Nordberg Symposium 1987, held in Graz, Austria, September 7-9, 1987. Graz 1988.
  • Peter Fritz, Eva Schweighofer: A Styrian conquers space. In: Peter Fritz, Eva Schweighofer (Ed.): Lifetime - The memory stays. 20 Austrian post-war fate. Graz 2007, pp. 220-227.
  • Bruno P. Besser, Walter M. Iber, Stefan Karner (eds.): Nordberg. The way into space. Contribution volume to the symposium and exhibition in Fehring 2010. Graz - Fehring 2010.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ The Academic Section Graz - 125 years in the Alpine Club; Festschrift; Academic Section Graz of the PES, Graz 2017, p. 46f