Carl G. Sauer Jr.
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Carl G. Sauer Jr.

June 19, 1931 - Nov. 12, 2015


Carl G. Sauer Jr., the grandfather of inter-planetary trajectory optimization, passed away Nov. 12, 2015. Born in Philadelphia in 1931, he spent his childhood in Salinas.

A graduate of Salinas High School, Carl attended California Institute of Technology and received his Bachelor of Science in Science. He married Eileen in 1955 and raised four children and a grandchild in La Crescenta. After the passing of his wife, Carl relocated to Canyon Lake, where he resided for two years.

Never still, Carl was a man of many interests and hobbies. He instilled in his family of love for the natural world, a respect for science, and a love of reading. He enjoyed raising Bromeliads, Cymbidiums, and other species of orchids in his greenhouse. A tropical fish enthusiast, Carl always had two or three tanks of colorful fish throughout the house. Interested in Geology, Carl would take his family panning for gold in the Sierras, camping in Lassen National Park, and often visited other areas of interesting geological significance. Carl completed the crossword puzzle in the LA Times daily, frequently commenting on the challenge of the Sunday offering. He played baseball at Cal Tech and continued playing softball with the JPL intramural league. He coached his daughters' and granddaughter's softball teams during the summer. Carl enjoyed weekly bowling league for many years. Carl also enjoyed archery and remained a member in the USA Archery Association. Recently, Carl enjoyed watching youth soccer games and supporting youth activities. An amateur photographer, Carl enjoyed taking pictures of orchids, family, and friends. He hand built his own telescope, TV, and computer and enjoyed home improvement activities.

Carl had a great sense of humor. He would tease and pun as the mood struck him. One of his favorite moments in the past few years was being cited by a 9/11 conspiracy theorist ( In his words, "I must have made it big, the crazies have found me!"

Carl, well known for his work on inter-planetary low-thrust trajectory optimization, started his pioneering work while he was an astronomy student at the California Institute of Technology and sought tirelessly to refine the art of solar system travel at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the last sixty years. As a principal flight mechanics engineer, Carl played significant roles in enabling many NASA planetary missions, including: MAGELLAN, CASSINI, STARDUST, and MESSENGER to name a few. He spent his last few years in retirement attempting to complete documentation for software he had designed to aid and assess the feasibility of proposed mission projects in developing optimal trajectories for spacecraft. Carl's software was used in the preliminary design phase of every JPL planetary mission flown in the last 40 years, as well as many of the non-JPL missions. Carl was one of the giants of mission design on whose shoulders rested JPL's reputation as the premier place to go in the world to make deep-space missions a reality. In spite of his renown, he was generous in helping co-workers without ever needing to be in the limelight. He was a brilliant engineer, a tireless worker, a mentor, and a true gentleman who will be missed by all who knew him.

Carl is survived by his daughters, Vicki Sauer of Salinas, Karen Ductor of Camarillo, and his grandchildren, Katrina Sauer, Corinna Ductor, and Samuel Ductor. Additionally, he is survived by his birth family members: Arthur Sauer of Salinas and Penelope Dalton of Redwood City.

Services will be held Dec. 26, 2015, in Burbank.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Salinas Californian from Nov. 25 to Nov. 28, 2015.
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2 entries
December 4, 2015
Carl was a role model for me at JPL and I was honored to coauthor a paper with him. He was also one of the best softball players I've ever seen. I'll miss him.
Ted Sweetser
November 26, 2015
My sincere condolences to the family.
God is s God of comfort and may he give you the comfort and strength you need in such difficult time.
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