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Dr. Larry's Story

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Dr. Larry Clinton Atha, beloved husband, father, and brother passed away at his home in Athens, AL on Sunday, January 21, 2018.
Born on May 31, 1936 in West Plains, Missouri, he was preceded in death by his sister Loretta, his mother, Hazel Mae (Lile) Atha, and his father, Urie Bo Clinton Atha of West Plains, Missouri.
He is survived by his wife of almost sixty years whom he married on August 28, 1958, Patricia Patty Louise (Callihan) Atha. His brother and best friend, Dr. Daniel Danny Atha and wife Bettie Atha of New Bern, NC and his sister, Brenda Jackson, and her husband, Robert Jackson of West Plains, MO. His daughter, Sabrina Holt, her husband Tom Holt of Athens, Alabama and his grandsons: Alexander Holt and Clinton Holt. His son Larry Atha II and his wife Dr. Janet Cotter Atha of Huntsville and his granddaughters: Mary Elizabeth Ignatiadis and Patricia Elaine Atha.
Dr. Atha graduated with a Bachelor and Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy at Rolla, Missouri. He earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering in 1969 from The University of Missouri at Columbia, where his dissertation research was on flueric controls and amplifiers which enable computing and controls by fluids such as air, in lieu of electronics, allowing missile defense during nuclear attacks with high energy electromagnetic pulse environments. He was appointed as a Sloan Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned a post-doctoral Master of Science in Management in 1982. After he left active duty, he used the GI bill to train as a pilot earning his private and commercial pilots licenses and instrument rating.
Dr. Atha was commissioned as an Ordnance Corps Officer in the Army Reserve, He was assigned to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama in 1962 and performed research in missile control systems. In 1965, he continued his work as a civilian in the Guidance and Control Directorate of the Missile Command. In 1969, he joined the Advanced Ballistic Missile Defense Agency in the Missile Directorate conducting research into rocket thrust vector control by direct gas injection, including the Upstage experiment with 50 G endo-atmospheric manuevering. Then he worked in the Ballistic Missile Defense Advanced Technology Center, in the Discrimination Directorate and the Systems Analysis Directorate. In these positions he began management of the Delco Ballistics Range at Goleta California and led the New Technologies Active Search Program, which funded basic research at universities for future weaponization potential. This culminated in his fellowship at MIT. He returned to the BMDATC and worked in the Radar Directorate and on the Non Nuclear Kill Program. Following this, he was tapped to become the first chief engineer of the Joint Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile Project Office and managed development of radome technology for the SRHIT, a predecessor to the Patriot 3 Missile. He then went to Research Directorate, and as acting Chief of the Quantum Chemistry Branch, he oversaw development of the first benchtop optical correlator - a computer that used light as the computing medium. He later returned to the Army Strategic Defense Command was selected to be the chief of the Key Technologies Division. While there he led the developments of materials, structures and space power research. He led an international program of cooperative strategic research with the MoDUK and chaired a series of worldwide conferences that created innovations that spun off to the civilian world that included changes to implanted cardiac pacemaker electrodes that increased the battery life 300 percent to 15-18 years and changes to childrens leg braces that reduced weight and increased strength using metal matrix materials. He served as president of the AIAA in Huntsville for serveral years in this position He led the development of the UAH Aerophysics facility on the Arsenal, getting UAHuntsville to let a bond to construct the facility, getting Hughes to donate the Delco Range to UAH at its assessed value instead of the depreciated value and worked to get the Army and Air Force to fund the packing and movement of a train of 42 rail cars to transport the range from California to Redstone. He retired from the government and became director of UAHs aerophysics facility for several years afterwards restoring the ranges capabilities to enable hypersonic lethality experiments to continue in Huntsville. After he retired, he resumed flying and he built a high performance aluminum mono-wing airplane, the tail number NC701LA bore his initials.
Larrys hobbies included white water canoeing on the spring fed rivers of Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas and the Yukon River in Alaska. He traveled around the world multiple times with friends through North, Central, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, including Russia, China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In spring of 1982 on an MIT field trip, he met the Vice Premier of China, Bo Yi-Bo, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
He performed service for his church, the community and his profession. A founding member of Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, he taught Sunday school classes, and worked in the Cumberland Outreach Ministry, building homes in rural Kentucky with his brother. He served as Cubmaster of Pack 306 at Covenant Presbyterian Church.
There will be a memorial service Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 11:30 a.m. at McConnell Funeral Home with visitation one hour before the service.
In lieu of flowers, his family asks for donations to be made to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency for direct assistance to refugees.
Published on January 23, 2018
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