Gerald “Jerry” Levine was the son of immigrants and educated in local Boston schools. He attended Boston Latin School for six years, followed by MIT. Midway through MIT, he changed his major from Engineering to Mathematics. This change delayed his graduation date and made him eligible for the U.S. Military draft. After serving two years in the U.S. Army, Levine returned to MIT and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics in 1957. He joined the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory immediately after graduation. In 1958, he began graduate work at Northeastern University and graduated with a Master of Science in Mathematics in 1963.
At Draper (formerly the MIT Instrumentation Lab), Levine was Group Leader of the Space Guidance Analysis Division. During the Apollo project, he applied the principles of optimal linear recursive estimation theory to various phases of Apollo navigation, including earth orbital operation and the trips to and from the moon. Levine analyzed the effects of imperfect measurements and of unmeasured trajectory perturbations such as unmeasured oxygen venting on navigation accuracy. He realized that observing landmarks whose position is unknown, strange as that may sound, is useful. Multiple measurements of the same landmark from earth orbit actually bound error growth even if the location of the landmark is unknown. For instance, just knowing your position and velocity is not the bottom line. The velocity must be corrected to keep the vehicle on course. Apollo flights used only inertial instruments (gyroscopes and accelerometers) for navigation. So there were no landmark observations and certainly no GPS. Levine investigated the effect of trajectory deviations on the critical earth reentry mission phase. If the reentry angle is too high the vehicle will overheat; if it is too low it will simply skip off the atmosphere and fly past the earth. And so, just knowing all this is not enough. Based on these studies, Levine developed and described procedures for ensuring navigation accuracy and for autonomous (should communication with the ground be lost) return to earth, including both navigation and course corrections. He was also good at verbally explaining this highly mathematical subject; Apollo astronauts were among his audiences.
After the Apollo Project, Levine worked on the Space Shuttle program, Skylab, Trident Missile Program, and other related projects. In the words of the Director of Space Programs, Norman E. Sears, “He [Jerry] has many years of experience dealing with all aspects and general application of guidance and navigation systems…. An important aspect of Jerry’s experience was the development of very complex digital simulations of GN&C systems, and the use of these simulations in the performance evaluation of these systems.” Project Manager, Gilbert S. Stubbs, commended Levine for “developing a complete control system design whose simulated performance was significantly better than that of controls then being considered” for a specific missile at the time. Levine’s success in this project indicated that he was capable of shifting rapidly to a new field and of producing significant contributions in that field after only a short period of familiarization.
Jerry Levine spent his whole career at Draper. He retired as Head of the Space Guidance Analysis Division in 1990 after 33 years of service. He had a long, satisfying retirement filled with the love of his family, friends, many books, good music, and travel. Levine passed away on April 17, 2017.