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Harold J. Hasenfus

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Date published: 6/18/2014

Manhattan Project Veteran and Technical Director of NAVSPASUR at Dahlgren

Harold J. Hasenfus, an accomplished engineer, scientist and mathematician as well as beloved husband, father and grandfather died of pneumonia on Thursday, June 12, 2014, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Md., surrounded by three of his four children. He was 93.

Mr. Hasenfus, a longtime resident of Fredericksburg, headed the Naval Space Surveillance System in Dahlgren for 26 years and was a Manhattan Project veteran. During his life, he witnessed the arrival of atomic energy, rockets, digital computers and earth satellites, spending his professional career of 42 years working in each of these new fields in turn as they emerged.

Harold Joseph Hasenfus was born in 1921 in New York City. He graduated from John Adams High School in Queens. He attended the City College of the City of New York, where he was a varsity wrestler and a member of the engineering fraternity Sigma Kappa Tau. He graduated from CCNY with a degree in mechanical engineering in June 1943, at which time he joined the Army and attended Officer Candidate School.

While on active duty during World War II, Mr. Hasenfus worked at two of the Manhattan Project’s locations, the University of Chicago and Oak Ridge, Tenn. In Chicago, he helped to solve operational problems associated with the chemical separation of plutonium from other fission products. At Oak Ridge, he worked seven days a week as a project engineer at the newly constructed S-50 thermal diffusion plant separating the fissile U-235 isotope from uranium hexafluoride. A video of Mr. Hasenfus commenting on his work on the Manhattan Project can be found by searching YouTube for “Harold Hasenfus” and “Manhattan Project.”

Following the war, Mr. Hasenfus worked as an ordnance engineer, becoming Chief of the newly formed Rocket Branch of the Army’s Ballistics Research Laboratory, located at Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground. Mr. Hasenfus left active duty in 1948, but remained an officer in the Army Reserve, eventually retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.

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