|1252 Celestia||February 19, 1933|
Whipple, the son of a farmer, was born November 5, 1906, in Red Oak, Iowa. An early bout with polio ended his ambition of being a professional tennis player. Whipple studied at Occidental College in southern California, then majored in mathematics at the University of California at Los Angeles.
A class in astronomy turned him in that direction, and he received a doctorate in that subject in 1931 from the University of California, Berkeley. While in graduate school, he helped map the orbit of the newly discovered planet Pluto.
In 1933, he discovered the periodic comet 36P/Whipple and the asteroid 1252 Celestia. He also discovered or co-discovered five other non-periodic comets, the first of which was C/1932 P1 Peltier-Whipple, independently discovered by the famed amateur astronomer Leslie Peltier.
He also invented a "meteor bumper" or "Whipple shield", which protects spacecraft from impact by small particles by vaporizing them.
In 1955 he became director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), remaining in this post until 1973.
He anticipated the era of artificial satellites and organized the members of Operation Moonwatch to track them. These groups were the only ones prepared and ready to make observations when the Soviet Union unexpectedly launched Sputnik I in 1957.
Whipple died in 2004, aged 97.
Named after him